Behind the Scenes: Food & Nutrition Services

We sat down with Certified Diet Aides Diane Kirkham and Stephanie Hummel to learn more about the team that feeds hospital patients, families, staff, and even some community member “regulars” at the KVH Café.

As part of the hospital, the café’s open every day of the year. So how does that work? I’m assuming the kitchen is open quite a bit more than the café.

S: It’s open from 6:00 AM to 6:30 PM. And then we have our meal times, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in between that we’re –

D: Getting ready for breakfast, lunch or dinner, for that day or the next day.

It’s interesting to see how when you bring new people on, even people that are still fairly new are involved in training the new employees.

S: Usually, they start out doing afternoons. Diane and I usually work mornings, but then when they get into doing patients than we do train them. That’s kind of our thing.

D: That’s why we were hired. Patient care. We didn’t have a cafeteria to speak of.

S: We did, but it was very minimal. When we started, there was no breakfast program.

D: You put out a toast tray and some oatmeal and they served themselves.

S: It has grown leaps and bounds. When I started, we had a four-foot salad bar, and maybe five toppings for the green salad.

D: It was pushed up against the wall.

S: We used to have to do the cash register and serve – we did both, and now it’s all separate.

D: That was interesting. We had meal tickets and you had to do the math in your head, whatever they bought. You were marking off the amount and then handing it back –

Sort of like a punch card.

S: Yeah, exactly. That’s how we started. So it’s come a long ways. A long, long ways.

Of all the things you do here, what do you enjoy most?

S: I love details, so I like the two jobs that I do right now. I like to problem solve.

D: She’s very good at putting our menus together.

S: I’m good at organizing. I want it just-so. Diane’s the same way, but she’s chill and laid back. She’s very good about details too, which is what you need to have when you work with patients. It’s serious work.

And you have those big old things you wheel out.

S: We have three carts. Med/Surg, CCU, and OB. We also do trays for ER, S.O.P, and we do late trays. The other day I had 11 extra trays between 8 a.m. and Noon in addition to the patients I had to feed. So it’s a lot. I think Jim said we put out about 900 trays a month.

D: And it doesn’t end. We have other things to do for the next day.

S: We make the side salads and green salads. Plus cleaning and dishes – lots of dishes.

D: So when you say, “What do you mean it’s only 1:31?” (lunch ends at 1:30), we have to get done and get out and do other things. People are pretty understanding about that.

But it does help for them to have perspective that ‘it’s not just you.’

S: It’s not just you or your department, but we have all these departments calling down for service, crackers, juice, whatever. We also supply Cle Elum and the clinics.

Serving patients and café customers, each day brings with it three meals that require planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, serving, and cleaning up after. Every FNS team member is necessary, and has an impact on the end result: tasty food, ready to eat.”

Does anything come to mind when I ask what misconceptions people might have about Food Services that you’d like to clear up?

S: Some people think we sit in the back and eat cookies all day long, which we would like to do, but, no, it’s very detail oriented and can be hectic and stressful.

D: Everybody has to do dishes. No one’s exempt. There’s no designated dishwasher.

Wow.

S: In a way, we’re the backbone of the hospital. Everybody wants to eat. When you get a good meal, then you feel like being productive.

There’ve been a lot of changes and things introduced since Jim Gallagher became the director. What kind of are you getting feedback from folks?

S: I’m getting good feedback about new menu items that we’ve had out here. He tends to go in a little healthier direction. We’ve got fish tacos now, carnitas tacos, and some other different items.

D: He’s willing to try new things.

S: And the grab-and-goes (refrigerated meal items) are his idea.

What kind of input does staff have into what kind of dishes get made or recipes get tried? Are you encouraged to get creative?

S: Oh, yes. We’re very involved. You might come up with an idea for a menu item, but it then you pass it around, you know, “What you think about this?” We bounce ideas off each other until we get to a good place – not only what the ingredients are, but how to prepare it, what to serve it in.

D: Like Vikki and her breakfast creations. “What if you put shredded hash browns in the potato bake?” Or our margarita pizza (mozzarella, basil, tomato). Vikki says to me, “Why can’t we make like a sandwich out of it?” “Well, what kind of bread?” “Let’s use the crusty bread.” “How are we going to put these together?” And Dwayne chimes in from back in the kitchen, “What if we do it like this? And should we put them on the grill or should we do it this way?”

S: It’s total collaboration. Jim encourages us to be creative. He and I make menus together, but then we bounce it off the people on the front line, because they’re the ones that it impacts.

The rest of us just see the end, where it’s put nicely on a plate.

What’s something that might surprise people about the work that you do?

S: We’re very adaptable. When we’re out of something or something isn’t exactly as we planned, we can change directions and still have a quality product.

You are food ninjas.

D: I really enjoy doing patient meals.

S: We always love the cafeteria but patients have to come first. They are our priority.

What are the challenges of working in your area?

D: There’s so much going on and so many people in the kitchen, it’s finding a space to work, to get your job done.

S: We’re doing patient meals, cafeteria, catering – they’re all intertwined, and we’re all working on our own project.

What are the rewards of working in food services?

S: Doing a good job. Making somebody happy. Having that feedback of, “Hey, you did a good job.”

The cafe has a good reputation in the community, too.

S: Especially the salad bar.

What do you need in order to have a great day at work?

S: I have to have one pun every day that makes everybody laugh. We just get along really well. It’s like a super-dysfunctional, happy family.

D: Being able to joke and laugh makes the day better. Just being with people you enjoy working with.

S: Everybody brings their own unique skills, their own personality and we all make it work.

The mission of KVH is to provide quality patient care. How does your work support that mission?

D: We make our patients happy with a good meal. It’s really cool when you get the little notes back, saying something about what a great meal it was.

Think of all the patient care staff, on a 30-minute break – being able to eat a meal on campus, that’s huge for them.

S: Bottom line, food makes people happy, and that sets the tone for the rest of the day.

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