Food That Comforts, Nutrition That Heals

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Room service at Renown Regional leads to happier, healthier patients. 
It’s been fodder for bad comedians for decades: the quality of hospital food. As Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Renown Regional Medical Center, Christina Vargas is doing her part to buck the blandness stereotype.

Still, some might scoff that it’s a lot of effort for just hospital food.

Maria Lora, Cook, prepares one of the fish entrees that can be chosen as part of the new room-service-style menu offered to some patients at Renown Regional Medical Center.
Maria Lora, Cook, prepares one of the fish entrees that can be chosen as part of the new room-service-style menu offered to some patients at Renown Regional Medical Center.

“That’s one of the worst things you can say to a nutritionist with a passion for caring for patients: ‘Oh, it’s just hospital food,’” Vargas answers. “It’s not just Jello and chicken broth. It’s great food that’s prepared to strict regulations on temperature and quality. If it’s not the right temperature or doesn’t have a great look or appetizing smell, we don’t serve it to our patients.”

The way Vargas explains it, you eat with your eyes and other senses just as much as your taste buds. The more appetizing the food, the more it helps with the healing process. “Comfort food is just that: what brings comfort to you,” Vargas says. “Food comforts, but nutrition heals.”

Those are the underlying reasons Vargas and her team have embarked on an experiment to bring more choice and better service to patients. Since September 2013, a select group of patients, including new mothers in the Baby & Family Suites, have tried out a new room-service style approach to daily meals.  Before this trial period, patients were offered the same special of the day.

This “room service” approach has marked differences. Patients now have more choices, including grilled chicken, Asian spinach salad and customized omelets or scrambles. A nutrition representative also takes the order at the bedside, which ensures even more customization. “So, if someone wants two brownies and they are able to have them, we’ll get those on the tray,” Vargas says.

There’s also a twist to the service for new mothers. Vargas shares that these entrees  – such as cheese blintzes, taco salad

Estrella Miner, Cook, gets a fish entrée ready for transport to a patient room at  Renown Regional Medical Center.
Estrella Miner, Cook, gets a fish entrée ready for transport to a patient room at Renown Regional Medical Center.

and hand-rolled Caesar chicken wraps  – were designed to encourage new moms to eat better during their stay, which boosts their nutrition and enhances the breastfeeding experience.

“We’re providing a restaurant-style menu for them to choose from, so they get to make their selection and have a meal we prepare especially for them every day,” Vargas continues. “It’s wonderful stuff, prepared fresh and delivered to them when they want it.”

Vargas and her team also prepare a celebration meal in the patient room for the new mom and her significant other once they are back together after their child’s birth. “Many times it’s hard for the loved one to leave and get proper nutrition and hydration,” Vargas explains.

These changes have also had an affect beyond just the patients. Nurses have praised this new direction in patient meal service.

“Those units with the service have seen an increase in their patient satisfaction scores, including the rankings for the courtesy of the person attending to you,” Vargas relates. “That’s really what room service does: It shows that a patient here isn’t just a number,  and we’re not just taking a meal order. We’re also making sure that our patients have the proper nutrition and the best possible service.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Reading this I think it's a great idea and I hope it continues to thrive and take off in other medical centers.Way to go Chefs!

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