By Ryan Alves / The News-Enterprise
The power of food – that’s what Morrison Healthcare brought to the table as Hardin Memorial Health’s newest food service provider.
The partnership aimed to boost HMH’s dedication to improving patient and family experiences, began in July and since has taken a run-of-the-mill hospital cafeteria into the upper-echelon of dining experiences — when people often need it the most, officials said.
“We’ve always met expectations, I think, of what our patients and guests had for our food services, but what I think Morrison has really helped us do is raise the bar,” said HMH’s Vice President of Operations Steve White. “Just like we’ve tried to do with all the others areas of our care, we want to exceed expectations. And I think Morrison will help us get there.”
Visit the Hardin Memorial Hospital cafeteria around lunchtime and it is packed with visitors and hospital staff.
There’s a case that could be made for it being the busiest restaurant in town.
“We’re doing around 1,100 meals a day for retail, which equates to around 400,000 meals a year,” said HMH’s Retail Manager Greg Gilliam.
Gilliam said a stigma exists about cafeteria food at hospitals being bad, but he said he didn’t think it held much weight at HMH.
“Oh, it’s out there,” he said. “We like to say we don’t have hospital food here. We have great food at a hospital, and that’s our goal.”
Guests at the cafeteria now have several options.
There’s a full-sized salad bar with 17 rotating ingredients and a handful of house-made dressings.
A baked potato bar gives customers options for toppings such as chili with cheese and bacon or the more traditional “loaded style.”
“We also have a deli bar, with things like chicken salad, tuna salad, pimento cheese, sliced meats and cheeses, along with all kinds of bread options,” Executive Chef Amanda Miraco said.
A traditional grill area gives options such as a southwestern turkey melt, cheeseburgers or chicken strips and cooks make-to-order breakfast options such as omelets and pancakes.
The dessert station features an assortment of sweets, which also rotate daily. A frozen yogurt station also recently was added to the cafeteria with several topping selections.
For guests who like more traditional comfort-style foods, the entree line has a selection.
“We typically have two different meat options, have fresh baked rolls, a soup of the day and all kinds of sides,” Miraco said.
Also a new addition at the cafeteria, the “action station” puts a chef in front of a guest to cook a customized item — a shrimp po’boy with lettuce, tomato and remoulade sauce and a side of cajun-seasoned fries recently was a featured dish.
The cafeteria also has plenty of coolers, where guests can purchase soft drinks, coffees, sports drinks, juices and grab-and-go food items such as pre-made salads, sandwiches, fruit cups, parfaits or oatmeal, peanut butter landslide.
Also a new feature is the monthly promotional table, which rotates a theme based on a super food.
April’s food is leafy greens, and guests have access to a kale, apple and pineapple smoothie, along with veggie straws, kale wraps and kale caesar salads.
“We’ve had an incredible growth,” HMH’s Director of Food and Nutrition Anissa Curtis said. “We’ve seen about a 28 percent growth on the retail side and a big uptick in patient satisfaction.”
Nikki Connour, HMH’s clinical nutrition manager, said better patient care was a big part of the change in food services.
“We do more than 168,000 meals for patients a year,” Connour said. “It’s a big ordeal, and we’ve seen great results.”
Patients now have access to a tri-fold menu, littered with possibilities for meal options.
A catering associate visits patients to help place their meal orders for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The menu features a daily lineup of options for all three courses.
A patient could have a vegetable egg frittata and an apple muffin in the morning; dijon and herb-crusted fish, with rice pilaf, orange glazed carrots, a dinner roll and lemon trifle for lunch; then eat oven fried chicken with green beans, mashed potatoes, a biscuit and peach crisp for dinner.
All the ingredients are fresh and can be tailored to each patient’s personal taste or prescribed diet.
“The chef’s here, through Morrisons, have great recipes that are nutritious and well-balanced,” Connour said. “The chef and I meet so the meals are built in a way they can meet the demands across the board.”
Patients with diet restrictions while at HMH, such as a clear-liquid diet, also have several options from broths and juices to hot beverages and gelatins.
Gilliam said he visions the cafeteria as an oasis for the staff at the hospital.
“We want them to get down here and just be able to enjoy their breaks. They’re kind of land-locked here, it’s hard to get away to get something to eat,” he said.
Larry Creason, an ultrasound tech at the hospital, said he enjoys eating lunch at work Monday through Friday.
“They have a nice variety every day,” he said. “A nice salad bar, the grill, everything really tastes good.”
Along with upgrades to food service, the hospital’s existing cafeteria space also received a facelift thanks to a $25,000 donation from the HMH Auxiliary.
The donation paid for upgrades to lighting fixtures, new hardwood floors and new tables and chairs, which elevated the room’s aesthetics and comfortability, officials said.
On top of that, the prices for guests didn’t increase, Curtis said.
“We didn’t change our prices. We left everything in order,” she said. “Every day we have a post office worker on this route that eats lunch because it’s affordable. Not only do we feed the people who are here, but we have outside community members come and eat things like Sunday breakfast with us, and that’s our goal.
“Yes we’ve made changes, but we still want this to be the comfortable place everyone can come to,” she added.
Miraco said she was proud to be the head chef at the hospital and called it rewarding to serve guests in their time of need.
“When people take the time to write hand-written notes on the back of their tickets, that’s when you know something is working,” she said.
Ryan Alves can be reached at 270-505-1746 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hardin Memorial Hospital’s cafeteria hours
Open seven days a week
Breakfast hours: 7-10 a.m.
Café closed: 10-11 a.m.
Lunch hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Quick Service: 2-5 p.m.
Dinner hours: 5-8 p.m.
Quick Service hours: 8-10 p.m.
Late night hours: 10 p.m.-Midnight
Vending machines available 24 hours