Metro Magas sits in his Misericordia Community Hospital bed looking over his Covenant Cuisine menu as he decides what he wants for lunch. The Asian chicken stir fry is a favourite, but he also likes to build his own hamburger with exactly what he wants on it.
Patients might feel like they’re in a restaurant thanks to a new food program at the Misericordia Hospital.
Covenant Cuisine is a new menu service that sees patients ordering and receiving freshly prepared meals. The Misericordia Hospital is the first hospital in Alberta and the sixth in Canada to provide this kind of food service to patients, a marked departure from the traditional version of having patients receive designated meals.
“It’s freshly prepared,” says Metro. “I think I’m gaining weight because it’s very tasty!”
Metro prefers the new food service, which launched May 7. In hospital for several weeks, he experienced the traditional food service and then the launch of Covenant Cuisine.
“Before, for meals, you got what you were served,” says Metro. “It was adequate.”
Food and good nutrition are an important part of a patient’s recovery journey. Covenant Cuisine was created to improve patient satisfaction around meals with the understanding that if people enjoy their food, they’re more likely to eat it, which can lead to improved health outcomes.
With Covenant Cuisine, patients order from a menu that fits their dietary requirements. They are free to order meals between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. There are nine menus to address patients’ needs.
“Covenant Cuisine empowers patients and makes them feel more in control of their situation and themselves,” says Dr. Benjamin Sugars, Internal Medicine. “I think if they enjoy their food they’ll eat more and get better nutrition, and that can probably help them recover from their illness or surgery.”
The Misericordia Hospital decided to make the shift when their equipment used to deliver trays needed expensive repairs. “We took the opportunity to look at how we do things to see if we could do it better,” says Linda Chow-Turner, Senior Operating Officer, Seniors Care and Environmental Supports. “This was the perfect opportunity to spend significantly less than it would cost to replace our trayveyor and move to a system that allows us to put more focus on patients and what they want.”
Careful planning went into developing nutritious meals that would appeal to a wide variety of patients. Comfort foods were included to entice patients to eat.
“When we developed the menus, we considered nutritional values, the ability to have some items on several menus and what would appeal to patients,” says Linda Theodore, Nutrition and Food Services Systems and Menu Co-ordinator. “We want to offer food that patients want to eat because there’s a large concern about malnutrition in the hospital when people don’t eat.”
The made-to-order food service is designed to improve the amount patients eat, increase patient satisfaction and reduce food waste. And it seems to be working: the majority of food trays are returned with little to no uneaten food or beverages on them.
“We don’t have numbers yet—they’ll be coming later this summer—but most trays are coming back empty. On the traditional service, we are throwing away at least 40 per cent of the food we send to patients,” says Carol Lajoie, Corporate Director, Environmental Supports.
The new food program is not expected to carry a higher cost than the previous system. The increased staff expenses will be offset by the reduced food wastage.
“This is an opportunity to be truly patient-centred, and I personally believe Covenant Cuisine is in line with our vision of transforming health care,” says Carol.
How it works
When a patient arrives on a unit, a Food Services Ambassador assesses the individual to see what level of support is needed to order meals. Patients who have diabetes or require support are put on an assist program, and orders are placed with the help of a Food Services Ambassador. Patients who are independent can phone the Call Centre to order their meals. Orders can be placed up to a week in advance.
Food Services aims to deliver meals within 45 minutes of an order being received. “Nutrition-wise, nothing is better than fresh food,” says Chef Manish Kumar.
Ambassadors deliver the meals and then help patients by opening packages and taking off lids, if necessary.
“I’m there to encourage patients to eat or at least try the food,” says Nicole Packard, Food Services Ambassador. “They choose what they feel like, and if it smells good and looks appetizing, people will think, 'Maybe I want to try it.'”
Covenant Cuisine feedback has been positive.
“I think most people are used to the model where hospital food is strictly regimented. I think they’ll be surprised by the flexibility of Covenant Cuisine and that they can order breakfast any time of the day,” says Ben. “Every patient I’ve spoken to says they really prefer Covenant Cuisine to the old meal system.”
“People may get better faster with the good food, but they may not want to leave,” he jokes. “They may feel that the food here is better than at home!”
Misericordia Hospital Food Services Ambassador Ninderpal Kaur delivers patient Metro Magas his made-to-order lunch.
Patient Metro Magas reviews his Covenant Cuisine menu at the Misericordia Hospital.
A breakfast patients can order through Covenant Cuisine at the Misericordia Hospital. This breakfast includes scrambled eggs, toast, cereal, fruit, coffee, juice and milk.
A pasta dish prepared by a chef at the Misericordia Hospital
A chef-prepared order of French toast and scrambled eggs at the Misericordia Hospital
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