November 23, 2022 – From the moment you step into Northern Westchester Hospital’s massive kitchen, you’ll quickly realize that bland, processed foods are not on the menu for patients at this Mount Kisco, NY hospital that Part of Northwell Health, is the largest health system in New York State.
The first clue is the smell of apple and pear crumble that begins to waft through the vast space, which resembles a canteen kitchen at a five-star resort. Next comes the use of real china and crockery and a menu that reads like a fine dining restaurant.
A high-energy food service team led by Andrew Cain, a Michelin-starred chef in a toque, is the very goal launched by Bruno Tison, Northwell’s vice president of food services and corporate executive chef , when he entered the sprawling hospital system 5 years ago after 30 years as executive chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York City and earning a Michelin star at Sonoma Mission Inn, California.
“When I arrived, we bought frozen food, reheated it, and threw it out,” Tison says of the food served at Northwell’s 21 hospitals. “We have spent as little time, attention and money on food as possible, but food is health. Food is good medicine.”
The quest to apply hospitality practices to food preparation and to rethink what is served across the Northwell system began in 2017 when Northwell CEO Michael Dowling hired Sven Gierlinger, his Chief Experience Officer, to find the right person to serve the Reinventing the way hospital food is sourced. prepared and plated.
At the time, patient scores on Northwell’s food ranged from the ninth to the 50th percentile for quality and taste. With 21 hospitals serving more than 2 million people a year, that’s a lot of bad food.
“Our CEO has received many letters, including one where a patient wrote, ‘We wouldn’t serve this food to a dog,'” says Tison. “The last thing a patient needs to worry about is the quality of food when trying to heal.”
When hospital food is so bad, it’s also a strain on the family to bring in outside food to feed the patient, Gierlinger says.
“It adds extra stress that family members shouldn’t have,” he says. “It also detracts from the overall patient experience that we aim to provide for people when being cared for by our incredible clinical staff.”
In the years since Tison hired 15 new chefs, nine hospitals in Northwell are now in the 94th percentile or above, a feat unmatched by any other health system in the country.
Nor has it impacted the bottom line of the system, even as Tison replaced freezers with refrigerators, removed all fryers, and replaced sources of added sugar with healthier options. In addition, he’s since partnered with two artisan pastries, a fair trade coffee roaster, hospitals serve hormone-free meat, and plans are in the works to partner with several organic farms.
“We spent $500,000 less last year because we don’t throw anything away,” says Tison. “Serving processed, prepackaged food is actually more expensive than buying the raw product. It just takes the work and skill to turn it into delicious food, and our hospitals have been lacking that.”
Even brewing coffee was a $250,000 cost saving across the company, says Gierlinger.
“We used to serve the most terrible coffee,” says Gierlinger. “It came frozen in containers and we heated it up and served it to the patients and it tasted like burnt water. That was the default.”
For Northwell leaders, a commitment to food and nutrition has been made – and will never compromise.
“We pay competitive wages and pay more for our chefs, but that’s the only investment we’ve made,” says Gierlinger. “The return is so much greater.”
Northwell Health leadership is poised to transform the way patients are fed from this moment on, in any way we can.
“We want to show how nutrition is a basis for good health,” says Gierlinger. “We’re on a mission to break the bad rap of hospital food and transform it into fresh, delicious food made with love.”
Alongside these improved offerings, the team plans to build a teaching facility with an apprenticeship program to train chefs, provide hands-on training for staff and patients, and cookery classes for the community.
For example, in some hospitals, new mothers and patients with unsafe diets are discharged from the hospital with a basket of produce grown in on-site gardens, along with tips for healthy eating, all with the aim of educating the community.
In the end, Northwell patients spoke – with their stomachs.
“The way we see it, through the meals we serve, we have the opportunity to take patients into another world, a world where they start to feel hungry and actually look forward to meals while they recover,” says Tison. “It’s gotten to the point where patients don’t want to leave – the food here is so good.”