Staff Training that Benefits Everyone

While hospitals may take different approaches, directors agree personalized attention is key when developing employees.

Servers prepare for a meal at Dock Woods Community.

To educate and support a team that is productive and attuned to patients' needs, foodservice directors rely on a combination of training methods—some of which are decidedly low tech.

Giving individual attention: To ensure their new hires will perform at their best, foodservice directors are providing hands-on training centered on the individual. Group training, says Holly Emmons, food service manager at Union Hospital, Cecil County in Elton, Md., is reserved for introducing new equipment or changes in current practices.

“I think we need to stay focused on the individual and adapt to their personal training needs as a way to provide a successful learning environment,” says Emmons.

Dock Woods Community, a branch of Morrison Senior Living in Lansdale, Penn., and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., have new staff shadow more experienced employees.

“We pair a senior person with a newcomer for about a week to shadow and go over steps to work with the community,” says Dan Hildebrandt, director of dining services at Dock Woods Community.

Eric Adams, director of food and nutrition at St. Joseph’s, highlights the importance of choosing the right employees to train new staff. “When an individual starts in a department, he or she does a lot of shadowing with our A-plus employees; we want to make sure they get started on the right foot,” states Adams.

Training at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, N.J., an acute care facility with over 500 beds, is dedicated to developing customer service and problem resolution skills through role-play. “We put them through scenarios,” says Michael Atanasio, manager of food and nutrition. “We want to see how they will perform when they’re in the work environment, especially the front of house.”

Helping employees develop and reach goals: As part of staff development, each of these directors emphasizes the importance of setting goals with their employees and supporting their efforts along the way.

“I sit with them and ask what their goals are,” says Atanasio. “Then I help them build a plan to reach that goal.”

Training and support cannot be ambiguous, “otherwise it won’t happen,” he stresses. Managers, who are required to take four to six trainings a year, some internal and some external, are encouraged to research and choose some trainings autonomously, pending Atanasio’s approval.

“There are certain courses I would encourage them to take based on goals or areas of development I think they need,” he says. At the same time, Atanasio supports movement of his staff from one position to another, based on individual long-term goals. “I have a greater interest in seeing people develop and grow; I’m not just interested in keeping them with me,” he adds.

Similarly, Hildebrandt holds quarterly meetings with his management team, who then connect with their staff. They go over likes, dislikes, goals and aspirations. “Training is a constant piece that never ends; it depends upon the staff’s goals and hopes too,” he explains.

For example, employees passionate about horticulture created a garden that provides produce for the community. A cook who’s an avid baker is able to “own” that skill in the kitchen. This type of support, says Hildebrandt, “keeps them energized, engaged in the community and wanting to stay.” 

Don’t reinvent the wheel: take advantage of external existing programs: In addition to training programs tailored to the individual, healthcare facilities also rely on more standardized programs, developed either by the healthcare facility, government agencies, industry organizations or trade associations.

Atanasio, who is president of the New Jersey chapter of the Association for Healthcare Foodservice, uses a structured approach tailored to each position. After the initial hospital training, all employees participate in specialized training for their area of operation. In addition, the state requires all employees to take a two-day course in food safety that covers everything from soup to nuts and is good for five years. Similar state requirements exist elsewhere.

Atanasio’s also staff uses the Internet to stay engaged in the industry through Webinars and trainings from organizations like Healthcare Without Harm.

To promote consistency within the facility, Union Hospital requires all employees complete a standardized department orientation and training program.

At Dock Woods, Hildebrandt relies on ACTS (Associate Culinary Training Series) for his cooks and HATS (Hospitality Training Series) for front-of-house employees, established programs provided by Morrison Senior Living that helps ensure job uniformity among employees.

“A lot of cooks come from the restaurant industry to senior living for job stability,” explains Hildebrandt. “There’s a challenge to understand different textures and diets and why meals have to go out at an exact time. It’s a more repetitive and edgy training.”

Building relationships: No matter what the program, a key element to a successful training platform is the foodservice director’s relationship with staff.

“I think as a director, follow-up is a huge key to success in training,” adds Adams. “Building that relationship with a new employee is critical in the development and the tenure of that employee.”

It’s important for directors to model what they expect from their employees. “I’m not afraid to come out of my director role and put on my chef hat for the day,” says Hildebrandt. “I take ownership as if it were my own personal business.”