Tony Ceccarelli: Keeping In Touch

Deep in the snow-belt region of New York State, a white Nissan Maxima with Pennsylvania license plates pulls into the parking lot of 180-bed Lourdes Hosp. in Binghamton, NY, each weekday morning. The driver, Tony Ceccarelli, the facility's dir. of food and nutrition svcs., says he doesn't mind the commute one bit. Having been assistant director at the location for four years in the late 1990s, he'd left to serve as fsd at a long-term care self-op closer to his Scranton home, his wife and their two young children. But, when Morrison Management Svcs., the f/s contractor at Lourdes for the past decade, as well as hospital administrators invited him back as director two years ago, he happily returned.

Several years earlier, as an avid outdoorsman intensely interested in sports nutrition, Ceccarelli earned a bachelor of science degree in nutrition from Penn State Univ. After managing a restaurant for a year-and-a-half, he decided to focus on nutrition in a healthcare environment. "The 'people' end of it has been the main thing—I love making people well and being here ties it all together. I enjoy being a leader to the people in my department and I enjoy the retail business, but it's especially the nutrition side of the job that draws me," he explains.

A 'high touch' emphasis: Since Lourdes is a Catholic hospital with an active Spiritual Action Committee, Ceccarelli has been tapped to create a "more spiritual atmosphere" in the cafeteria (with $625,000 in gross annual sales). The effort is in line with administration's focus on employees and its desire to make the workplace better for them. With that goal top of mind along with an objective to improve the patient experience, he and his staff have implemented several programs over the past two years that are a fit with the hospital's "high touch" emphasis.

And there's much more coming soon as Morrison, in partnership with Lourdes (the parties recently signed a new 10-year contract), undertakes a $384,000 renovation expected to be completed by early spring.

"We're making a transformation to private rooms for our patients—our census is currently about 142. We'll continue to implement our Dinner for Two program which was conceived to make our maternity patients feel important. This provides an upscale, celebratory dinner for the new mom and her significant other," he explains.

Ceccarelli is particularly pleased with the tangible outcomes achieved by his staff's focus on the Cater to You program in which a hospitality associate greets each patient, lets them know what menu choices are available within their diet parameters and points out options for "picky" eaters. "We find out what patients really want right then and there, so there's a lot of patient interaction," he says.

Successful 'visitations': In fact, with the entire management team committed to making patient visitations—i.e., seeing about 120 patients per week—to make sure their stay is satisfactory, these scores have been in the 99th percentile for the last three periods, Ceccarelli proudly reports. "The challenge is to maintain high levels of satisfaction day in and day out and the visitation is the best way of checking your results," he contends.

Since there are many seniors in the local community, the Lourdes Care Plus program was created to draw them in to enjoy a nourishing meal at a reasonable price and provide health education.

"There are several hospitals nearby so we're in competition for market share, plus the hospital wants people to know they'll have a fine experience here. Those over 65 can apply for a card that entitles them to a 30% discount on their meal during the day—typically that's an entree, vegetable, starch and a beverage for $3.75. The program has been enhanced over time with salt-free and low-cholesterol options now available. When our renovation is complete, we plan to offer them an educational seminar one evening a month."

Retail revamp: During the past two years, Ceccarelli and his staff played an active role in the successful employee payroll conversion; set up and implemented Compass's Ritazza signature coffee concept which here offers Krispy Kreme donuts; introduced Au Bon Pain soups; and installed a state-of-the-art cash register security system.

The renovation will add Morrison's Spice of Life foodcourt format. "There will be many more choices including Life Source with one 'healthier' entree offered each day that's different from the main entree," Ceccarelli explains. "We're gearing this location for speedier service since employees only have a half-hour lunch break."

The department also handles vending which this year accounts for approx. $46,000 in sales. "We're really trying to provide choices when the cafeteria is closed. We have one cold food machine on the maternity floor and one in the servery area that can be accessed at night." One new machine will provide a hot vended option. Chicken nuggets or a pizza can be heated in an oven within the unit and "delivered," ready to eat, in 90 seconds. This is especially intended to provide a hot entree for the third shift, he points out.