Forget everything you ever knew about hospital food

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Hospitals in Colorado Springs are interested in providing customer service in a cozy, homelike atmosphere.

Chicken with cherry citrus salsa with herb roasted new potatoes is the lunch special. No, it’s not a special meeting for the city’s power brokers — a it’s a typical lunch at both Colorado Springs hospitals.
Plastic trays with microwaved chicken breasts and cold mashed potatoes are a thing of the past. Hospitals are hiring top-notch chefs to collaborate with registered dieticians to bring flair and presentation to hospital dining.
“I’d put our food up against any restaurant in the area,” said Corbett Colson, director of the nutrition services at Memorial’s newest hospital in Briargate, Memorial North.
The chefs at Memorial — officially employees at Sedexho, a nutritional services company that contracts with Memorial — even competed with local chefs in the Broadmoor’s Iron Chef competition.
Hospitals in Colorado Springs are interested in providing customer service in a cozy, homelike atmosphere. That atmosphere also includes the food they serve patients, staff members and frequently, the residents in the neighborhood.
“We have regulars,” said Penrose’s Molanda Ehrins, supervisor in the nutrition department. “People come from the neighborhood to eat, they know it’s good food, at very reasonable prices.”
Penrose’s main hospital is on North Nevada, in a neighborhood populated by elderly people on fixed incomes. The hospital prides itself on its food, making it easy for residents — and patients — to enjoy nutritious meals.
Food can provide comfort, a feeling of wellness, the atmosphere of home, said Tami Charles, manager of Penrose’s nutritional services.
“We want our patients to feel like our guests,” she said. “And we want to provide comfort and nourishment in an upscale way to increase that feeling. It can be challenging with patients’ diets, but we arrange the meals with dieticians, so we know they are getting what they need.”
The trend toward more palatable food began about a decade ago, but has picked up steam during the past five years. It’s another service tool — to provide service much like a restaurant or a hotel.
At Memorial, they’ve taken the idea of room service to patients another step. Instead of serving meals at specific times, patients can choose what they want to eat — and when they want to eat it.
“If they want scrambled eggs at 4 in the afternoon, then they can pick up the phone and order it,” said Debbie Oleson, area supervisor at Sedexho.
Memorial’s program allows patients to talk to someone when placing their order, that interaction can allow staff to steer the patient toward better food choices.
“If they’re ordering something that’s not on their diet, they can suggest some other options,” she said. “That extra interaction can be really beneficial — much better than just circling items on the menu.”
Penrose also has a room service program, which Charles compared to a hotel.
“Another trend is to have a chef on staff,” Charles said. “That’s fairly new. The chef brings passion, flair to the food, so the appearance and the presentation is improved.”
Memorial also adds a little “something special” for patients. To increase patient satisfaction in women services, chefs at Memorial Central go to the floor, and cook breakfast, made to order. For women on bedrest, they cook it right at bedside.
“We also have celebratory meals,” Corbett said. “We had a patient recently who was in the hospital having a baby, and her husband was just back from Iraq. We wanted to do something special — this guy had been through so much and now was having to transition back to the United States and have a baby — so we cooked a special meal in her room for them both.”
But hospital food services cover more than just patients.
At Memorial, doctors are treated to lobster and crab cakes in the lounge; and Penrose staff gets a midnight meal courtesy of food services.
“There’s someone in the kitchen 24 hours,” Corbett said. “There’s actually only about an hour and a half when there isn’t a place to grab a bite to eat.”
But don’t say you’re going to the hospital cafeteria — that word makes Corbett bristle. Memorial’s retail food services, those available to visitors, family members and the public, are not cafeteria food.
“We have a café or a restaurant atmosphere, and quality,” he said. “We work hard to provide that service to people. And the food is really very good.”
Buying in bulk allows hospitals to save money on food costs. And, going upscale hasn’t affected the bottom line, both health systems say.
“The food doesn’t affect the price of the room,” said Oleson. “That’s the same price, no matter what they eat, or what food services we offer. And in the five years since we’ve been doing the room service menu, the bottom line for food services hasn’t gone up.”
Amy.Gillentine@csbj.com