Foodservice Operation of the Month

Arkansas Children’s Northwest Hospital: Caring for kids and the community at large

Community spirit is the driving force behind the Morrison Healthcare team, who strive to bring moments of joy to patients and their families.
Chicken cacciatore and triple chocolate cake at Arkansas Children’s Hospital Northwest
The Morrison Healthcare team often hosts special events complete with fun new menu items to brighten patients' days. | Photos courtesy of Morrison Healthcare

“We take care of the little people—and the people who take care of the little people.”

That’s the daily motto for the Morrison Healthcare team providing the foodservice at Arkansas Children’s Hospital Northwest, says Food Service Director Megan Herrmann.

Because it takes a special person to work at a children’s hospital: to set a toddler up for their third chemotherapy treatment, to dress a child’s painful burn, to comfort young patients’ families on what may be the most difficult day of their lives.

It takes more than a village. It takes a community.

That whole-community spirit is the driving force for Herrmann’s team, who focus on bringing moments of joy to their pediatric patients, nourishing the physicians and staff who care for the kids, and inviting in neighborhood businesses to participate in special events.

“I think it’s important to share the wealth and spread the joy wherever you can,” says Herrmann. “Since we opened, we’ve challenged ourselves to think outside the box, and to bring people together.”

Since Arkansas Children’s Northwest’s opening in Springdale in 2018—as the region’s only children’s hospital and only 24/7 pediatric emergency room—the foodservice team has held scores of events like a Mother’s Day charcuterie board sale, holiday markets, and special meals.

Perhaps the quintessential example, however, is a summer pig roast and luau that truly brought together the foodservice team’s three areas of focus: patients and their families, hospital staff and community businesses.

Executive Chef Cody Dodson was buzzing after attending a Morrison research and development program called MasterWorks, and Herrmann had just returned from a vacation in Hawaii. They decided to purchase a whole local pig, roast it Hawaiian style and serve Kalua pulled pork in the hospital’s courtyard. Dodson shared the plan with a hospital staffer who is from the Marshall Islands (Springdale has a sizable Marshallese population). The staffer loved the idea and asked: “Do you need hula dancers? Because I know some.”

The luau was on, complete with a hula. Families gathered to dine on the pork from the local farmer, doctors and nurses spent some time in the sun, and pediatric patients enjoyed the show. For the second half, the dancers moved inside to perform for patients unable to come to the courtyard. The team noticed a patient clapping and giggling—and the patient’s mother weeping.

“The mom came up to us and said, ‘I just want to thank you guys. This is the first time that they’ve been out of their room in four days. They don't want to come out of the room. But seeing these girls dance completely changed them,’” Dodson recalls.

“That’s why we do these things: to help our kids here enjoy life,” he adds. “Meanwhile we’re supporting the farmer, we're supporting the local hula club, and we're getting the community together to experience something that they probably would have never seen outside of the hospital.”

‘The purpose-driven piece’

Not every day is a special event, but the foodservice team works to make Arkansas Children’s Northwest’s patients and families feel special every day.

Dodson performs “rounds” like those of the physicians in the hospital, meeting most of the patients one-on-one. While handing out oatmeal chocolate chip cookies encased in a package depicting Dodson as a superhero, he’ll introduce himself, learn patients’ preferences and meet their families.

Chef Cody cookie
Chef Cody Dodson hands out cookies to patients and learns more about them during "rounds."

“You see them frequently, and you see the stress and the anguish that the family goes through right along with the child. We try to ease that as much as we can through food,” Herrmann says. “Some kids come in and all they want is a few bites of ramen noodles. We will go to the store and get them ramen noodles, because our goal is to comfort them with what they want.”

Recently, the mother of one young patient came to the team with news and gratitude: Her child had gone from four tube feedings a day to just one—because they enjoyed the new menu so much and actually wanted to eat. They especially loved a French toast-style bread pudding that Dodson created in individualized loaf pans to maintain an appealing texture, as well as a paintable ketchup.

“We gave them the ketchup with these tiny pastry brushes, and they could paint it on their chicken tenders,” Dodson says. “As a culture, we’ve gotten away from playing with your food and having fun. But when they got to play with their food, it became something fun and led to them eating—which was life-changing.”

The child’s mother couldn’t wait to share that their tube feedings had declined by 75%. It’s moments like these—and others such as watching a child ring a bell after completing cancer treatment—that both remind the Morrison team why they’re here and drive their inspiration for future planning.

“We’re lucky because we have that purpose-driven piece of our jobs here,” Herrmann says. “It’s giving me goosebumps right now to think of it: We’re on our second wave of new families, and we get to know some of them so well that they come down to see us in the kitchen. It feels good to be a bright spot in the difficult days.”


Get to know Morrison Healthcare at Arkansas Children’s Northwest Hospital’s Megan Herrmann

See what’s in store for Herrmann’s operation, which was named FSD’s June Foodservice Operation of the Month.

Q:  What is it that makes your operation excel?

Our team shows up here for the kids. They have a reason that is far beyond a paycheck, and so we have a team of people who really cares.  We have a solid, strong team of people dedicated to making sure patients are taken care of. Our patient satisfaction scores are really high, and they've been consistently high for years.

Now, you can't make that happen with one person. We would not be able to do all these cool things we do if I didn't have my team, which is made up of diverse backgrounds and people. I truly think the more diverse your team, the better—especially in food. That's what makes food so amazing: Everyone wants to try these different flavors and new dishes. The mix of people keeps it exciting.

Megan Herrmann

Megan Herrmann 

Q: What are your goals for the operation in the coming year?

I want to make sure, as an operator, that I'm providing quality of life for my people. Frontline folks might clock in and out and do their 40 hours. But for managers in foodservice, you can end up working a lot. So, I’m in a mode right now of doing that gut check and making sure that what I'm asking of my team is doable because I want their personal and family life to come first.

That can be hard in food service: There's always a fire somewhere, always some kind of problem you can tackle. But if that starts to bleed into their home life, it’ll affect work. When everything’s going well at home, they’ll be more impactful at work. So, I'm really coming into this like: We can still push the envelope, work hard, and do really cool stuff, but there's a different way to go about it. You don’t have to stress out your team by constantly asking for too much.

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