Operations

How one foodservice operator is staying on top of the COVID-19 crisis

Tim Schoonmaker and his team use a CER statement to anticipate problems during emergencies and figure out how to solve them.
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Preparedness is key when it comes to emergencies of all kinds. Tim Schoonmaker, system director and executive chef of Centra Culinary Creations at Centra Health in Lynchburg, Va., shares how he and his team use a Cause, Effect and Resolution statement to get ahead of an emergency and the additional steps they’re taking to stay on top of COVID-19.

Q: Can you give a brief explanation of a CER statement and how to create one?

The CER statementwhich stands for Cause, Effect and Resolutionlists every possible cause or issue that you may face during any sort of disaster, from the most extreme of situations to something as minor as losing water or electricity. The CER statement should be very thorough, and list all possible situations, what the effect on the operations would be, and the resolution, which lists the actions you would take to respond to the situation.

The more detailed these statements are, the better your response plans are. Disasters are something that need to be worked through; once something happens, it is too late to plan for the response. Closing our operations or deciding not to serve meals is not an option. In most cases, we are called upon to assist outside entities with providing meals.

Q: How did you decide to implement a CER statement at your operation?

I have worked in healthcare for 20 years, in various roles from executive chef to area manager, in both long-term care and hospitals. Having spent a majority of my career in Florida, natural disasters such as hurricanes and flooding were always at the forefront. Our plans had to be in place long before hurricane season started: having our emergency menus in place, order guides to send to our prime vendor and staffing plans in place to ramp up production before, during and after the hurricane.

tim schoonmaker
Tim Schoonmaker

All of the variables, such as electricity, product availability, census and evacuation protocol, must be considered.

Q: Do you have any tips for operators coming up with their own CER statements?

When developing your CER, it needs to be as specific as possible, and include any potential situations that might affect your facility. Do not only consider natural disasters, but take into consideration any local emergencies, health emergencies (such as a pandemic) and how these situations affect daily operations and local events, such as riots, supplier shortages, loss of power, etc. This is not something that can be written in an hour or two. It will take days to complete. …They need to be as specific as possible and often have to be changed once a disaster is over and updated based on how you responded to the situation. 

Q: Are there any other things you and your team are doing in response to COVID-19?

There are a lot of unknowns with this pandemic. Things are changing daily. When we started to hear about the effects of the pandemic and what is taking place all over the world, we started to look at how this could affect our operations. Being the only healthcare provider in the central Virginia area, we knew that many people would be turning to us for guidance.

We reached out to our suppliers to look at potential supply issues. We bulked up our emergency supplies. We put a staffing plan in place that included isolation plans and housing for staff if needed. We updated our phone lists and employee addresses, and started a daily emergency huddle briefing. We meet regularly with our support services group to update our current situation (staffing, supplies, productivity).

With our hospitals being closed to visitors, we are seeing business down by over 50%. We have closed down our off-site cafes and have staff taking PTO time now, while they can. We are also changing our operations daily based on current guidance from incident command (social distancing rules, changing our platforms in our cafes to comply with regulations) and working with our HR team to provide meals and services for caregivers, including take-home meals, having supplies available and delivering meals off-site. 

Working with our community partners is also important: We’re ensuring that we are supporting Meals on Wheels and our adult day care programs. We also keep in touch with our suppliers daily, as our visitor access changes daily, and our suppliers’ access to inventory changes. We find ourselves changing menus and formats based on what we have available to us.

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