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An interview with Kelly Nowicki, Administrator Mayo Clinic, Tim Pierce, CEO Morrison Healthcare, and Margaret Steele, SVP Indirect Spend Vizient, Inc. 

Learn more about how viable partnerships and a forward-thinking food strategy help drive healthier behaviors and accelerate change at our nation’s top-ranked hospital.

Watch the full video below or keep scrolling to read. 

This video is part of the Compass One Healthcare x Vizient, Inc Podcast Series.

Q: Why is food so important to the health care world and the value it brings?

Nowicki: I’m really passionate about it —-and what we’re trying to bring to Mayo Clinic. We bring our clinical excellence combined with science and data to provide an unparalleled patient experience. Food plays a critical role in that. Several years ago, Mayo Clinic realized that we don’t have the expertise in food and culinary science, and that we needed to become a “category of one” food organization. So we embarked on this path for partnership, which has been amazing. Simultaneous to that, science is telling us that by 2030, 50% of our society will be obese and diet will be the number one cause of chronic disease. So, it is imperative that we as a food and healthcare industry come together to really meet these challenges.

Pierce: Kelly is right regarding the healing piece of it. When you think about patients: How do we make them better? How do we make their experience better? How do we make them healthier? But also, there’s a component around comfort. How do we make them feel good during their stay? What do they connect with? All those things are in the environment of food. We touch everybody within hospitals and health systems, whether it’s the patient, the caregiver or the visitor. Food is something that everybody has experience with, and it certainly can help enhance the brand or the health system or hospital based on the delivery of the food itself.

Steele: Soon, 50% of the population is going to be in that obese category, and by 2030, 21% of the population is going to be 65 or older. Now, we’ve also gotten past the point of just dealing with their chronic conditions, and food is very much a part of that. In addition to that, it’s a huge cost for our health care providers. And it not only affects our patients, but also the families of those the staff at a time where staff is just such a challenge for us. So, it really is kind of the core of everything that we do on top of healing, but also just patient satisfaction and employee satisfaction. It’s really core to what we do.

Q: What do you see making the biggest impact going forward for us?

Nowicki: For us, probably three things. One is workforce transformation. We’ve seen in the pandemic amazing labor shortages, and we spend a lot of time trying to identify the dull, dreary, dangerous portions of our daily tasks for our associates and we are asking: how can we automate those? Can we use robotics to identify those and to really redefine what our amazing teams can do, and how can they work to their level of licensure? Our associates are fantastic—how can we make their life better so they can we can bring hospitality back into the hospital. So I think that’s one big piece.

But– building on what Margaret said, I really think another opportunity is what we call “precision nutrition.” There’s no longer a one-size-fits-all approach. We’ve really got to be more specific on designing food programs to meet the various cultural or clinical needs. We’ve created a gluten free kitchen at Mayo Clinic, and I think we’re one of the only healthcare organizations that has one. We have a robust kosher and halal program. We have a medically tailored meals program. So, trying to build programs that meet our staff and our patients where they’re at, whether they’re in the hospital, they’re at home, on a diet. These are cultural needs to me and that’s a really, really big change.

And then the last thing, I think food has an amazing opportunity. Tim and I have talked about this at times. I think we can be the canary in the mine to help healthcare transformation. There’s not a lot of risk when you try innovative things in food, and we can fail forward really nicely. So how do we really leverage and position ourselves in a low risk way to really teach the industry how to transform? It’s not common for healthcare to transform. We know in the last three years, food and healthcare has changed more than the last 20 years. So how do we really leverage our skill sets and our team to help that transformation?

Pierce: To build on what Kelly mentioned, what we see is data and analytics as a key driver moving forward. We serve a half billion meals a year. 60% of those are patient meals. We have a MyDining system that 60 million meals a year go through. It gives us a robust database of gender, what a patient is eating, their age, therapeutic diet needs, and all those components–even geography and size of hospital. We hired data scientists to start digging in to understand how we improve the experience for the patient, whether that’s the health and wellness component of it or just the experience of them being delighted when they come through.

We don’t have to be all things to all people. We have to be the right things, as far as what we offer, and when we offer those items. So, we’re excited about where data and analytics will take us over the course of the next couple of years. Combine that with our great research and development chefs that are really focused on the patient side of the business. We’re excited to partner with Mayo on some of those projects and advancing programs forward.

Q: On the data side, we are really digging in deep to know what people are eating, where they’re eating and how they’re eating. Can you talk about how all this is coming together?

Steele: Building a little bit on what Kelly said, staffing is such a challenge right now. In fact, we were talking earlier about our children and how they’re kind of changing what they’re looking for in a work environment. How do we bring technology in? And that’s where Morrison is a great partner to help them figure out long term—and how do they bring some of that in, whether it’s automation, whether it’s some of the robotics, whether it’s redesigning cafeterias so you have micro markets or self-checkouts. So, you’re just continually alleviating the need for labor in those situations and therefore reducing the challenge of bringing more people on. We talk about nutrition. We visited one of your customers and just watched the number of different meals going through depending on their conditions. And it demonstrates that you really do need a partner to help you make sure you’re making the most of the kitchen and the changing meals that are coming through.

