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Management Excellence Award: Noncommercial Operator

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Administrative Services/Nutrition Services, Columbus, Ohio

01/01/2013

Employees: 205 FTEs
Foodservice facilities: 12
Annual meals served: 2.65 million

The management style in the administrative and nutrition services departments at OSU Wexner Medical Center might be described as “creative problem solving” tempered by Midwestern sensibility. Julie Jones, director of nutrition services, and Mary Angela Miller, administrative director, have worked so closely together for so long they practically finish each other’s sentences.

They certainly speak each other’s language—Miller used to be foodservice director before taking over administrative services. These days, Miller has direct oversight of not only the center for wellness and prevention (in addition to her administrative duties), but she can advocate for Jones and the foodservice department with the organization’s upper echelon.

That approach not only helps them oversee an extensive foodservice operation, it also has enabled them to shepherd their portion of a $1.1 billion renovation and expansion that will have taken nearly seven years in planning and four years in construction before it’s finished.

A world-class teaching and research center, the OSU Wexner Medical Center has four separate hospitals on its main campus with 1,000 beds, and a satellite hospital serving eastern Columbus and Franklin County. Jones’s department serves about 2.5 million meals a year on the main campus, split fairly evenly between patient feeding and retail sales. University Hospital East, the satellite, serves an additional 150,000 meals annually.

“We’re self-operated,” Miller says, “so we oversee all the retail foodservice that we and others, such as Wendy’s and Starbucks, do. Self-operation also allows us to keep our leadership intact throughout the course of a huge project.”

The main production kitchen operates a cook-chill system. During the renovation phase, the kitchen and a main cafeteria were overhauled. To prepare for a new 420-bed medical tower opening in September, 2014, the department decided to switch patient feeding to a room service model, but chose to keep its cook-chill system.

“As we approached the room service concept,” Miller says, “we wanted to maintain consistent quality throughout the operation, both patient feeding and retail. We hired a consultant who has worked with a lot of cruise ships and casinos, and ended up testing about every combi oven made to bridge the transition from cook-chill to room service.”

With what Miller calls “Midwestern budgets” to work with, however, they examined ways to make the room service concept more efficient. In a creative bit of problem solving, they eliminated the call center and labor cost associated with many hospital room service systems. Instead, they leveraged technology with paperless ordering on handheld order entry devices.

Jones supervises a staff of 205 in nutrition services. About a dozen are themselves in supervisory positions, and they come from diverse backgrounds.

“We hire a lot of students,” Jones says, “so there’s a lot of turnover there, but the student workforce adds so much energy and excitement to our facilities. We also hire fresh graduates who are still looking around for a career; it gives us an opportunity to screen out people who shouldn’t be here and encourage those who fit well. But we also act as a gateway to other jobs at OSU, and they’re all ambassadors for foodservice. I started here as a student.”

“The keys to the tenure of our staff,” Miller says, “are that we’re self-op—the people who join us know we won’t move them around the country—and we’re part of OSU. People want to be part of this organization, and I’d put our talent up against any in the country.”

Other factors that help the department run smoothly are the pair’s emphasis on building relationship skills and putting talent and experience where it’s needed most.

“First off, we hire people that we’re not,” Miller says. “We’re both dietitians, so we hire talent to fit particular needs at the moment. We also hire unselfish people. The relationship building skills of our team are excellent, and we wouldn’t tolerate anything less. You have to be a team player.”

Jones sees her job as one of helping people develop their skills and guiding them into positions where they can best use their talents. “I guide chaos,” she laughs, “but I believe in bringing out our employees’ strengths. I’ve reorganized the team several times in the past few years to meet our needs. In one instance, I partnered chefs with cancer specialists to develop better menus for patients.

“It’s my responsibility to develop my people so we can get at their individual strengths,” she continues. “I spent three or four months this past fall talking to one employee about retail operations and how he might fit into a new role there. Many employees have left to take jobs elsewhere and then come back when they see how lucky they are to work here.”

Ultimately, though, both Jones and Miller say they and the staff have to be able to deliver results, whether in financial performance or some other goal. “You have to be able to do what you say you’re going to do,” Jones says.

“Sometimes it’s a matter of perseverance and patience,” Miller adds. “We lobbied for years to change the location of our dishroom. So when they asked us to move it when renovation plans showed it would get in the way of the medical center’s robotic transport system, we were ready with plans.”

As for what drives them both, Miller puts it simply, “We want to be national leaders in healthcare foodservice.”


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