You quickly learn that bland, processed food isn’t on the menu for patients at Northern Westchester Hospital, a Mount Kisco, New York, hospital that is a part of Northwell Health, the largest healthcare organisation in the state of New York.
The smell of apple and pear crumble that starts to permeate the enormous area that resembles an industrial kitchen at a five-star resort is the first sign. The use of authentic china and cutlery, as well as a menu that reads like it belongs in a fancy restaurant, come next.
The goal Bruno Tison, Northwell’s vice president of food services and corporate executive chef, set when he joined the vast hospital system five years ago after working as executive chef at New York City’s Plaza Hotel for 30 years and earning a Michelin star at California’s Sonoma Mission Inn, is to create a high-energy food-service team led by Andrew Cain, a Michelin-starred chef in a toque.
The food supplied at Northwell’s 21 hospitals was “bought frozen, reheated, and thrown away when I arrived,” recalls Tison. “We tried to spend as little time, money, and attention on food as we could, but it’s important for health. Food is a powerful medication.
In 2017, Michael Dowling, the chief executive officer of Northwell, asked Sven Gierlinger, his chief experience officer, to find the ideal candidate to reinvent how hospital food is sourced, prepared, and plated. This was the beginning of the drive to apply hospitality practises to food prep and rethink what is served throughout the Northwell system.
In terms of quality and flavour, Northwell’s patient ratings of its cuisine at the time ranged from the ninth percentile to the fiftyth percentile. There is a lot of unhealthy food served to almost 2 million patients annually at 21 hospitals.
Our CEO received numerous letters, one of which stated that “we wouldn’t offer this stuff to a dog,” according to Tison. “When a patient is attempting to recover, the last thing they should be concerned about is the quality of the meal.”
According to Gierlinger, when hospital food is so terrible, it also puts a strain on the family to bring food in from outside to feed the patient.
This causes additional stress that the family shouldn’t have, he claims. Additionally, it detracts from the entire patient experience that our outstanding clinical staff strives to provide.
“We used to provide the worst coffee. We heated it up and gave it to patients after it arrived frozen in containers, but it tasted like scorched water. That was the requirement.”
Northwell Health’s Sven Gierlinger, chief experience officer
Nine Northwell hospitals are now in the 94th percentile or above, a feat no other health system in the country has accomplished in the years since Tison employed 15 new executive chefs.
Even though Tison replaced freezers with refrigerators, got rid of all the fryers, and switched out sources of added sugar for healthier alternatives, the system’s financial health hasn’t been impacted. The hospitals are now offering hormone-free meats, and he has already worked with two artisanal pastry businesses and a fair trade coffee roaster. He also has ambitions to work with many organic farms.
We saved $500,000 last year since we didn’t throw anything away, according to Tison. “Serving prepared, processed food really costs more than purchasing the raw material. The only labour and expertise required to transform it into delectable cuisine were lacking in our hospitals.
According to Gierlinger, even making coffee has reduced costs by $250,000 for the entire company.
Gierlinger claims, “We used to offer the most awful coffee.” It arrived in containers that were frozen, and when we heated it up and gave it to patients, it tasted like burnt water. That was the requirement.
Leaders at Northwell have established a commitment to food and nutrition, which they will never renege on.
The only investment we’ve made, according to Gierlinger, is in our senior chefs, who receive higher salary and competitive earnings. “The return is significantly higher.”
The management at Northwell Health is prepared to alter patient meal delivery going ahead in every way that is conceivable.
We aim to demonstrate all the ways that nutrition forms the basis of good health, adds Gierlinger. We’ve made it our aim to change hospital food’s repulsive reputation and replace it with tasty, freshly prepared cuisine that is prepared with love.
In addition to these enhancements to the food offered, the team intends to construct a teaching facility with an apprenticeship programme for chefs, as well as provide hands-on training for staff members and patients, as well as cooking workshops for the general public.
For instance, in order to inform the community, several hospitals discharge new mothers and patients who are food insecure with a basket of produce from their on-site gardens and advice on how to eat healthily.
Patients at Northwell have finally spoken, but it was through their stomachs.
According to Tison, “We see it this way: Through the meals we serve, we have this opportunity to transport patients to another realm, one in which they start to feel hungry and even look forward to meals while they’re recovering.” The quality of the cuisine has reached to the point where patients don’t want to leave.