VA Goes Gourmet
Hospital food is usually not associated with service or taste, but imagine if it were! Imagine being an inpatient where you could order and eat a charbroiled pork chop or spicy Cajun salmon for lunch or dinner. Imagine having menu options such as grilled herb chicken sandwiches, pan pizzas, sweet potato wedges and brownies. Imagine gourmet meals rather than institutional hospital fare. For Veteran inpatients at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, service and taste reign supreme with the new VA Gourmet Room Service Dining program that began on June 11, 2013.
For Army Veteran Glen Hines, one of the early recipients of the VA Gourmet Room Service Dining program, he didn't have to imagine the roast beef and American cheese sandwich with onions and mayonnaise. He ordered it and it arrived! Hines, who was an inpatient at the Baltimore VA Medical Center prior to the debut of VA Gourmet, experienced hospital food before and after the implementation of the program. "Before the start of the program, the typical hospital food [service] involved eating what they gave you. [The VA Gourmet] is a special program that gives you more variety. The food is more like mom's. The apple pie and the oatmeal raisin cookies are out of this world--the best I've ever eaten!"
Hines also likes the fact that the new program helps him keep track of his carbohydrate intake. "I am on a carbohydrate restricted diet, and when I call in to order my meals, they tell me how many carbohydrates are in each meal and how many carbohydrates I have had so far."
"Patients will be able to get what they want, when they want it," says Lynn Greenberg, RDMS, chief of Nutrition and Food Service at the VA Maryland Health Care System. "The Veteran inpatients can place their order any time between 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., seven days a week and a Nutrition and Food Service Ambassador will bring them a menu and explain how this exciting new program works."
The first step takes place when the doctor enters the diet order into the electronic medical record. This alerts a Nutrition and Food Service Ambassador that a new patient has arrived and the Ambassador will deliver the appropriate menu to the patient and explain the program. Then the patient contacts the Call Center for the program anytime between 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. to order breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"Meals are processed and served within 45 minutes of the order being placed," says Greenberg, who also notes that contingencies are in place if the patient does not place an order.
Patients will still receive therapeutic diets as ordered by their doctor as part of the new program. Menus have been developed and adjusted for various dietary restrictions, such as the Controlled Carbohydrate, Renal, Heart Healthy and Texture Modified diet plans. The Ambassador delivers the appropriate menu to the patient based on the diet that was ordered by their doctor.
"For patients admitted to the medical center when the kitchen is closed, boxed meals will be provided if they need to eat after hours," says Greenberg. The Ambassador will then promptly visit the patient the next morning to provide the appropriate room service menu and instruct the patient about the program. From that point onward, patients will be able to direct their own meal service choices.
For Hines, the visits from the Ambassador also proved a highlight. "They smile when they bring my food, and they smile when they come to take away the empty dishes," says Hines, who had been an inpatient at the Washington, DC and Martinsburg, West Virginia VA Medical Centers and credits the VA Gourmet program as offering the best choices.
For patients who are too incapacitated to order for themselves, the Ambassador will work with families and caregivers to select the appropriate menu options. "If no caregivers or family members are available to help assist the patient, he or she will be served house selections for each meal on a set delivery schedule. "We will, however, make every effort to obtain a patient's food preferences to ensure they are receiving meals that they will truly enjoy," she adds.
With the VA Gourmet program, Nutrition and Food Service is marrying style and taste, showing Veterans and their families by example that healthy choices do not have to be bland and unpalatable. Bon Appetit! to the Veteran inpatients at the Baltimore VA Medical Center.