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UCSF Health adjusts to the evolving coronavirus crisis

Changes to retail and patient feeding are designed to encourage social distancing and keep employees healthy.
Photograph: Shutterstock

As the entire country grapples with how to protect an increasingly vulnerable public, hospitals have been working to enforce measures to help employees, from front-line triage to back-of-house kitchen staff, operate at their best, safest and most efficient.

One hospital system on the front lines of the epidemic, UCSF Health in San Francisco, Calif., is implementing several procedures designed to encourage social distancing and keep employees healthy, all while continuing to serve healthy meals to patients, staff and visitors.

In a webinar held last week by the Association for Healthcare Foodservice, Dan Henroid, director of food services at UCSF Health, laid out the hospital’s strategies for dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, with the caveat that, as with everything related to the virus, they would remain flexible and adjust as circumstances change.

The hospital system, which has been treating COVID-19 patients since February, is urging all employees to be “extra vigilant” with hand-washing and other sanitation standards. As the hospital prepares to open a respiratory isolation unit for confirmed COVID-19 patients, as well as those suspected of having the virus, the foodservice department is working to make menu adjustments.

“We’re working on getting a reduced menu in place, not that we have to right now, but in anticipation of reduced staffing,” Henroid said.

The foodservice team also offering free guest meals to help prevent healthy people from roaming around the hospital more than is necessary. Right now, UCSF is allowing a limited amount of visitors, including the parents of pediatric patients and for end-of-life cases.

Reducing retail

“We’ve seen reductions in retail,” Henroid said, noting that sales in the hospitals’ cafes are down by about 45%. This  has actually allowed staff to focus more on cleaning and sanitizing than they’d otherwise be able to, he said.

Some of the retail adjustments at UCSF foodservice include:

  • The elimination of self-serve stations. Items such as chicken tenders, french fries and pizza will no longer be self-serve unless they are individually wrapped.
  • A temporary removal of the salad bar (grab-and-go salads are available in cafe refrigerators).
  • All cookies and desserts are now packaged.
  • Hot cereals, pastries and bread will be served by staff (toasters will still be available for guests).
     

The foodservice department also temporarily suspended its reusable mug program, placed tables 6 feet apart to encourage social distancing, reduced cafe seating by half in most hospitals and set up sanitizer stations at all entrances.

“At this time, we haven’t made any decisions [around closing cafes], because in some cases we don’t have spaces for break areas,” Henroid said. “It’s on our radar. But a full closure isn’t what we’re going to be doing right now.”

Stay tuned for an upcoming story about how UCSF Health is handling labor- and supplier-related issues during the coronavirus outbreak.

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