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Niagara University to help enhance hospital’s foodservice program

The college of hospitality and tourism was called upon to design the café and improve patient scores at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.

Administrators at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, in New York, have turned to an old partner to give them a new perspective on the hospital’s foodservice program. The hospital has teamed up with the college of hospitality and tourism management at Niagara University to help them design a new cafeteria and improve patient satisfaction scores.

According to Pat Bradley, director of marketing and communications, tapping into the college’s local talent was a natural fit. "We use a lot of Niagara students as interns,” Bradley says. “I even have a couple in my office. So when the hospital decided it wanted to redo the cafeteria, we thought about asking the university for help."

Joseph Ruffolo, the hospital’s CEO, says one goal of the partnership will be to replace the old foodservice space with a new café that will provide more menu choices, improve traffic flow and give customers a more inviting ambiance.

In addition, students will help to design an incentive program for employees that the hospital hopes will improve patient satisfaction.

“Niagara students and staff will work at customer satisfaction from the standpoint of the healthcare consumer,” Ruffolo says. “That perspective will benefit our patients and their families.”

Rev. James Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University, says that although the university and the hospital have worked together in the past, this is the first formal agreement the two parties have entered into.

“Professor Scott Beahen, the foodservice director for the college of hospitality and tourism management, and I met with [Ruffolo] and members of his team in late January to discuss the new concept that the hospital envisioned for their outdated cafeteria area,” Maher says. “The initial stage is focusing on the new design for this bistro concept. The second phase of this cooperation will address customer service, and we will begin discussions on this aspect of the agreement at the end of April or early May.”

The hospital and university are working with Cannon Design on the cafeteria project. Cannon, headquartered in Chicago but with offices around the country, including Buffalo, N.Y., most recently received an award from the Association of College Unions International for its design of the new Gordon Dining and Events Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Beahen and a team of three Niagara University students met with Mary Degnan, R.D., director of nutrition services, toured the foodservice facility, interviewed staff and drafted design concepts based on staff input and planned utilization of the space. The team then met with Michael Mistriner, a principal at Cannon, to discuss the concept and review the students’ plans.

Degnan says the project is still in the early stages, although rendering of what the new space could look like have been sketched out. But she notes that the servery will be reconfigured to provide customers with multiple stations offering a variety of healthier food choices, and the overall feel of the space will be more like a bistro. “We will completely transform the foodservice and social experience,” she explains.

In addition to the redesign, the hospital will work with the university to create a program to help the hospital improve its Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores. HCAHPS uses the results of patient surveys to grade hospitals on a variety of services, including foodservice. Under the new Affordable Care Act, HCAHPS scores are tied to such items as Medicare and Medicaid funding. 

“The university will develop an incentive program for hospital staff to help them understand the importance of favorable HCAHPS scores,” Maher says. “We’ll train staff in best practices in customer service to improve those scores.”

Maher adds that the projects mesh well with the college’s focus on “practical industry applications.” “This is why we agreed to participate in the project at the initial meeting, even though we were already several weeks into the semester and students had their course and work schedules set at that time,” he explains. “This project also develops leadership skills in our students. It was too good of an experiential opportunity for our students to pass up.”

The hospital and the university have worked together informally on several projects in the past, such as ReNu Niagara, the university’s community outreach program that is funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The hospital’s contribution was the Community Health Worker program, which is designed to reduce infant mortality rates by promoting prenatal and perinatal care.

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