Not only is Julie Jones the Director of Nutrition Services, OSU Wexner Medical Center but she also serves as the current president, Association for Heathcare Foodservice (AHF). We were recently honored to spend some time with Julie and pick her brain about trends and changes in the healthcare foodservice industry.

Q: You have a very diverse career background, from student organizations, event planning to fiscal support. How did those lead you to a career in foodservice?
A: Healthcare foodservice is a very interesting animal in that we have very diverse tasks and areas of responsibility each day from patient dining to operating retail cafes or restaurants. Many of us also responsible for clinical nutrition services that we provide to patients at the bedside and in ambulatory clinic locations. We also do have catering, event management; and serve as dietetics and culinary internship sites, etc. Plus we do have a fair amount of regulation—from Joint Commission to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services as examples. Having diversity of experience and background makes it a lot easier to do this job because the each day can be so different. You’re always trying to figure things out and that’s why many of us have gravitated to and enjoy these roles.

Q: What do you like most about your current position?
A: The diversity of duties is what I really like most. I get the opportunity to help craft our vision and how we translate this to impact the health and wellbeing of our patients, the communities and the staff that we serve, both from a food side, but as well as a nutrition side. We’ve gotten to do some really interesting things with starting community gardens to help patients connect food and nutrition where it occurs. We are also doing some preliminary work to develop a mobile education kitchen that will allow us to take our nutrition platform out to the community. Most people might see them as a food truck but we will actually be an education truck centered around food.

Q: How do you see this industry continuing to evolve and what impact can you have?
A: I think where we will continue to evolve is what we call the intersection of food and nutrition. In healthcare our goal is to improve the health, wellbeing and nutrition knowledge of the patients, staff, students and communities we serve. So it’s really trying to meld the two (nutrition knowledge and food intake) together. I’ve been in the industry for a long time and probably not until the last five years or so have you really started to see those come together in a strong way. Whether you talk about local foods or whether you talk about how we combine food choice at the point of service where people make selections. I think that evolution of food, nutrition and wellness will continue to be very strong. In healthcare, we are in a very unique position because we not only have the food experience behind us but in my current facility we also have more than 50 dietitians who can promote the nutrition message that goes along with it.

Q: How can food impact the total patient experience?
A: Once again it is trying to connect the dots about the importance of nutrition in their healthcare process. The vital role that we play is having people understand and identify with foods that will improve their own health in addition to being the provider of the foods that can do that for them. And then we can educate them on the backend so that they can make these choices when they go home.

Q: Technology and efficiency were key topics at The NRA Show 2017. How do you see healthcare facilities implementing technology into their foodservice operations?
A: Technology and efficiency will drive healthcare foodservice in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years… We’re at a crossroads in understanding changes to healthcare reimbursement for care. Whether you talk about replacements for the Affordable Care Act or changes to reimbursements from managed care or other insurance providers, we know that we have to drive efficiency in our operations because our revenue stream is uncertain and technology is a key platform for us to do that. Here at Ohio State we embraced a number of different technologies from robotics to move carts, trays and meals to software applications such as tablets PC that allow patients to make menu selections at the bedside. Wherever we can save time on routine tasks through technology, it allows us more time to interact with a patient or a customer directly.

We use equipment technology to standardize our processes from preprograming settings into ovens to a standard cook time or using automated temperature reporting from our cooking equipment. It’s absolutely critical that we have those tools so that we have consistent and documented processes. For example, we like the flexibility of making modifications at the cooking panel for Combi ovens. We use them in a variety of ways so we want to equipment to adapt and evolve to our needs over time.

Q: Are there particular methods of cooking food based on a patients dietary needs?
A: In our department we receive over 9,000 messages a day about patients, their diet orders and their room locations. We alter the food production methods to usually lower the fat and the sodium wherever we are able to. These adjustments make the food choices more universally acceptable for a wider variety of dietary needs. A couple of things that come into play – we do really like oven technology, and especially Combi technology, because of the steam that we can introduce back into the food. So foods where fat might normally serve as a great agent to keep food moist in cooking we can now adapt lower fat recipes since we can we can keep foods moist by adding steam in the cooking process.

