Molly Matthews was first exposed to the healthcare industry at a young age, as her mom worked as a nurse administrator throughout her childhood. One thing she learned early on was the connection between acute care and post-acute care.
“She [Matthews’ mom] used to call and say, 'Oh, the hospitals calling because they need to discharge patients and we're full and we got to find beds,'” said Matthews. “I got that exposure between that whole continuum between the acute care setting and post-acute very early on. And how we service those two markets, I think, is a real opportunity for us.”
Matthews was named CEO of Sodexo’s seniors and healthcare divisions in November of 2023. And her plans for the future include creating synergy between the two markets and specializing where it makes sense, with a focus on patient outcomes.
The ebb and flow between the two sectors
Matthews, who previously served as COO for the company said that while the two sectors are different, they impact each other.
“They’re two very different businesses within the market. However, there's a continuum of care between the acute care setting and the post-acute setting or vice versa,” said Matthews. “If you have a resident in a long term care setting and then they have to move into the acute care setting and back, there is an ebb and flow between the two areas.”
Matthews said that Sodexo aims to bring efficiencies to both sectors while recognizing their differences, namely the difference in priorities.
“Within the non-acute care setting when we talk to our clients, their number one focus is elevating the resident experience,” she said.
That, along with preventing malnutrition, other nutrition related illnesses and readmission, are some of Matthew’s priorities as she leads Sodexo’s healthcare sector.
“Most of our health systems have metrics where they look at patient outcomes and the direct tie that foodservice has between malnutrition,” said Matthews. “The impact that we can make on length of stay, readmission rates, we absolutely need to have a foot in the game when it comes to patient outcomes.”
And when it comes to long-term care institutions, a lot has changed in recent years, said Matthews.
“When you look at the kinds of patients that are in the long-term care settings or independent living organizations, the competition and the expectations that the residents have has been greatly elevated from what it was 10 years ago,” she said.
Therefore, the challenge, said Matthews, is staying ahead of the market with innovation in order to provide the feel of a home setting that differs from the typical long term care of the past.
“That they feel like they have the same experience that they would have in a home setting, but they have it in a residential setting in a way that's different than your long term care setting of my mom's days, if you will,” said Matthews.
When it comes to challenges, inflation has been one pressing concern throughout the last year, said Matthews, though she said it has eased as of late. Food costs, especially, have been a challenge. But the Sodexo team has worked through it with creativity, said Matthews.
“It's been interesting because our clients have gotten creative around how they look at menu management, product selection,” she said. “And it really has accelerated the pace at which people are looking at alternative food models, etcetera.”
The second major challenge is around labor costs and ensuring workers are paid a livable wage.
To work through that challenge, Sodexo conducts labor wage rate analysis’ and ensures that it is offering competitive wages in line with the market. Sometimes, this means having difficult conversations around wage adjustments, said Matthews.
“But having a livable wage and making sure that our employees are excelling in the markets that they serve, I think, is critical and it's a conversation that we continue to need to have within the industry,” she said.
Goals for the future
Moving forward, Matthews hopes to see outsourcing become more normalized in the healthcare and senior segments.
Matthews said that within the market, most of the other industries are at 90% or higher outsourcing for their foodservice offerings, but within the healthcare and senior settings, the percentage drops below 30%.
“But when you look to a service provider, like Sodexo as an expert in the field, there's innovation that we can bring, an expertise and standardization and efficiency that is very difficult for them to achieve on their own and many of them do but I would love to see a future where outsourcing within healthcare and seniors becomes more of the norm.”
Matthews’ advice to young people trying to break into the foodservice field is to spend time in operations and get to know the bigger macroeconomic picture of the industry.
“Be willing to roll up your sleeves and be a part of the operations, it's the fastest way to learn,” she said.