As hospitals continue to manage the outbreak of COVID-19, the culinary teams at these facilities must keep patients and staff safe and properly nourished. Food service workers must stay up-to-date on recommendations and guidelines from organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as they maintain daily operations. This task can be daunting, but by following these practical strategies hospital culinary teams can continue to operate while keeping patients and hospital staff safe.
Communicate with the Hospital Administration
Develop and maintain a plan for communication and operations during emergency situations. Food service directors should understand the hospital’s emergency plans and the culinary department’s role within them. To remain aware of any changes regarding regulations and procedures, the culinary department should establish clear lines of communication with the hospital administration and understand how they will be communicating updates to all staff at the facility.
Develop a Contingency Plan
COVID-19 has already affected daily operations at healthcare facilities, but you can still work on developing a strong contingency plan to handle the pandemic. The following list is an example of topics to consider when planning for how to continue operations in any emergency scenario:
• What is the maximum capacity of the facility? How many additional patients/residents can the facility hold if necessary?
• What alternate standards of care will be used? Does the facility’s emergency plan discuss what standards of care change at what level?
• What are the facility’s expectations of the culinary department when the emergency operations plan is activated?
• Discuss the disaster menu, including responsibilities for purchasing for the expected number of people to be fed.
• What staff will be determined essential?
• What, if any, direct care responsibilities will food service associates have for patients who have COVID-19?
In addition to this, prepare for other emergency scenarios such as the facility being quarantined, public transportation and utilities being shut down, and schools and daycares being closed. With a contingency plan in place, your culinary team is equipped to provide continuous care to their facility’s patients and staff.
Communicate with Your Team
Quality communication between culinary team members is especially needed in emergency situations. The following tips can help teams optimize their communication.
• Post important phone numbers in team member areas.
• Ensure each team member has at least two emergency contacts.
• Determine two or more ways for team members to communicate their ability to report to work if an outbreak occurs in the immediate area.
• Have emergency contact numbers for all vendors/suppliers.
• Post personal hygiene sings with messages and reminders such as “Wash Your Hands” and “Cough Etiquette.”
Prepare to Handle Staff Shortages
Due to the public response to COVID-19, staffing shortages are a real possibility for hospital culinary teams. A helpful way to sustain operations if short-staffed is to cross-train team members “3 levels deep.” The “3 levels deep” training method ensures there are three different people on the team who have the knowledge and skill to complete certain necessary tasks or procedures. This makes culinary teams more flexible and better equipped to respond to potential staffing shortages.
Focus on Team Member Training
Lastly, train and prepare your team in the following areas:
• Proper hygiene (hand washing, cough etiquette, and cross-contamination prevention).
• Proper pot-washing and dishwashing procedures.
• The responsibility to report if they are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, have been in contact with someone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or have recently traveled to an affected area.
• Proper social distancing.
• Disinfecting high-touch areas.
Everyone has a role in the fight against COVID-19. Hospital culinary department leaders can help by preparing their teams to be able to operate efficiently in any scenario so that they can continue to provide quality service to hospital patients and staff.