Jim McGrody, director of food and nutrition at 650-bed Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, N.C., has a vast culinary background. He attended a culinary arts high school. He was a cook in the Army. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, he worked in several hotels and restaurants before moving into the non-commercial world, where he worked in college and university and B&I accounts. In 2002, McGrody was recruited to join a hospital’s foodservice team, where he says he was shocked at the difference between patient and retail offerings.
“The retail side of healthcare was basically the same [as other locations],” McGrody says. “What I became involved with was the patient side. When I saw patient food I couldn’t believe the difference in what we were serving our patients and our retail customers. I made it my mission to look at patient food and try to improve it.”
Changing the mindset: That’s exactly what McGrody has done in his 18 months at Rex. McGrody transitioned the department to self-op in January 2009. Since the transition, patient satisfaction has increased more than 50% to reach the 80th percentile on a consistent basis. For its efforts, the team was awarded the Streak Award from the hospital, a quarterly award honoring departments for their contributions to patient satisfaction.
McGrody attributes the increase in patient satisfaction to better quality food. “We went in with the mindset that we were going to change what a typical hospital menu would be,” McGrody says. “We really focused on heart-healthy foods. A lot of hospitals cut the salt in everything and they serve it across the board so they can meet all the different diets. We took a different approach.”
Instead of simply cutting salt, McGrody and his staff reduced salt and added fresh herbs, which are grown in the hospital’s campus garden. The foodservice team also changed the way food is cooked. “We do a lot of grilling and elemental cooking,” McGrody says. “We do a calypso chicken, which is a chicken breast that is marinated in fresh pineapple, mango, jalapeño and cilantro. It’s marinated overnight, and we grill it and serve it with a very light roasted tomato sauce. We top that with a little mango salsa.”
McGrody says items on the heart-healthy menu have nine grams of fat or less and between 200 and 300 milligrams of sodium.
Details make a difference: McGrody says the most rewarding part of his job is providing high-quality meals to patients because “they go through a lot during the course of their stay and what little comfort we can provide to make their stay happy and help them forget that they are in a hospital even for a brief second makes me feel good.”
For McGrody, it’s sometimes the little things that make all the difference. One small change that had a big impact was coffee. A local roaster, Larry’s Beans, was brought in and now all coffee served in both patient and retail foodservice is ground on premise. “A patient usually gets a tiny cup of cof- fee that goes up with the meal. We put a 20-ounce carafe on the tray, and they can pour their own coffee just like at a restaurant. It’s a detail touch.”
McGrody has been focused on patients since his first week in health-care foodservice. “I saw a lady looking for our catering department. It was she and her husband’s 50th wedding anniversary, and she wanted to do something special. He was a patient on a special floor, and I didn’t even know where that was. I told her I would do whatever I could. I had to take a taxi to go get fresh seafood. I cooked the meal and served it. I went home and didn’t think anything of it. It was just another meal, and I had cooked thou-
sands of them. A couple of weeks later I saw this lady again. She said, ‘My husband passed away a couple of days ago and you made our wedding anniversary so special. He talked about that meal until the time that he died. You will never know how much you impacted our lives with that meal.’ I realized for the first time in my whole cooking career that I had actually made a difference in someone’s life.”
Retail operations: McGrody’s dedication to patient foodservice has carried over into retail. The heart-healthy menu was brought into the cafe- terias, a move that helped Rex become the first hospital in Wake County to be designated with the Red Apple status from NC Prevention Partners, a nonprofit that promotes healthier lifestyles. The Red Apple status designates that the hospital has a healthy food environment. Retail sales have increased 36%. “The contractor used a lot of canned and frozen vegetables,” McGrody says. “We use fresh vegetables.” Most produce is delivered daily from the state’s farmers’ market, and the hospital offers a daily farmers’ market of its own.
In addition to using fresh items, the retail menu changed significantly. “The contractor was doing basic foods you would picture in a hospital cafeteria,” McGrody says. “We have salmon and rib eyes. We got people excited about food again. The check average when we took over was around $3.40. Now we’re around $4.90.” One way McGrody got customers
excited about the cafeteria food was through in-house branded concepts, many of which he created while he was associate director at the University of North Carolina Hospital in Chapel Hill. Rex is a part of the UNC Healthcare system.
“The thing that is unique about Jim is that you don’t have to tell him what to do,” says Angelo Mojica, director of food and nutrition services for UNC Hospitals. “I joke sometimes that he’s a diva. He’s so passionate about food.”
When Mojica wanted to develop branded concepts at UNC, he turned to McGrody. “I took him to a Chipotle and said, ‘I want something like this.’ Two days later he came to me with the whole plan, down to the kind of peppers he wanted to use.”
That concept was Bandaleros. “This was created as an answer to the typical ground beef tacos that you find in most hospital settings,” McGrody says. Bandaleros offers beef machaca, pork carnitas, flan and made-to-order sopapillas, along with housemade pico de gallo, salsas and jasmine rice.
Other branded concepts McGrody developed include Continental Traders, the traditional hot line with items such as braised ox tail, blackened mahi mahi and turkey mole; Fast Breaks, which offers grab-and-go items; Cosimo’s, a pizza and pasta location; and Chefs in Motion, a daily display cooking station that accounts for 11% of café sales.
Promotions have also created buzz. One of the most successful was 20 Days Around the World, during which authentic food from a different country was served each day. “We went to Jamaica, Australia and all through Africa and Asia,” McGrody says. “We did a lot of research and went to local markets to get authentic ingredients. When we went to Australia we did a Jolly Jumbuck in a Tuckerbag, which is ground lamb wrapped in a puff pastry and served with a creamy onion gravy. When we were in Mexico we did not do tacos and fajitas.”
For the promotion, customers were given a passport and when they ate food from that day’s country, they received a stamp. If a customer ate all 20 days, he or she could turn in the stamped passport for a prize.
Training: With all the menu changes, McGrody knew he needed to train his staff, so he started the Black Hat Training program. “We are touting restaurant-quality food and many ofour cooks have never worked in restaurants,” McGrody says.
Black Hat Training is a four-tiered program during which cooks learn skills such as knife techniques and how to make veal stocks to food costing and placing orders. So far eight chefs have been through the program. McGrody says all cooks will go through the program. “Our training is vastly different in that they are taken out of the job and they go to ‘school’ for four weeks,” McGrody says. “You can take someone who has been cooking wrong for many years and he doesn’t buy in to the whole thing, and when he comes out he is a different employee.”