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The 2022 February Healthcare Foodservice Leadership Council (FLC) conversation took advantage of the New Year to reflect on the silver linings that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020 and 2021, as well as strategize for new opportunities in 2022. The panelists from the Healthcare Operator Council included: Amanda Goldman, Healthcare Industry Sales Strategist at Gordon Food Service; Tina Banning, Director of Culinary & Nutrition Care at Kettering Health; and Michael Vetro, Director of Culinary Operations at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 


Time for Reflection: Looking back on 2020 and 2021 


The three panelists agreed that their locations are opening back up to visitors and that the pandemic put a positive emphasis on infection control. Besides that, their silver linings fell into two major categories: breaking silos and developing flexibility and creativity. 


Breaking Silos 


Banning had multiple silver linings, but one major one was that Kettering Health took down silos. System-wide Kettering Health had a program called “Helping Hands,” where people in departments that experienced a slowdown volunteered to help departments that experienced work increases. For example, vice presidents of the healthcare system found themselves serving food on the cafeteria line. In addition, one Kettering campus is connected to a college, so students have been volunteering two hours per week to help wherever they are needed. 

Goldman also experienced multiple silver linings, and echoed the silo breaking that Banning mentioned. She saw this happening at the macro scale with increased partnership between operators, manufacturers, and distributors. All three stakeholder groups have found ways to work and communicate better with one another. It was really helpful, she added, to have partners collaborating to adapt menus and operations as shortages and changes arise.


Flexibility & Creativity 


Vetro shared that his silver lining was rediscovering flexibility, creativity, and pivoting to new options. For example, St. Jude’s team engaged multiple manufacturers together as a team to co-develop a bowl-based project. They tested products and concepts in member kitchens, and hope to expand this approach going forward. 


Looking Forward: 2022 & Beyond 


Going forward, the healthcare operator panelists see opportunities in collaboration, as well as healthcare-specific resilience to labor shortages. 


Collaboration Enhances Value for Operators, Manufacturers, and Diners 


Vetro shared about his experience working on the Enhanced Value Committee. The committee facilitated collaboration between manufacturers and operators to develop a bowl concept that was beneficial to all stakeholders. The value proposition was developing a complete dish with side items using products spread across manufacturers, a 3-week menu of recipes that are easy for operators to reproduce, and detailed customer feedback data demonstrating preferences. 

In addition to the bowl concept, the committee is developing a strategic vision for 2025 on how stakeholders can support one another in improving the industry. 

Finally, Vetro shared that a breakfast concept being developed by the K-12 members of the Enhanced Value Committee has implications for him as a children’s hospital operator. He hopes to share the bowl concept with other council members, as many of these concepts can be useful across operator sectors. 


Collaboration to Advance Nutrition Science & Build Staff Capacity 


Going forward, Goldman is focused on cross-ecosystem collaboration. In particular, she is focused on advancing nutrition science within the industry. By bringing together chefs, dieticians, and business people, the industry can develop and deliver delicious products that advance health outcomes. 

In addition, due to the pandemic, many chefs, dieticians, and line operators have been elevated to management, even though they do not have experience with budget management and infection control. Ecosystem-wide, there is a need to build these staff members’ capacity, train them on skills, and share best practices. Vetro agreed, saying, “We need to make it easier to make life easier” by building and supporting skills across the industry. 

Banning agreed, saying, “I’ve not seen the amount of communication from our manufacturers in my whole 30+ years as I have now. You used to get that information from your rep that would come in and visit you one a month…It’s that back and forth communication that we’re getting with the manufacturers that has been much of a positive for us at Kettering.” 


Adjusting to Inflation & Supply Shortages, but Healthcare has an Edge with Staff 


Banning shared that Kettering Health is modifying menus to deal with inflation, staffing issues, and supply shortages. They have been thinking through how to attract talent to healthcare foodservice, which is highly regulated. 

Banning has found that foodservice at Kettering Health is often a starting place to eventually become a nurse or a therapist, which makes it a selling point when recruiting new talent. She has begun recruiting at high school career fairs to find students who want to go into food service and who want to go into health careers but who need a stepping stone along the way. 


Going Forward 


The next round of committee webinars will be held in April 2022 with updates on opportunities, challenges and committee initiatives. 

For operators interested in learning more about the ongoing council work and access to upcoming resources, visit IFMAworld.com/council, or contact Jim Green at jgspartan@aol.com. You will receive updates on council activities and have complimentary access to whitepapers, webinars and conferences.