John Miller: All systems go

By creating networkwide programs, John Miller has saved money and made foodservice at Henry Ford Health System more efficient.


John Miller has rejuvenated foodservice at the Henry Ford Health System by:

  • Consolidating menus and processes across the system to use labor and money more efficiently
  • Switching three of the hospitals from contract managed to self-operated
  • Implementing a healthy dining environment for patients and retail customers and participating in the Partnership For A Healthier America initiative
  • Offering community education classes at the West Bloomfield Hospital greenhouse, which also provides produce for the system’s meals 

Great leaders aren’t afraid of change. They understand that complacency is the first step to mediocrity. John Miller, systems director of culinary wellness for the Henry Ford Health System, based in Detroit, hasn’t shied away from changing the way the whole system operates. From creating consolidated systemwide processes, including room service, to transitioning hospitals to self-op and implementing far-reaching health and sustainability initiatives, Miller’s leadership philosophy is anything but laid-back.

Miller was hired 10 years ago as the foodservice director at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital. Within eight months, he was promoted to system director. The system is made up of six hospitals, 150 ambulatory care sites and two nursing homes. Miller is in charge of foodservice across the system. Not all sites, however, directly report to Miller, including the nursing homes and two of the hospitals. These sites have a foodservice director, who reports to Miller.

With such a large network under his control, Miller knew getting everyone on the same page would not only make his job easier but also create efficiencies by implementing similar processes and leveraging the system’s buying power.

One of the main steps to this systemwide cohesiveness was bringing everyone under the same management structure. Until three years ago, three of the hospitals were contract managed. “We have taken a 200-bed facility, our 802-bed flagship hospital and another 401-bed facility and converted them from contract foodservice to self-op,” Miller says. “That was a huge undertaking, but it’s been very successful.”

One of the biggest initiatives has been implementing room service in all of the hospitals. The process started at Wyandotte in a few patient units in 2006. “We knew that when we transitioned to room service, the initial start-up would be a little bit of a higher cost,” Miller says. “But we were able to prove that we’ve actually been budget neutral or better. When you look at net cost per patient day, it’s actually been reduced because we were able to look at efficiencies and ways to run the operations.”

One of those efficiencies was creating a template for a room service kitchen. The template was designed at Henry Ford Wyandotte and has since been implemented in two other hospitals. In this kitchen, there are three assembly lines. Workers on each line prepare meals for specific floors. For example, patient meals on floors one through three might be assembled exclusively on the first line. Patient trays are built in an assembly line, starting with cold food and condiments and ending with hot foods. All equipment is positioned so that staff have everything they need at their fingertips. As more hospitals are renovated, they will also use the same kitchen template. 

Patient satisfaction has increased since room service began. Henry Ford Wyandotte improved 50 percentage points—to the 85th percentile—in Press Ganey scores for food quality. Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, which opened with room service, has been in the 99th percentile since opening.

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