Regina Toomey Bueno: Team Builder
Regina Toomey Bueno, senior director of food and nutrition services at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, isn’t afraid of change. When she interviewed at NYU in 2007, Toomey Bueno’s plan for the foodservice department was to change patient service from a traditional tray line to a pod system. The switch would require full support and buy-in from the hospital’s administration and foodservice staff. Toomey Bueno was hired in January 2007, and immediately started working to set up the pod system, which went live in January 2009. When she talks about the change, Toomey Bueno is quick to point out that the switch was a collaborative effort and was only possible because of her team’s dedication and open-mindedness. For her employees, however, the change to pods, and many other changes since Toomey Bueno came onboard, are because of the team mentality she has fostered.
“I think I have a really great group of people who work here and they put up with my nonsense,” Toomey Bueno says. “The pod thing was really big, and they really got excited about it and they did a great job. They had to believe me when I first got here and they did and it’s been great.”
Jonathan Murray, director of patient food and nutrition, says, “Regina involves everyone in the process of change. Her confidence radiates throughout the department and gives everyone a great sense of pride. It’s very unifying because we are all on this journey together. It’s one vision, but it’s a shared vision.”
A big component of that vision was the pod system. In the system, the tray line is broken up into several smaller, self-contained serving units. Each pod has a dedicated team that prepares meals for a set number of beds in the hospital. In June 2008, Toomey Bueno piloted one pod, and in January she switched the entire hospital to the pod system. The department now operates four pods. In addition, the department has switched from cook-chill to cook-serve. Now, only bulk items such as soups and sauces are prepared cook-chill. [To read more on pods, see FSD’s January 2009 issue, p. 42.] Even in the short time since the entire hospital has changed to pod service, Toomey Bueno says patient satisfaction has increased.
Building a team: NYU Langone Medical Center consists of the 850-bed Tisch Hospital and Rusk Institute for Medicine and the 125-bed NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases (HJD). All patient food is made at the main hospital—Tisch—and the food for patients at HJD, which is 15 blocks south of Tisch, is delivered twice a week. Patient food for HJD is still prepared using the cook-chill method. In total, Toomey Bueno oversees 280 FTEs and the production of 5,750 meals each day. With such a large operation spread out over two locations in New York City, it was essential for Toomey Bueno to build a strong management team.
“I’d say the biggest change besides pods has been changing the department’s structure,” Toomey Bueno says. “We eliminated some positions and created some new ones, particularly in the management team. We essentially had a director of operations and 85% of the department was reporting directly to him, which didn’t seem like a very doable job to me. So I created a director of patient service and a director of operations, which gave us a more reasonable split and allowed for better focus.”
In addition, Toomey Bueno increased communication. A daily managers’ meeting allows everyone to get on the same page and to address any concerns. “I think it’s important to foster the synergy of the team,” Toomey Bueno says. “You’ve got all these people and I think it’s important to have them interacting with each other. With our system before, it’s not that people weren’t team-oriented, but they were off doing their own things and we needed to bring them together.”