7 ways healthcare operators are tackling labor and supply shortages

FSDs shared how they’re solving these challenges during a recent webinar hosted by the Association for Healthcare Foodservice.
Food being delivered to a patient in a hospital
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Earlier this month, the Association for Healthcare Foodservice held a webinar to discuss the labor and product shortages that continue to impact healthcare operations.

Here are some tips from panelists, who discussed how they’re tackling those challenges and more.

1. Focus on doing a few things really well 

With the supply chain still in flux, panelists said they’re trying to keep menus simple and focus on items that are popular with patients and guests.

“We're going to cook the items that we know our patients and our customers are really going to eat and stop wasting time on trying to be better than average on everything,” says Joe Ninnemann, regional director of food and nutrition services at Advocate Aurora Health. “Let’s get really good at a handful of things."

2. Be proactive rather than reactive

Along with simplifying the menu, the team at Advocate has been taking a proactive approach with suppliers and communicates with their primary distributor daily to get a sense of what product is available and see where things are short, Ninnemann says.

3. Make sure measurements are accurate 

Another way to manage supply chain shortages is to make sure staff are following recipes correctly, says Executive Chef Nazim Kahn of Bryan Health in Lincoln, Neb.

“Before, you know, if you were making mashed potatoes, your recipe is saying probably one cup of heavy cream, but before, we did not see or go through that, but now actually as a chef or as managers we need to see: Are we really putting one cup or two cups?,”  he says. “So we just have to make sure that proper utilization is happening.”

4. Consider scaling back catering 

Advocate ceased catering operations at the beginning of the pandemic to focus on patient care. While they have brought some of it back, they’ve decided to remain at a reduced level to help save costs, Ninnemann says.

“In most cases, at least for us, [catering is] funny money,” he says. “It's money that we spend to produce, but we're not generating any revenue off of that because it's going to administration. […] It’s not that catering is ever going to go away completely, but to the level we used to do it, we’re maybe at 10% and that has saved us a lot of expense.”

5. Reach out to your local trade school

As operators continue to look for workers, Ninnemann and his staff have been working to connect with students at nearby high schools and trade schools to see if they would be infested in working even part-time while they finish school.

“[We’re] trying to get in touch with local tech schools, local high schools where there's youth apprenticeship or internship training programs,” he says. “How do we find and capture those candidates who are getting done with school? If they don't know what they want to do, let's get them in the door. Maybe they can get some school credit hours with us while they're in high school.”

6. Offer flexible hours

Another way Advocate is trying to attract workers is by offering flexible hours for potential employees who may have other responsibilities such as taking a child to childcare.

“Who's to say that a mother of two can’t come in and work 6 to 9 and then leave to drop kids at daycare and then come back and work 10 until 4?” says Ninnemann. “[…] But you’ve got to really take the time and do the legwork on the front end to figure out logistics and make sure that your process is sound before you do something like that. So those are some of the conversations we're having internally to think about really being innovative and being different on how we schedule our team because that's also going to change how we can connect to those candidates when they come in.”

7. Keep communicating 

There’s no limit to how much you can stay in touch with staff, Ninnemann says: “If you think that you're communicating enough, you probably need to do it more.”

And instead of just dictating a solution to staff, Ninnemann recommends bringing up the problem in front of workers and seeking their help with how to solve it.

“You let them drive the bus because they're the ones that know, they're on the line every day,” he says. “They're the ones producing those 200, 300, 500 meals a meal period. So, ask them, they know what they're doing.”


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