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Julie Jones: Busy Buckeye

At a Glance

Accomplishments

Julie Jones, R.D., has a simple measure for job satisfaction. “I always consider it a good job if at the end of the day I’m still learning and find excitement in what I’m doing,” explains the director of nutrition services at the Ohio State University Medical Center.

By that yardstick, Jones has a great job, because there surely is no lack of learning at this 855-bed complex made up of five hospitals including a cancer center, cardiac center and neuro-psychiatric facility. On top of her regular job as head of a department that provides foodservice for all these hospitals, Jones is part of the team creating a two-phase master space plan, the first phase of which will create a new cancer and critical care center and add nearly 300 beds—and 500,000 meals—to the campus by 2012.

“We’re having a building torn down and more buildings built in the same space, so there are a lot of phasing issues,” she notes.

Jones’s boss believes she is just the right person for the task.

“This project requires lots of informed decisions, forward thinking and projections,” explains Mary Angela Miller, administrative director for the medical center. “JJ has been identified as one leader who is able to capture operational concepts into understandable information and data that can be used to plan accordingly. She’s also a good resource manager, and is good at planning and keeping to budget.”

View from the top: Perhaps the best aspect of the planning process, according to Jones, is that it has forced her to look at her department in a new way.

“This has been a very difficult process because, you know, we think of the services we provide, and not necessarily the square footage we need to provide those services,” she notes. “From what I saw I felt we had some significant issues we had to address. In 2001, our meal volume was 1.1 million meals. In 2007, we are at about 1.8 million. The estimated volume by the time we put in these new buildings will be over 2.3 million meals, and our space is definitely tight.”

Aging system: Compounding the challenge is a tray delivery system that Jones believes has reached the end of its useful life.

“The system was put in place in 1996, and we made a significant upgrade in 2002 to add robotics delivery, but we know that the system will not last,” she says. “At the same time, the medical center wants to move forward with some kind of on-demand service for patients, much like room service. So we really have some challenges.”

Jones has engaged Ruck-Shockey as her operational consultant and JEM Associates as design consultant on the project, which will include the addition of hospitality centers. These centers, which will facilitate on-demand foodservice, are currently being tested in the James Cancer Center, on a long-term hematology-oncology unit.

“It has been a fascinating challenge because we are a cook-chill facility,” Jones explains. “So we are envisioning a model for room service that will use cook-chill as a base for production, but allow tray make-up and everything else at a point much closer to the patients, in these hospitality centers.”

But challenges like this are nothing new for Jones. A clinical dietitian by education, Jones found herself immersed in management even while still studying in Ohio State’s medical dietetics program during a summer job at a 93-bed hospital in western Ohio.

“The two dietitians there said, ‘Julie, we’re going to teach you foodservice,’ and they showed me a different perspective than I was going to school for, which was probably to be more of a nutritional support dietitian,” Jones recalls.

When Jones graduated, she returned to that same hospital, now known as Mercer Health, where she worked for a little more than two years.

“My boss told me this would be a great learning opportunity for me,” Jones says. “Well, she ended up leaving the position and I became the department director with very little experience. But I got the chance to see a lot more than just clinical nutrition.”

After two years, Jones returned to Ohio State to earn her master’s degree in nutrition and began working part-time at the medical center as a staff dietitian. She had moved up to be clinical nutrition manager when Mary Angela Miller came in as the department’s director. When Jones expressed the desire “to do something different,” Miller made Jones her protégé by appointing her to the newly created position of associate director.

“I did that for about 14 years and I loved it,” Jones says. “I managed every area of our department at one point or other, so I got to learn a lot about a wide variety of things.”

One of the things Jones has learned is not to ignore the present while planning your future. She has continued to improve foodservice in several ways, by leveraging technology, as well as by introducing low-tech programs for keeping staff motivated.

“With the growth that we have had over the years, we have had to find ways to do more for staff in remote locations,” she explains. “One thing we’ve done is opened two Seasons Express locations, smaller retail venues in places that external folks said they wouldn’t touch. In these retail areas we’ve done a phenomenal job of developing grab-and-go concepts and keeping them fresh to meet the needs of people who don’t have access to our bigger cafés.”

On the high-tech side, Jones has worked with the medical center’s IS department to implement payroll deduction for cafeteria purchases and create an online ordering system for nursing units so that they can order bulk items such as milk and juice more easily.

“Since we implemented the payroll deduct, speed of service in the cafeteria is much faster,” she notes. “Thirty percent of our 13,000 staff members use payroll deduct, and we also do credit cards. So about 50% of our sales are through payroll or credit, and we actually were able to eliminate one of our five registers because of it. And many days, we can operate with only three registers. Cash has become our slowest form of payment.”

Filling stock online: Online bulk ordering has solved the problem of keeping up with the needs of more than 40 patient care units for stock items like beverages and snacks.

“We worked with IS to develop a Web-based application to customize bulk orders,” she explains. “Nurse managers see what they need, then go online and place an order, we deliver it and they use online reports to tell us what they are using at all times. It also facilitates costing, making sure that the right units are being billed the right amounts.”

She adds that the bulk ordering system served as a platform for the department’s Intranet service.

“It allows us to put our retail café’s menus on the Web, and we tied in nutritional information, which also has allowed us to create ingredient labeling for our grab-and-go items. We really have evolved technologically.”

Jones believes there is something in her genetic make-up that has allowed her to take so well to the management side of the business.

“I remember taking a career planning test years ago, and as a result of my answers my dot fell on dietetics exactly,” she recalls. “But I remember that on the chart, dietetics sat up in a corner all my itself. The only career close to it was accounting, so I think it must be in our skill set. I’ve always liked accounting, so I’ve been able to develop those skills.

“I’m also more of a technology geek than I’d like to admit,” she adds.

But she also knows how to get back to basics when it comes to job satisfaction. Her department boasts a turnover rate of less than 15%, part of which she attributes to finding ways to keep staff motivated.

Lazer Tag and rock walls: “We actually have figured out how to do staff retreats,” says Jones. “We have taken members of the staff off-site for four-hour retreats multiple times over the last two years. We’ve gotten very creative, with things like Lazer Tag and rock-climbing.

“Not only do these retreats allow us to emphasize skills such as scaling new heights or taking control, it also gives staff access to us in management in a different way,” she adds. “For example, I can climb the rock wall with them. In Lazer Tag, they can ‘shoot’ us multiple times, which, believe me, can be a great way for them to release stress.”

Through other staff reinforcement, such as one-on-one chats and daily “huddles,” Jones believes her managers have brought staff more into the loop as they going through “a significant amount of change.”

“Staff feel they understand the mission and the vision of the organization,” Jones says. “We keep them engaged so that they understand their roles better.”

As if Jones didn’t have enough to do at OSUMC, she also sits on the Ohio Retail Food Safety Advisory Council, which provides recommendations for what the food code should be for the state’s Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture.

“I represent institutional foodservice in Ohio,” she notes. “That’s helpful because sometimes they forget that we’re not all like standard restaurants.”

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