It’s 6 a.m. on a Tuesday when Jeff Lynch’s phone rings. It’s a call from the hospital. “Hey Jeff, what time is breakfast coming up?” the cheery voice inquires.
In a world where many people are working remotely, Lynch, who is the Nutritional Services patient advocate for the Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS)/Sodexo looks forward to his daily face-to-face interactions. On an average day, Lynch spends most of his time meeting with patients as well as the clinical and culinary staffs at MVHS’ St. Elizabeth and St. Luke’s Campuses to ensure quality control and patient satisfaction.
As hospitals across the country celebrate Patient Advocacy Week, April 26-30, Lynch’s aim is to improve the patient experience by acting as a bridge between the patients, nursing staff and the culinary staff.
He believes that by listening to feedback from the patients and staff, hospital meals can be tasty, nutritious and innovative, traits which have not traditionally been associated with “hospital food.”
“We have a dining menu for the patients which changes daily so they don’t have to eat the same food day after day,” Lynch explains. “While we do have to stay within the parameters of patients who are on special diets, there is no need for the food we serve to our patients and employees to be bland and boring.”
The specially crafted menu, which changes seasonally, features surprising offerings including chicken marsala, beef burgundy and chicken cacciatore. For those who are less adventurous, the menu also includes daily alternatives such as sandwiches, hamburgers and fruit plates.
Lynch’s role as a patient advocate offers him the advantage of direct contact with patients and nursing staff, allowing him to quickly react to feedback which includes both compliments and complaints. “I make daily rounds and see as many patients as possible,” he said. “Many times, patients don’t want to bother nurses if their meal isn’t hot enough or doesn’t taste right. My job is to be a friendly face they can tell these things to and I take that feedback directly to staff to find a solution.”
Once he has met with a patient, Lynch shares the feedback with his team and the nursing staff to identify any barriers and resolve any problems. “We look at things such as food temperature and check to see if there is a reason the meal wasn’t delivered quickly enough and instead of assigning blame, we find solutions,” he said. “If something is seasoned incorrectly, I’ll bring that feedback to the chef and we work together to ensure quality control.”
Lynch, who has been a manager with Sodexo for six years, believes there is a direct correlation between good food and patient satisfaction. “If we can feed people quality food that makes them feel just a little bit better, it can help everything else fall into place,” he said.
Lynch’s meetings with patients can last from a few minutes to nearly half an hour, depending on the situation. “Sometimes people want to chat a bit about things other than food, and I am always happy to help lighten the mood,” he said. “Before I leave the room, I give them my contact information and let them know that I am here to help make their stay more comfortable.”
So when the phone rings early in the morning with a patient looking for breakfast?
“Getting those kind of calls is wonderful, because it shows that patients see me as a resource,” he concludes. “I let the patient know that he’d be first on the list as soon as the eggs were ready.”