Providence VA Medical Center, Rhode Island
Hands that Serve; Hearts that Care
Behind the scenes, tucked away on the fourth floor of the Providence VA Medical Center, you’ll find a team of dedicated employees busy at work. Their mission is very simple: “hands that serve; hearts that care.” They are our food service workers, who tirelessly prepare and serve about 1,400 meals to Veterans and their families each and every week—to inpatients, homeless Veterans seen in Clinic, and even Emergency Department patients under observation.
The hub of their day-to-day operations is the Diet Center, which handles computerized patient orders and therapeutic dietetic needs. Clinicians enter meal orders into the system, and the food service staff prints the order, which serves as a “meal ticket.” The meal ticket is then brought to the food assembly line, where 13 food service workers prepare the meals ahead of time, using the Advanced Delivery System (the food is heated later). All of the cooking is done in-house by two cooks—Mike Smith and Mike Pines, affectionately known as M&M. Since there are many safety control points involved in this process, it takes 30-40 minutes to assemble about 60 trays of food, with the last step being a quality assurance check. This step is critical, designed to ensure that the patient has no food allergies, that dietetic needs have been met, and that any allowable preferences have been accommodated.
To help stay on top of their game, the Nutrition and Food Services (N&FS) staff hands out customer satisfaction surveys every other month to measure how well they are doing. The Food Service team is rated from 1-5 (1 unacceptable; 5 excellent) on items such as the appearance of the meal trays, the quality of the food, and the politeness of the food service employees. Roxane Barnes, Food Service Production Supervisor/Certified Safety Manager, says that “most of the time our surveys come back marked with a 4 or 5, and the staff is always given compliments by the Veterans.” Roxane credits such positive feedback to the efforts of the entire Service, which includes not only 2 cooks and 13 food service workers but also 7 dietitians and a small, yet stellar, support staff—all under the leadership of N&FS Chief Tracy Uriati. We have a great team who is committed to the mission,” Roxane adds. “All of the staff, from food service workers to the supervisors, is very conscious of the nutritional needs of the Veterans we serve.” All meals served are guided by dietary and nutritional requirements as well as national initiatives such as the Health Diet Initiative (which increased the amount of fiber and lowered the amount of sodium used in the menus) and the VISN 1 Green Initiative, which has decreased the use of Styrofoam materials and improved the appearance of the meal trays.
Another reason for the positive feedback, the staff believes, is that N&FS serves more than just meals. They take the time to talk to the Veterans, treating them with honor and respect—like one of the family. They go above and beyond to make the Veterans’ stay as enjoyable as possible. Veterans’ birthdays are acknowledged with a card from the entire staff as well as a card made by local Girl Scouts obtained through Voluntary Service. The Veterans also get a birthday cake--as long as the dietician allows it! Holidays such as Fourth of July, St. Valentine’s Day, and Thanksgiving are also celebrated with special menus: each meal tray is decorated with favors to highlight the day. Sometimes it’s nothing more than random notes given to the Veterans with their meals that simply say “Hope you feel better soon” or “Thanks for serving our country.” Finally, supervisors make a point to publicly acknowledge and praise staff in monthly staff meetings; they regularly celebrate accomplishments as a team.
Healthy, first-class food, a caring and dedicated staff, birthday cards and cake—it’s no secret that N&FS sets high expectations for themselves, all for the benefit of our Veterans. No wonder their mission is “hands that serve; hearts that care.”