Q: Purchasing local is a big trend. How do you see it coming into play in healthcare operations?
A: Sustainability and local purchasing is very important to people today. You always talk about what the top trends are, knowing where your food comes from is definitely on that list. I think it will continue to grow as we’re trying to phase back into what that means for the individual clients we serve. But it is a bit of a challenge to try and purchase that way because the last 10 to 15 years have been about making our supply chain more efficient by consolidating vendors as an example. So now we’re going back to determine how we can move the supply chain more local. We have a lot of ongoing discussions with our distributors or suppliers to try and answer those questions but it’s also a larger challenge for the vendors we do business with because this is asking them to work differently. It’s balancing that dynamic of local to efficient, and in healthcare we also have to add that element of understanding our supply chain as it relates to food safety.

Q: What additional trends do you see in the near future for healthcare foodservice?
A: I think you’ll see the lines being blurred between an in-patient at a hospital, ambulatory/outpatient care facilities as well as transitions into assisted living, nursing homes and senior living facilities. Healthcare will be provided in more locations and in those that are more convenient for those seeking care. We may need larger and more integrated healthcare systems to cover the whole spectrum of care. We may see some strategic alliances with different companies so that transition is seamless for the patient and makes navigating the process easier.

Q: How do you view the working relationship between the food, equipment and culinary professionals as it relates to the quality of food for patients?
A: The interaction of food, our culinary team and the equipment is absolutely critical. We have to be very thoughtful about the foods that we choose to put on our menus, especially for patients, just to make sure we can both produce them and deliver them at a high quality. You can’t do any one of those in a vacuum. We have to know what the menu requirements are, the culinary team has to weigh in on what they can produce, and you must use the right equipment for the right application.

Q: Can you share one of your most recent projects and what you learned from the experience?
A: I think one of the biggest learning experiences was going through a large renovation project and having to make lots of decisions about equipment. It is really important that you have all players involved. The Association for Heathcare Foodservice (AHF) was a great resource as well as the equipment manufacturers and the manufacturers’ representatives who came to the table. They all really sought to help us with our project. We knew that we were going to be a unique installation but to be able to sit down and talk to the manufacturers of the equipment directly was absolutely critical. We probably spent 2-3 years in learning and planning phases with so many in the industry who were willing to talk with us. We had lots of questions without all of the answers and so we were very reliant on others to give us options and potential solutions that could work. Many provided access to their test kitchens and made their staff available which allowed us to make the right decisions for our needs.

Q: Is there anything you would want to share about the Association for Heathcare Foodservice (AHF)?
A: In the Association for Healthcare Foodservice we believe strongly that healthcare is best served by self-operated foodservice. We are employed by and make decisions in the best interest of the organizations we work for. We partner and align operations to support the strategic vision of our organizations. AHF represents operator members including foodservice directors, chefs, retail and patient foodservice leaders as well as business partners and others who support our industry. The diversity of roles allows us to create a large network for our members to access across the country. We believe innovation in healthcare is happening in self-operated facilities. Since we are integrated in our organizations, we can more easily work across department boundaries to create innovative platforms that work for the organizations/systems we support. We don’t necessarily have to replicate it for other operations.

Q: Other than your current role as president of the Association for Heathcare Foodservice are there any other organizations you are a member of that help you with food and nutrition decisions?
A: I’m also a registered dietitian and I belong to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). I use AND to support my ongoing education so I can continue to connect nutrition back to the foods that we serve as well as to the programs we develop. I also have the opportunity to teach a graduate class at Ohio State on Managerial Leadership in Healthcare. This allows me to stay current with leadership science which is critical since developing new leadership talent will continue to be an essential element of success. Plus, I learn so much from them.

Zink Foodservice appreciates Julie Jones taking the time to sit with us and provide insight to her daily role as a healthcare foodservice director and her active engagement with the Association for Healthcare Foodservice. We look forward to sharing more foodservice professionals and their experiences with you in future issues of ZinkLink.