Tonya Burnett: People first

Tonya Burnett's team mentality makes strides at St. Rita's Medical Center


Tonya Burnett has rejuvenated the foodservice department at St. Rita's Medical Center by:

  • building a strong team environment by mentoring employees and putting others first
  • implementing a room service program for patient dining, which has increased patient satisfaction, allowed the addition of local and seasonal menu favorites and reduced the amount of trays per patient day
  • starting a productivity initiative that resulted in the elimination of 10 FTEs, and reducing in-house catering services to cut costs to the hospital
  • building a new kitchen and café and increasing revenue and meal transactions

Tonya Burnett, director of nutrition services for 434-bed St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima, Ohio, is described as “very people focused,” by Chris Provaznik, vice president of operations. “She is very caring about her staff and our patients.” It’s that caring attitude that has enabled Burnett to expand services while decreasing costs and employee hours, Provaznik says.

“Tonya is focused on doing the right thing for her employees,” Provaznik says. “She is a strong advocate for them. She has given her time to mentor employees who have then been promoted and gotten higher paying jobs. Her employee group, for the most part in the hospital system, is the lowest-paid group, and Tonya works with HR to provide financial counseling for them.

“It’s a team that pitches in. Last week we had 40 more patients than we did beds, and everyone was in the kitchen helping,” Provaznik adds. “Two of the supervisors were plating food.”

This team attitude is on display during the hospital’s annual United Way campaign. Nutrition Services has consistently been one of the highest contributing departments. The department was honored last year for its efforts with the 2009 Campaign Chairman’s Award. Always the team player, Burnett is quick to deflect personal praise. “All the things we have accomplished and worked on at St. Rita’s Medical Center are because of great teamwork and effort on everyone’s part,” she says. “It is not just me. My team is outstanding.”

Patient service: One of the things the team was able to accomplish was switching to room service for patient dining in February 2010. “We were doing retherm,” Burnett says. “Our primary reason [to switch] was to increase patient satisfaction. We also needed to move away from [the old] system because it limited the types of foods we could serve.”

Patients can order meals between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. by dialing a call center to place their orders. The ticket is printed on the production line where the food is prepared to order. Finished trays are put in carts, which are designated by zone to break up delivery. A timer is started when the first tray is put in the cart. After 15 minutes a porter takes the cart to an ambassador on the patient floor. The ambassador delivers trays to the patients. Burnett says the average delivery time for a tray is less than 30 minutes.

Since the switch to room service, patient satisfaction has increased. Press Ganey scores for the department’s overall meals are now in the 70th percentile for all of Press Ganey. Before the switch to room service, the department’s overall Press Ganey scores were in the 39th percentile. For facilities the same size as St. Rita’s, the department is in the 91st percentile. The department is in the 95th percentile for facilities its size for quality of food.

“We changed the menus pretty extensively when we went to room service,” Burnett says. Burnett’s team worked with a room service consultant, Room Service Technologies, to create new menus. “We put together what we thought might be menu options from our old menus and what was popular,” she says. “They shared with us things that other facilities had used.”

Menu changes: The menus also were changed organizationally. Previously all items were offered à la carte. Now the items are bundled to create meals. For example pork roast is offered with sweet potatoes and green beans. Burnett says most patients order the meal as it is combined on the menu, but she said patients could make substitutions.

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