Kris Schroeder: Spirited Pioneer

Kris Schroeder put Swedish Medical Center on the map with a prototypical room service program. Now she’s considering the next generation.

FoodService Director - Spotlight - Kris Schroeder

At A Glance: Kris Schroeder
•Director of Nutrition Services
•Swedish Medical Center, Seattle, Wash.
•BA in Sociology, Univ. of Colorado at Boulder
•BS in Dietetics, University of Washington/Seattle
•Married to Mike, a veterinarian (retired)
•Born in California, raised in Albuquerque, N.M.
•Enjoys tropical vacations and mountain climbing

•Her operation includes two acute care hospitals: First Hill Campus with 697 beds and Ballard Campus with 163 beds. Schroeder heads up a $3.8 million operation that annually serves 1.93 million meals to patients, staff and visitors.

•During the past five years, patient volume grew 14% to 16%; department revenue increased 11.5%; meal production is up 24% in retail areas and by 2% in the patient areas.

•Since implementing room service, patient satisfaction jumped 25%.

•A tiered structure features 300+ items on the general menu and 20+ special order menus. Response time is less than 45 minutes.

•With the implemention of room service, food waste dropped 20%.

In 1997, Kris Schroeder’s department pioneered the idea of a comprehensive room service-style patient meal program, an innovation that remains the model for healthcare facilities across the country. Her brand of hands-on management was pivotal in leading her staff in the training—both culinary and call center—required to effect the change in service styles. Over the years, she has continued to tweak the process, always looking at the big picture but never losing sight of the little things along the way. As in mountain climbing, her favorite pursuit, Schroeder keeps her eye on the peak while taking those incremental strides to the top.

“I was always very interested in food; Mom was a great cook and let me experiment, so it was a natural progression to think [of pursuing] the nutrition side of it. I had a huge interest in health—how do we fuel our bodies to be the best that we can—and that led me into the field of nutrition.

At the time I was in college, in the ’60s and early ’70s, there was the hippie movement and granola was big; I got caught up in the early days of sustainability, organics and a desire not to eat all those chemicals. I don’t personally follow any ‘healthful diet’ regimen; I’ve always been a moderation kind of person. I love food and I think it would be difficult for me to follow anything. I love ethnic foods of all types—I’m an adventurous person. I try to have a cup of green tea a day, in addition to coffee, of course, and I’m big on yogurt and probiotics. I’m also diligent in avoiding trans fat.

I’m definitely a walker. I do the stairs here at work, about 60 flights up and down every day. I go up to the roof, that’s about 13 flights, and do four sets of those. It takes less than half an hour. Then, on days when I’m home before dark, I have a five-mile walk/jog. My true love of the outdoors pulls me out. I like to be outdoors and in the mountains—we live near one entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park. I’ve done a fair amount of climbing: Mt. Rainier, Mount St. Helens many, many times, Mt. Hood, Glacier Peak and several others.

Pre-career, my early mentor was my dad. He never tried to steer me one way or another, but encouraged me to follow my own compass and backed it up with financial resources. In my early days on the job, I had a fabulous mentor involved in renal nutrition. Katy Wilkens, at Northwest Kidney Center in Seattle, was a true leader in the field and helped me carve my path. When I started my career as a clinical dietitian, I was fortunate to work with the kidney transplant program at the University of Washington, and later with the liver and the pancreas transplant program there.

I can’t talk highly enough about being involved in professional organizations. It’s been a centering force in my life. Members of the Clinical Nutrition Management Group of ADA have definitely provided inspiration, and the same is true of HFM [National Society for Healthcare Foodservice Management]. The rewards you reap from that professional interaction; just participating, getting out there and learning from the best.

I had an opportunity to move from being a clinical practitioner to more of a management role. The first step in that evolution was having the opportunity to move into a clinical manager role here at Swedish, necessitating a move from the University of Washington Medical Center. It soon became clear to me that I really liked management. Then the opportunities I seized led me from food to nutrition, then back to food. I didn’t go back for courses in any specific management areas, just some with more of a focus on leadership. You pick up skills on the job and I have an intense interest in how our successful leaders become successful. How do you lead so others will follow?

One of my big impetuses in developing the room service program was our director, Allen Caudle. Allen had a vision—his strength was in the vision department. He surrounded himself with implementers. I was already here when he came to interview for the job. One of the things we talked about in the interview process of selecting a new director was our wanting to do something new, and he had dabbled in room service. At the time, we had a partnership with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. They had 20 beds for bone marrow transplant patients and did room service. We had 40 similar patients, so we used those 60 beds [combined] as our room service [model]. I was project manager and took over as nutrition director.

It’s important, not only being a pioneer, but being willing to share and help others move towards that.

I’m also very proud of what that has brought to Swedish Medical Center; we are in the news, in the media, we have recognition. Seattle Magazine just did a write-up about Eric Eisenberg, our executive chef. I’m proud we help add value to our organization’s reputation.

I believe successful leadership means helping people find what they excel in then helping them move toward that; you must have integrity and the ability to convey a vision and establish a reason why they want to go there. I say, ‘Keep your eye on the prize.’ In room service, for example, focus on where we’re going and not on the roadblocks.

To unwind, Mike and I have talked about [hiking] the Pacific Crest Trail. We’ve done the Wonderland Trail; it’s about 90 miles and goes around Mt. Rainier. There’s about 22,000 feet of elevation gain and absolutely incredible scenery. It’s really fun to climb with people you’ve climbed with before.

My goals yet to achieve? Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but I’d like to be on the speaker circuit—I love to share with people. The other goal I’m setting out to do: at the end of February we celebrated the 10th birthday of room service and I want to pioneer the next generation. I think the whole piece about how consumers are demanding more information about their food can be addressed. One thing that drives room service is choice. Maybe there needs to be fewer choices of better things, taking it to the next level while being sensitive to the constraints of healthcare. So how we reinvent this will have to be cost-conscious, good quality and address how to produce it with the resources you have.”

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