Suzanne Cryst: Home Maker

Suzanne Cryst, RD, LD, food service director at Maria Joseph Living Center, part of the Premier Health Partners network in Dayton, Ohio, provides multiple home-style choices to allow residents to feel they're in their own home. Staff training to improve the retherm process has heightened food quality, reduced plate waste and increased patient satisfaction.
—FSD of the Month, December 2006

Having spent four years working in nutrition services in several acute-care facilities, Suzanne Cryst, RD, LD, knew there had to be a better fit for her brand of clinical and management talents. Buoyed by American Dietetic Association mentors who helped her pinpoint her strengths, she found what she was seeking in working with the elderly: first at Summit and Hilltop Nursing Home in Cincinnati (1979 to 1992); and currently at Maria Joseph Living Care Center in Dayton.

"I'm one of those fortunate RDs," she confides. "I found my niche in full-time long-term care, working on the management side as well as the clinical. It gives you a chance to see how your decision-making can have positive outcomes."

Maria Joseph, part of the Premier Health Partners network, is a 351-licensed-bed facility also serving an additional 40 residents who live independently in apartments. Since Cryst arrived there four and a half years ago, she has dealt with day-to-day issues on site, as well as serving as liaison with other departments of nutrition services in the network to ensure that her facility has a voice in decisions. In Dayton, Premier members include Miami Valley Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, Middletown Regional Hospital and Samaritan North Health Centers.

Satisfaction (almost) guaranteed: At Maria Joseph, Cryst never loses sight of what lies at the heart of this resident-focused care center: choice. Residents choose to come there to live and, when it's mealtime, they must be provided with nutritious and pleasing options. Occasionally, however, delivering the "pleasing" part has been Cryst's challenge, especially during the first few months on the job. Today, she can point to a customer satisfaction rating that has soared from approximately 55% to 88%—in less than five years—as measured by in-house surveys and also by those provided by the National Society for Healthcare Foodservice Management (HFM) Benchmark Express program.

"Our stats are also run with staffing," she reports. "We went down from about 80 FTEs (in 2000) to approximately 50 now, so we're in the 25th percentile for staffing hours as measured by HFM benchmarking. Our food cost is usually in the 30th percentile in benchmarking; having the buying power of Premier since 2000, when we went to a retherm system, has been a lot of help for this 75-year-old facility. It hasn't happened overnight but rather over time."

Cryst has tweaked and innovated in order to improve retherm product while educating and communicating with her staff and residents. "When I arrived two years after this facility went to a retherm system, there were still some challenges that needed to be overcome," she recalls. "Staff and residents didn't fully understand what was going on. They needed someone to help move it forward."

Retherm management: Cryst needed to address how to properly plate and deliver these meals as well as manage the system. Since staff didn't understand the science involved and the procedures for testing time and temperature, outcomes were inconsistent. "We also had some residents who thought that because we didn't cook items on-site from scratch, it wasn't as good quality as before," she explains.

"Our items are prepared at the Central Production Unit where they produce separate items for each of the hospitals (that are part of Premier Health Partners). The hospitals work on a one-week cycle but ours is a four-week cycle, so I select and write menus based on what they can offer us. That makes a big difference in how items are perceived. We had to communicate clearly that 'residents are not getting leftover product served yesterday at one of the hospitals.' It was a process of education and communication that is so vital in effecting change."

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