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Saturday, Feb 4, 2023

I’ll Take the Steak, Hold the Aspirin

It used to be that a stay at the hospital meant eating a cold gelatinous cube with some pasty entree – food that was just about as bad as whatever horrible condition got you there in the first place. But that is changing at hospitals in the Southern California region. Simi Valley Hospital has done away with the unappetizing food tray and now offers restaurant-quality dishes like steaming roast beef served with oven roasted herb red potatoes and summer squash. If that is not appealing, there are plenty of other plates to choose from, such as omelets to order and slow-cooked pot roast. “When you come to the hospital you barely had any choices,” said Sammy Anissi, director of food and nutrition services at the non-profit hospital owned by Adventist Health in Roseville. “When it comes to food service, now they have a choice.” The program is run by Sodexo, a leading provider of institutional food based in Marseilles, France, which provides Anissi on a contract basis to the hospital. The program began in October on a single floor and has since been expanded to the entire facility. The program, called Expressly for You Personal Service Dining, involves more than just better food. Patients are assigned a nutrition assistant who monitors what they eat and cross checks it with any dietary restrictions ordered by the doctor via a tablet connected to the hospital’s network. Ordering is done by the assistant at bedside. That required Sodexo to update the hospital’s database to include the new menu items, along with their nutritional content. “There is nothing we can do about the diet without physicians’ approval,” Anissi said. The hospital spent around $300,000 to hire the nutrition assistants. However, the hospital would not disclose the additional costs per meal, except that Anissi said it wasn’t a “cheap program.” Nationally renowned hospital such as Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical center have been leaders in catering to wealthy patients with better food and other amenities. But Jennifer Bayer, vice president of the Hospital Association of Southern California, a Los Angeles trade group, said now many regional and smaller hospitals in the area have such programs offered by Sodexo or competitor Aramark Corp., based in Philadelphia. “You are seeing a lot of menu-based, restaurant-style dining,” she said. “It’s definitely not your standard cafeteria of the past.” Judy Thompson, a 74-year-old patient at Simi Valley Hospital, said the food and service was definitely superior – and she was especially partial to the chicken lasagna. She added that working with her nutrition assistant, Dan Flores, had been wonderful because he always gets her order right, unlike her past experience in hospitals. “Half the time you didn’t get what you ordered,” Thompson recalled. “This is great. If it’s not right he knows what I’ll do.” – Mateo Melero

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