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July 9, 2024

How Wesley Wright and His Team Elevate Patient Care Through Food

Wesley Wright, Culinary Director at Bon Secours St. Charles Hospital, Ohio, and his team take a fresh approach to hospital dining by consistently finding ways to infuse creativity into all of their culinary endeavors. Their unique and personable approach to food service enhances the patient experience and fosters an engaging culture and community within the hospital team.

Wesley's culinary career began in the high-paced environment of white-tablecloth restaurants, but after shifting to healthcare, he discovered the unique challenges and rewards of serving hospital patients. "In restaurants, you expect perfection, but in hospitals, you're helping people when they're at their lowest point." 

This transition from restaurants to healthcare required Wesley to rethink his approach, especially when it came to managing his team. “In restaurants, there's a sense of urgency during rush hours that doesn’t translate directly to hospitals,” he explained. Adjusting to batch cooking and accommodating diverse dietary needs, especially for the hospital’s significant behavioral health population, posed unique challenges. However, it’s exactly Wesley's adaptability and focus on team dynamics that have been key to his success.

Wesley consistently emphasizes the importance of understanding and ensuring his team feels supported. In healthcare, where many staff members are driven by a higher purpose of helping others, fostering a supportive environment is crucial. “A good leader expects high standards but also helps their team reach those standards,” he reflected, as he works to know and understand his team, building the relationships and community that motivate them to be successful.

Just as important is understanding patient needs. Hospital patients face unique physical and emotional challenges during their stay, and their dietary needs vary widely. From patients with specific medical conditions requiring tailored diets to those experiencing a loss of appetite due to illness or medication, the role of hospital food goes beyond mere sustenance and becomes a critical part of the healing process. Wesley continuously seeks fresh and unique methods to enhance the dining experience for all patients, ensuring that their culinary needs are met with care and creativity.

Recognizing that many of this hospital's patients are in the behavioral health unit and may not require the same specific dietary restrictions as other patients, he has also tailored the culinary approach to provide comfort foods that offer emotional solace. Wesley notes that individuals dealing with mental health challenges often crave familiar and comforting foods. He explains, “When you're not feeling good…  you just want comfort foods like ice cream, cheeseburgers, french fries, and pizzas.” While initially, the same menu was served across acute and behavioral health units, Wesley and his team have adapted it to suit behavioral health patients better, providing them with the desired comfort food options.

One of the cornerstones of Wesley’s approach is organizing fun and engaging events, including the popular "Guest Chef" program, a prime example of Wesley and his team’s initiatives. Leaders from various hospital departments (including directors and regional leaders!) don chef hats and step into the kitchen to prepare special meals.

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Wesley also fondly remembers the “Spice Girls” event as a standout. In it, a group of leaders dressed up as different spices and endeavored to beat the sales numbers of a previous special meal the regional vice president had prepared. The event brought competitive energy and excitement to the hospital, showcasing how themed activities can drive engagement and boost morale among staff and patients.

Originating from a sister hospital’s unused luau decorations,  the now-annual "Pig Roast" exemplifies Wesley’s commitment to fun and engagement and has become a beloved tradition in the hospital. The team prepares a whole pig (affectionately named "Hamilton") and serves it alongside various festive dishes. The preparation process, from soaking the roast in apple juice to slow cooking overnight, fills the hospital with amazing smells and creates excitement and anticipation among staff and patients alike.

These kinds of initiatives not only break down silos within the hospital but also create a festive atmosphere in the cafeteria, colloquially referred to as "Switzerland" for its neutrality and positivity. “Food is a universal language,” Wesley noted, emphasizing how these events help build connections and camaraderie among staff.

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To keep things fresh, Wesley keeps a keen eye on culinary trends, attending food conferences and engaging with chef communities to stay updated on the latest techniques and ingredients. He also values feedback from patients and staff, regularly soliciting their input to ensure the menus reflect their preferences and needs.

Wesley notes that such successes wouldn't have been possible without the dedicated team members, Chefs Valery, Megan, and Alicia, who contributed their enthusiasm and hard work to make these events happen.

What does the future look like for Bon Secours? Further enhancing the culinary experience and engagement. Wesley plans to introduce more spontaneous events to spread cheer, like unannounced "Rounds of Joy," where the team delivers special treats to patient rooms and nurse stations. These initiatives aim to create unexpected moments of delight, reinforcing the hospital’s positive culture.

In addition to these events, Wesley is dedicated to incorporating more seasonal ingredients and culturally diverse menus, ensuring that hospital food is nourishing and exciting. By continuously innovating and involving the hospital community in culinary activities, Wesley and his team strive to make Bon Secours St. Charles Hospital a place where everyone feels valued and cared for.

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