Raising Expectations: How One Organization Is Revamping Hospital Food

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If there’s one thing hospitals are not known for, it’s culinary success.
If there’s one thing hospitals are not known for, it’s culinary success.

If there's one thing hospitals are not known for, it's culinary success.

Northwell Health, a nonprofit network of approximately 20 hospitals in New York state, knew something had to be done about the food. Patients were leaving negative feedback about the unhealthy fried and frozen meals served in the hospitals and employees were trekking across the street to buy their lunches.  

Hospital food in general has a very bad reputation,” said Sven Gierlinger, Vice President and Chief Experience Officer at Northwell Health, in an interview with Medical Bag. “I quickly realized that the reason the quality is so low is because it's an afterthought… when it should be an asset.”

Mr Gierlinger sought out to completely transform the approach to cooking in the Northwell hospitals. It was a long, challenging process, but nearly 2 years later, the organization has done just that.

One of the first challenges that Mr Gierlinger's team realized early on was that many of the chefs working in the hospital kitchens had not been trained by staff to prepare fresh meals. Mr Gierlinger knew that Northwell needed a professional, so he brought in the former Executive Chef of New York City's Plaza Hotel, chef Bruno Tison.

“To provide great food, you have to have people who are passionate about it and know what they're doing in the kitchen,” said Mr Gierlinger. “When I brought Chef Bruno on board, that was the missing link for us to bring the pride and joy to the culinary profession, to really energize our kitchens.”

With Chef Tison on the team, the next step was solving the issue of the food itself: it wasn't fresh. For example, as an experiment, Chef Tison brought a piece of bread from the kitchen and placed it on a shelf in his office. After a few weeks, it looked exactly the same, no signs of mold like what would happen on a freshly baked loaf. They drew up a totally new menu and connected with local businesses to bring in fresh ingredients.

“We're not serving any fried foods — we ripped out the fryers,” said Mr Gierlinger. “We replaced frozen food with fresh food. We have antibiotic free chickens instead of frozen chicken... healthier desserts, like fresh muffins, not like the ones you get at the gas station.”

Patients have noticed the changes. They now leave comments saying how much they enjoyed the food. With more employees dining in, even the sales in the cafeterias have gone up.

“It makes a big difference for the patients,” said Mr Gierlinger. “I think they're feeling the love through food. It's something that they look forward to.”

Revamping hospital food doesn't happen overnight. It takes time and creativity. But as Northwell Health has shown, hospital meals can be so much more than just an afterthought.

 

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