Sierra Bell knocks on the door of a patient’s room at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver.
“Food service!” Bell calls. “Is it OK if I come in?”
After receiving an affirmative, Bell drops off a tray containing a chicken sandwich, salad and banana in the room of Wendy Schmidt, a Lewis County resident who has been staying in the hospital for nearly a week, only subsisting on liquids.
“This is my first real meal. It looks delicious,” Schmidt comments.
Bell and Schmidt’s interaction is simple, but new to PeaceHealth, which unveiled a unit host program in early May, where every inpatient is assigned a host who delivers their breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hosts, or diet representatives such as Bell, generally work a floor of PeaceHealth, taking orders with a tablet that interfaces with patient identifying information (room number and name), nutrition information for food items and also any dietary restrictions that their medical care team ordered.
For example, if a patient is in the hospital for congestive heart failure, the unit host software could track a patient’s sodium intake over the course of a day, and let the diet representative know when the patient needs to opt for a meal choice that is heart healthy and has less sodium.
PeaceHealth’s nursing care team used to serve patients, but Emily Pelts, the patient services manager and a dietician at PeaceHealth, said the unit host program is an upgrade because it allows the nursing care team to focus on other obligations.
“We can focus on providing a great customer service experience because that’s what we’re here to do rather than having the nursing team having to complete an additional task that isn’t in their area of speciality,” Pelts said. “It’s great that we’re able to have that face-to-face patient contact.”
Pelts said unit hosts “have the unique benefit of being a department that people are excited to see when we walk in the room.”
“It’s another trend hospitals are moving to,” Pelts said. “This is what patients are coming to expect and we just want to be in line with what best practice really is for our patient satisfaction and for our patient nutritional status and maintaining that as well as we can.”
PeaceHealth has also overhauled its menu, incorporating nutritional trends and patient feedback. The new menu has more plant-based options for vegetarians and vegans, and offers 10 entrees a day, including multiple salads. The previous setup featured two entrees per day.
“We now have a large menu that could accommodate your entire stay here without having to repeat something if you didn’t want to,” Pelts said.
Since diet representatives generally patrol the same areas taking orders, they get know their patients and become familiar with diet restrictions. Pelts said the program has provided a snippet of interactive fun that patients relish during their hospital stay.
“We’re just really happy we can offer this service,” Pelts said. “We’ve gotten good feedback and overall patients can really enjoy that one-to-one and being involved in this decision they get to make. It’s the highlight of their day. We really enjoy being something they can look forward to during their stay here.”