No one wants to be at a pediatric hospital, whether they’re a parent, a sibling or a patient themselves. This is something foodservice staff at Florida’s Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital understand well, so they strive to make the experience as positive as possible: They hold parties, cook off-menu comfort meals and focus on supporting the entire family. Read on to see how.Nominate an FSO of the Month
“I always say, you can’t be sad in a place with a dog and clown,” says Meghean Feidelman, the hospital’s director of food and nutrition services. “Unfortunately, a family is usually with us for a bad reason, but we work daily to make it as great as we can.”
That means every day at Joe DiMaggio brings something special for patients. Foodservice staffers dress up for Mouseketeer Mondays and Tutu Tuesdays, and they throw all manner of special events from costume parades to arts and crafts.
And if a patient wants a particular dish—even if it isn’t on the hospital’s menu, or the child is on a restricted diet due to their condition—the staff does everything possible to make that happen. “When any patient is in the hospital, they need some normalcy,” Feidelman says. “We get a lot of kids from overseas, and they probably don’t want pizza or burgers; they may want fish and pigeon peas with red lentils on the side. We’re committed to mimicking something they’re used to and providing that comfort.”Nominate an FSO of the Month
Making it personal
That individualized experience is a core focus for Feidelman’s staff, especially when serving a long-term patient who could tire of the menu. As a full-service pediatric hospital, Joe DiMaggio treats many patients with complex conditions like diabetes and kidney disorders or those who need an organ transplant.
“We work closely with the clinicians, and clinical diet [restrictions] are a line we need to walk carefully,” Feidelman says. “A cardiac patient might be craving chicken fingers and French fries, but their diet orders say no way. We have computer systems that help us tweak it, so we can do something like baked chicken and baked fries. It might be a little different, but it’s a nod to their craving while still keeping them in healthy guidelines.”
It’s important for pediatric patients and their families to understand those guidelines fully so they can continue to follow them once they head back home. But all of the information about the child’s diagnosis can be overwhelming—so in recent years, the hospital implemented several changes to streamline the education process and impart some lessons in the hospital in a low-pressure way.
This includes a new interactive system that lets patients order meals from their TVs rather than call down to room service. Diabetic patients, for example, will see how many carbohydrates their meal contains and the insulin levels needed to counteract it. Or, if a meal isn’t approved for a patient’s given clinical diet, the system will explain briefly why.
“Something as simple as physically seeing the amount of carbs in a given meal makes them alter their choices,” says Audra Nelson, Joe DiMaggio’s assistant director for pediatric clinical nutrition. “They can play around and see how they can fit things into their day’s diet, and that exercise helps them when they get home.”
Patients and their families also receive food-related education from Nelson, registered dietitians and specialists like certified diabetes educators. “It all puts the power back into their hands,” Nelson says. “It makes them feel, by the time they leave the hospital, that they’re not scared of this diagnosis.”Nominate an FSO of the Month
Keeping in touch
Feidelman agrees the food education revamp has been a massive success, but it’s one that has also required re-educating staff. “The nurses were used to using the interactive TVs for other processes in the hospital, so we had to get them to remind the patients it’s there,” Feidelman says. “Certain units are great at it, and [with] certain units understandably it’s not a huge priority for them. … We’ve made it part of nursing orientation, and we make sure we mention the system at least quarterly at staff meetings, using an upgrade or a new menu item as an excuse to have the conversation again.”
That continuous communication across the hospital is key to the foodservice team’s success, she says, noting that she’d advise other FSDs to reach out to different departments and assist them if needed. “If you make a concerted effort not to silo yourself,” she says, “others will reach back out to you, too.”
Nelson agrees, adding that that the hospital’s foodservice employees doesn’t see themselves as solely food and nutrition staffers. “Because that’s not all we do,” she says. “We love connecting the dots and being the ones who pull people together. We’re completely focused on what’s best for the patient, and when everyone goes in that way, you end up doing the right thing.”Nominate an FSO of the Month
Ask the FSD: Meghean Feidelman
Q: What are your goals for the coming year?
I’m given the ability to think broadly and go with it. Because my administrative team gives me that, I can give it to my team. They have the ownership to do things on their own. I have freedom, and they do, too.
Q: What makes your operation excel?
We’re applying for a grant to create a food pantry. We want to create a space where people can get milk, soap, shampoo, etc., with no one monitoring it—it’s really just about helping families. Finally, we want to have a garden space where we can teach families to grow food. Unfortunately, we don’t have a spot for a garden, but we do have six partner facilities and one has green space that we’re exploring. It all goes back to population health.