Donna Medlin: Growing Strong

Staff retention: Forty percent of Medlin’s current staff has been at the hospital for more than 15 years, with one worker who recently retired after a 45-year career. “The most rewarding part of my job is the people I work with, both my staff and the patients. I especially enjoy my staff,” she says. While Medlin attributes this longevity to St. John’s being a good employer, Karen Denny, the hospital’s operations manager, says Medlin’s management style and vast knowledge are key to retaining staff. “It is unusual for a foodservice director in a hospital to have so many years of experience and in such diverse fields,” Denny explains. That experience includes being a surveyor for the Missouri Department of Health, running her own catering business, and working in other healthcare and university operations. “I think a lot of times we try to force programs and progress,” she adds. “But with Donna it’s not forced. It flows.”

Another asset Medlin has is empathy for her staff. “Donna is very sensitive to the employees’ needs,” Denny says. “They know that if they are in a crisis and need help, Donna will direct them to resources.”

For her part, Medlin says she “hires to fit,” meaning she will look at past job performance as an indicator for future performance to gauge if a person is service oriented. “Generally, whenever there is a good fit between the department and the coworker, they stay around,” she adds.

Looking ahead: With so much growth in the last decade, it would be easy for Medlin to concentrate on her already full plate. Instead, she is working on new projects, including a kitchen renovation tentatively set for next year. Currently, the health system is in the process of implementing a new limited-paper information system. “We’re planning technology for the future,” she says. “That system is going to leverage all our information together, from patient charting to revenue streams to purchasing to payroll. So pretty much every workflow process  has changed or is changing.” The last portion of the program, electronic patient charting, will go live in December. Medlin admits that the change was difficult in the beginning, but she says the benefits, such as patient safety and efficiency, are worth the hassle. “When you’re dealing with patients from about 26 counties in rural Missouri and northwest Arkansas, it’s a pretty big geographical area to cover,” she says, adding that the new system will help in the foodservice department, for example, by automatically updating the hospital’s information when a patient at one of the clinics is diagnosed with an allergy.

In addition, Medlin is looking outside the health system to develop a pilot program that would feed senior citizens who are not being reached by other groups. Along with Denny, Medlin is creating a carryout meal program in response to the hunger problem in the Ozarks. “We  have a lot of staff who are taking care of their parents, and also in the community in general,” she explains. “So we are looking at some kind of take-home meal designed for the senior citizens.” Right now, Medlin is trying to determine how great the need is, but she says the county’s Meals on Wheels program is backlogged due to a lack of drivers.

Denny says this concern for the needy is not unusual for Medlin. “Donna has a very compassionate heart,” she says. “She is very active in her community, be that the hospital, her town or committees she is a member of. And we are hoping that this program will be an asset to this community.

“Neat things evolve when you work with Donna,” Denny adds about the development of the hunger take-home project. “She is very good about getting the right people at the table to talk about things,” she says, such as setting up initial meetings with a possible vendor for the project.

This isn’t the first take-home meal Medlin has provided for the hospital’s staff. In the Co-Worker Store, frozen pizzas are available, at $12 for a 16-inch pie. Medlin says the store sells an average of 15 to 20 pizzas each day.

Medlin says her “never say never” attitude is the biggest lesson she has learned in her 15 years at St. John’s. And that has translated into tripling the department’s growth and her mindset for looking ahead. “The future is always changing,” she adds. “And everything is possible.”

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