Western Connecticut Health Network has shattered the myth of bland hospital food, bringing patients a food and dining experience that sets it apart from hospitals across the nation. Both Danbury and New Milford hospitals have adopted Health Care Without Harm’s “Healthy Food Pledge,” revamping their food policies and practices to develop a more sustainable food and nutrition program. This groundwork led to the selection of new food service partners at both hospitals to deliver a fully integrated food service program that is getting rave reviews from patients and visitors alike.
Since late 2006, New Milford Hospital has practiced what it preaches when it comes to healthy food. The creation of Plow to Plate™ launched a hospital-led community coalition to promote healthy foods for residents of northwest Connecticut. Today, patients and visitors regularly share their delight over New Milford’s successful effort to build a healthy dining experience – one with splendid taste and an exceptional level of service that has sent patient satisfaction scores soaring and garnered national attention from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Dining Services Manager Kerry Gold said that the efforts to implement a healthful, sustainable food system increased the New Milford Hospital’s national inpatient satisfaction rankings for “overall meals” from the 51st to the 93rd percentile, and for “quality of food” from the 38th percentile to the 95th percentile.
“We are working to lead by example and have a positive impact on the health and well-being of our community. As a result of these improvements, hospitalized patients have the pleasure of dining well and the hospital café is busier, welcoming more people than ever from the community for lunch and dinner,” said Deborah Weymouth, Executive Director and Senior Vice President, New Milford Hospital.
In 2011, the hospital remodeled its kitchen and dining café to improve efficiency and brighten the dining area. The food and nutrition team launched a new menu using fresh, local ingredients whenever possible, created a patient guide to explain the sources of ingredients and their nutritional value, and made after-hours meals and snacks available. They also partnered with local farms to obtain produce, dairy and meats, and planted a culinary herb garden to equip the kitchen with fresh vegetables, herbs, spices and garnishes. Additionally, they embarked on a “room service” model to visit patients and “meal rounds” to address issues during meal service, streamlined therapeutic diet orders to eliminate unnecessary restrictions, and developed more palatable lunch selections for patients receiving cancer treatments.
“Patients have different needs and we realize that going the extra mile really means a lot to them. We can offer a source of enjoyment and comfort with food at a time when other things may not be going so well for them,” said Gold.
Similar activities over the last year have boosted patient satisfaction with food at Danbury Hospital, according Rich Zettergren, director of food and nutrition services. A new menu and a room service model known as “dining by design” have boosted patient satisfaction scores for overall food quality and service from the 21st percentile in October 2010 to the 93rd percentile in October 2011.
“We have increased choices for patients, and added menu options to address cultural and ethnic favorites, as well as local dishes that appeal to the region,” Zettergren said. “We know we’ve come a long way, because recent patient comments include ‘I love hospital food’ and ‘You should be rated by Zagat.’”