Nowicki: Can I just add to one thing or underscore something Margaret said that I think is really important? The labor shortages aren’t just on our staff. It’s all across all of the hospitals and the stress amongst our nursing staff and our providers is real. It’s hard work and there’s still a little bit of a hangover from COVID. We watched one of my nurses. It took her 23 minutes to go down from her unit down to the cafe and back up for a 30-minute break. That’s a commute. That’s not a break. Right? So how do we think differently about bringing the food to our nursing staff what they want, when they want. And making sure that they can afford it. It is a really complex piece and I think food has been underappreciated for the role that it plays in this.

Steele: It’s huge. You look at food lockers. Can they order off their apps and then go pick it up just like we do outside of the health care facility? We just haven’t brought a lot in to the healthcare facilities just yet. But there’s so much room to do that.

Pierce: Something good always comes from something bad. What was bad was what happened in 2020 with the pandemic. I think the good is that the adoption of that type of technology is now more acceptable within the format. There’s a desire to order online. There’s a desire to have food lockers. There’s a desire to have self-checkouts, but there’s a whole component on the patient side of it. You think about what’s happening technology-wise when it comes to giving the control of the meal to the patients by being able to order off their phone, being able to give control nursing to be able to track where the patient tray is so they don’t have to call down and check on it. I think those are things that are now accelerating in food service and healthcare, which probably wouldn’t have happened in 2020 because there wasn’t as much of an openness or need because of shortages, staffing shortages, etc.

Q: Can you elaborate on any other successes we’ve seen in the food industry and how it’s moving forward?

Nowicki: The success that I was really impressed with during the pandemic actually was our partnership with Morrison. There was a moment in the middle of the pandemic, I thought, good heavens, I’m so glad we aren’t self-op. That really showed that we could stay in our lane. We could stay focused on what we needed to do for the patient as an organization. And we knew we had an amazing partner who could help us navigate all of the supply chain issues. So, to me, the work that we did building up to the pandemic was around our partnership. I know that’s one of the themes of the Vizient conference— soaring together—- and I think that’s really true in our relationship. It takes time. It’s not just a contract. You actually have to do care and feeding. You have to figure out how your ecosystems talk. You have to figure out how to share the same language. You have to figure out shared goals and how to leverage each other’s strengths. Fortunately, we had done a lot of that work before the pandemic so we could hit the ground running. So to me, that was probably one of the successes that I didn’t know I was going to need as much as I did.

Q: What excites you about the future when we talk about food and healthcare?

Pierce: I am really excited about where the next 3 to 5 years is going to bring us. I think about the data that we’re collecting now, the changes we’re going to make and the experience. The technology component of it puts control back into the hands of the patient, and also the caregivers. I see the next 3 to 5 years really changing how people experience food service and healthcare. I started down this journey. I’ve been with the company for 37 years. I’ve been in this position for 11 or 12, and the goal was always to change the perception of hospital food and doing so by changing the experience. We have the opportunity now to really change that experience, whether it’s for the patient when they’re in the hospital or for the community by the data, the information, the experiences that we’re going to put out there over the next couple of years. So, I’m excited about the future.

Nowicki: To me, the Holy Grail, is how do you figure out how to change what people eat at home? The Holy Grail, isn’t making sure they have good food when they’re in the hospital. That’s a math problem that we can figure out, right? But it’s when you get home, how do you sustain those gains and how do you make sure that when I break bread with my family and we all have different diet needs that you’re not making four different meals that increases the cost. Then you fall off the wagon because it’s too difficult. So how do we make that an easy solution for families so they can afford it? We know food insecurity is a huge deal right now. I have this daydream of creating a program that could create 30 recipes for every household that they can afford, they can cook and everyone will eat. Because that’s how we’re going to sustain the gains and they’re going to stop going to Kentucky Fried Chicken when they have a low sodium diet and end up in my ED. So that’s what I get excited about. And I wake up every day passionate about because I think food is the grand equalizer. Everyone has an opinion on it. And we just need to meet them where they’re at.

About Vizient, Inc.
Vizient, Inc., the nation’s largest provider-driven healthcare performance improvement company, serves more than 60% of the nation’s acute care providers, which includes 97% of the nation’s academic medical centers, and more than 25% of the non-acute care market. Vizient provides expertise, analytics and advisory services, as well as a contract portfolio that represents more than $130 billion in annual purchasing volume. Vizient’s solutions and services improve the delivery of high-value care by aligning cost, quality and market performance. Headquartered in Irving, Texas, Vizient has offices throughout the United States. Learn more at www.vizientinc.com.

About Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization committed to innovation in clinical practice, education and research, and providing compassion, expertise and answers to everyone who needs healing. Visit the Mayo Clinic News Network for additional Mayo Clinic news.

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