Michael Atanasio: The Ideas Man

By Becky Schilling, Editor

Patient menus: Retail operations are only half of Atanasio’s focus. He has also been working to revamp the patient menus. His big project has been bundling meals, much like you would find in a restaurant. “Instead of the traditional meatloaf, chicken and something else and then you pick your sides and your starch, we are bundling it,” Atanasio says. “For example, you can get honey-glazed chicken with oven-fried potatoes and Capri-blend vegetables, or country-style pot roast served with mashed potatoes, peas and carrots.”

Atanasio says bundling meals is one way to “get out of the hospital realm” while in the hospital. Another way he is accomplishing this is through a packaging change for pediatric meals. Instead of delivering meals on trays, pediatric patients will soon receive meals in a lunchbox. Atanasio is still considering whether that lunchbox will be metal or paper with graphics.

Another small change is for patients on puréed diets. The menu no longer has the word “puréed” written before every menu item. “They know they are sick,” Atanasio says. “They don’t need us to drill it into their heads.”

The maternity menu has also seen a change. Last September Atanasio started a Dinner for Two program for new mothers. The meal is delivered on a table with a tablecloth, china, a vase with flowers and a bottle of sparkling water. The food is delivered in domes like ones used in hotel room service.

“The menu for the Dinner for Two program is very upscale,” Atanasio says. “Where most hospitals go wrong is they do an entrée like a filet mignon, which is extraordinarily difficult to maintain the temperature and the integrity unless you literally grill it and bring it right up. I made a menu that is really nice and as foolproof as possible. We have grilled shrimp scampi on sugarcane skewers, eggplant Parmesan, lasagna rolettes and osso bucco.”

Since starting the Dinner for Two program Press Ganey scores in the maternity unit are up 40 percentage points.

FSD of the Month, Overlook Hospital, heart-healthy items

Come together: Atanasio is the first to admit he’s had help with the department’s transition. “I’d like to say I did it all, but our success, in a large part, is not attributable to me.”

Ryan says Atanasio’s management style has led the team’s turnaround. “The way Michael manages is through a group effort,” Ryan says. “He doesn’t directly assign to one person. It’s everyone’s responsibility so everyone takes ownership of what we’re doing.”

“Getting the employees more engaged was a big initiative,” Atanasio says. “When you have a good foundation with your employees, other things come easier.”

One way Atanasio got the employees more engaged was with a quarterly department newsletter, which has department news, events, tips on healthy living and work safety and recipes. The newsletter also recognizes the employee of the month, another new program started last summer.

Several other changes also mark an upswing in camaraderie. New uniforms were purchased. All managers send a thank you card to one employee every month to compliment them on a job well done. A suggestions bulletin board is in place for staff to offer ideas for improvement. Every couple of months, Atanasio meets with each employee for 10 minutes to discuss concerns or ideas the employee may have.

In addition, Atanasio started a culinary training program for the cooks, during which they learn skills like cooking soups, sauces and gravies from scratch as well as the basics of food safety. At the end of the program, the cooks are given a set of knifes.

Even with all the team has accomplished in the past two years, Atanasio says they are only about 60% of where he wants the department to go. For Atanasio and his staff that means many more ideas are on the way.

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