It takes a certain type of person to thrive during difficult times, and Nancy Geffre, director of nutrition and foodservices at 545-bed Sanford Medical Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., is one of those people.
Sanford has made dramatic changes in the past five years—opening a new surgical tower, children’s hospital and heart center—with each of these changes affecting foodservice. When space was needed for patient care, a major retail location was closed, leaving Geffre with the task of opening a new location, and quickly. Instead of looking at these changes as a challenge, Geffre saw them as an opportunity to create a better foodservice department.
Positive thinking: “Oftentimes, people can get overwhelmed when you are growing and building, but instead of looking at it from the downside Nancy always looks at it from the positive side,” says Kay Santema, vice president of cancer and women’s services, and Geffre’s supervisor. “She is always looking at what can we do here or what can we learn or how can we turn this around to be a positive thing. She is definitely a seasoned director who is a leader in every sense of the word. She builds exceptional teamwork. She’s a tremendous asset to our organization.”
Santema says one of Geffre’s greatest assets is seeing opportunity. “Every year it seems like there are projects that are going on,” Santema says. “Nancy is enthused and energized by that and she energizes the people who work around her. I think that’s an important component. I love working with her because she gives me energy.”
Santema calls her working relationship with Geffre a well-oiled machine, and the Association for Healthcare Foodservice (AHF) agrees. In June, Geffre was presented with the Partnership in Leadership Award, which is given to a member who has used teamwork to overcome obstacles to obtain project results.
Dakota Food Court: One of the big projects Geffre and Santema worked on together was the Dakota Food Court. Geffre was informed that the Heart Beat Café, a retail location in the heart center that featured healthy items, was going to be closed because the space was needed for patient care. Geffre knew the main cafeteria could not handle the added volume, so she started work on a new retail concept.
As luck would have it, a new surgical tower was close to being finished and there was some shell space on the ground floor, which Geffre was told could be used for a foodservice outlet.
“We knew there wasn’t enough space to put in a full kitchen, and it was quite some distance from the main cafeteria,” Santema says. “We were also very interested in doing as much locally as we could.”
That sentiment helped guide Geffre to a partnership with Hot Stuff Foods, a Sioux Falls-based company.
“I had met with Hot Stuff Foods and gone to the corporate office and test kitchen,” Geffre says. “I knew a lot about the company already in anticipation that someday I might have a partnership with them. I was informed that we needed to open something by July 2006 and this was early in that year. Because Hot Stuff Foods was already involved with the hospital by donating food to our Children’s Miracle Network, I felt they would make a good partner.”
The project was approved in February 2006, construction started in March and the location opened July 5th.
The location is a food court concept with stations like SmashHits Deli, C-Street Bakery and Dakota Food Specialties.
“I wasn’t totally confident that it was going to work out for me,” Geffre says about the partnership with Hot Stuff Foods. “I’m a dietitian and focused on serving healthy food. Hot Stuff Foods’ main business is pizza, not that pizza can’t be healthy. We found that they had other lines. We added the Phat Burrito line, which is very healthy. You have a choice of black beans and rice, chicken and vegetables in a nice whole-wheat wrap. It ended up that there was enough variety that I felt we could do the right thing for our employees and customers.”
Another asset Geffre found with the partnership with Hot Stuff Foods is that the hospital has become a testing ground for new products. One new product that Geffre asked to be developed was a high-fiber pizza dough. After a trial run the dough was added at the Dakota Food Court.
Geffre says about 25% of the options in the food court are self-branded offerings, which are available at the Dakota Food Specialties station. Breakfast items like omelets and eggs made to order, a housemade granola, fresh fruit and yogurt bar and breakfast meat are served from this station. Hot entrées such as baked fish or spaghetti with meat sauce are available at lunch. (Dakota closes at 4 p.m.) There is also a salad bar. Geffre says this station is popular with customers who are looking for healthier options.
While Geffre admits she wanted to ensure that healthy choices were available in the food court, customers said they wanted a variety of options. “When we surveyed our staff about what they wanted in a new retail outlet, they all said they wanted to have hamburgers and fries whenever they wanted them,” she says. “They didn’t have that before with the main cafeteria.”
Geffre says sales in the main cafeteria have not decreased since opening the Dakota Food Court. “We got new customers at the food court and some of the old Heart Beat Café customers went there. Both retail locations are very busy.”
Developing a foodservice brand: When Geffre found out she had to open a new retail location to replace the Heart Beat Café, she saw it as an opportunity to create an identity for the foodservice department.
“We were in the surgical tower and we were looking at the artwork and there’s buffalo and suns and nice Native American artwork. It sort of clicked at that time. I had always wanted to name something Dakota because no one else had really used that and I thought it would be a popular name for a restaurant.”
One of the pieces of artwork in the surgical tower had a rising sun, which was the inspiration for the Dakota logo. The logo was first used in the Dakota Food Court and has since been expanded to other foodservice concepts.
When the department started on-demand dining for patients (room service) in 2007, the program was named Dakota Dining. All patients are served with on-demand dining, including a 75-bed children’s hospital, which opened last year. When a new heart hospital is completed in the next couple of years, those patients will also be served with on-demand dining.
There is a central call center that all patients call in to place their orders. The children’s hospital has a kitchen from which meals for those patients are prepared. Once the tray is assembled, a transporter delivers a cart full of trays to the patient floors, where a room service ambassador brings the tray to the patient.
In preparation for the switch from a traditional trayline to on-demand dining, Geffre hired an executive chef to create an on-demand dining menu with items such as grilled salmon, grilled pork loin, and a variety of soups and sandwiches. The kitchen was also renovated to accommodate on-demand dining.
The Dakota brand is also used at a coffee kiosk, which sells some items from Hot Stuff Foods like muffins, cookies and cinnamon rolls.
Looking forward: “There is always a crane somewhere,” Geffre says about Sanford’s expansion. The foodservice department is also growing in scope. Geffre recently got the go-ahead to open up two additional Dakota coffee kiosks, which will also offer grab-and-go breakfast and lunch items.
“I think the success of what we’ve done with the Dakota Food Court and Dakota coffee has really paid off, and people recognize that foodservice is important in a hospital and it really does create good feelings for our customers and our staff. That’s why we got approval to expand more,” Geffre says.
Santema says Nancy’s leadership is a large part of the expansion’s approval. “Nancy is just a wonderful, dynamic leader. She is a visionary. She is able to see the big picture.”
Other projects Geffre is working on include increasing seating at the Dakota Food Court and creating a larger salad bar in a space currently used for vending. She is also planning a demonstration kitchen where outpatients and community members can take classes on healthy cooking.