How One Health System Rewrote a Menu and Big Cliché

How One Health System Rewrote a Menu and Big Cliché

Hospital food has long shared the same unfortunate space with airline food as the source of comedic punchlines, but more importantly, as a major source of customer and patient dissatisfaction.

No longer, at least not at Northwell Health, New York State's largest healthcare provider and private employer.

Responding to patient feedback, Northwell has drastically upgraded the quality of the more than ten million meals it serves each year. Today, patients, employees and visitors may enjoy beef short ribs, wild flounder filets, and bread from a critically acclaimed bakery — a reminder that deficiencies can become delights.

The radical change has been driven by Northwell CEO Michael Dowling and Sven Gierlinger, senior vice president and chief experience officer, who hired a staff of professional chefs to oversee the overhaul of the system’s vast food service.

In fairness, budget constraints, dietary restrictions, nutritional requirements and mass production are inherent obstacles for hospitals' food programs and not every hospital or health system has Northwell’s resources to pull off a complete menu redesign.

Still, food can color people's perceptions of quality care, and Northwell’s upgrade has been an unqualified hit with patients, who are less likely to discard unwanted entrees. In fact, the menu improvements have led to cost savings. The system saved half a million dollars in 2021 because of reductions to food waste.

Northwell’s happier patient-diners have shown that the menu improvements are here to stay.

"At some point we've lost sight that food is actually part of healing, and good and healthy food has not been a focus area for hospital executives," says Gierlinger. “Cooking a good meal doesn't take more time than cooking a bad meal."

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