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News and Information
May 31, 2017
Food Medicine: How CHI Franciscan Health Serves Up Comfort
During his 13 years with CHI Franciscan Health, Ron Hamakawa of Food and Nutrition Services has only approved the purchase of frozen soup once. Cutting such corners is rare for Ron, but these were desperate times. There was a full-scale kitchen remodel underway at St. Clare Hospital.
But when Ron suggested his staff could purchase the frozen option, they insisted on the real deal.
“Literally their entire kitchen was torn apart and they still went through the efforts of making soup from scratch,” he says.
That kind of dedication to quality doesn’t surprise the regional director for Food and Nutrition Services. Ron leads a crew of nearly 400 culinary professionals whose current initiatives include making in-house salad dressings, increasing access to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, encouraging healthy beverage choices through CHI Franciscan’s new partnership with Coca-Cola, and, as available, serving meats that are free of hormones and antibiotics.
This is not your typical cafeteria food.
“I think people may look at such effort and think, ‘Why bother?’” Ron says, “But for us, food is fuel.”
Food Services is also a member of the CHI Franciscan Health family. That, Ron says, means contributing to the CHI Franciscan mission of creating healthier communities. To Ron, his role is to continue the excellence exemplified by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia who established St. Joseph in 19th-century Tacoma.
“There’s something special about how the Sisters originally set up this idea for health care in the Pacific Northwest,” says Ron, who’s long been in the Puget Sound area (he attended the University of Washington). “I see it in the culture and the feel of how we at CHI Franciscan not only interact with each other but also with our patients and our visitors.”
Food is a universal, if perhaps underestimated, way to further the CHI Franciscan mission of healing and promise of care, he adds.
“In some way, we touch every individual who walks into the doors of our facilities,” Ron says of food service. One memory comes to mind: He was riding the elevator when a visitor caught sight of his Food Services employee badge. “My husband is going to be able to come home soon because of your delicious meatloaf,” the grateful woman told Ron. After a lengthy hospital stay, she explained, her husband had only recently been able to eat solid foods again — and he was ordering the CHI Franciscan meatloaf at nearly every meal.
Rarely are people at a hospital because they want to be, Ron explains, and even if they are at a hospital for a more joyful occasion — say, the birth of a child — there’s still a certain level of anxiety.
“Our food service areas are places where not only our staff but our visitors can take a moment to not be in that high-stress situation,” he says. “Whenever we have those moments to touch a patient and a family in a meaningful way, we do — whether it’s ‘Oh my god! This latte is so awesome. I was up all night’ or ‘This meatloaf is delicious and I’m going to take it up to my husband because I think it’s something he would enjoy.’ ”
Food and Nutrition Services strives to be the highlight of someone’s day whether that’s for a staff member dealing with a stressful situation or a family member who just received some ugly news. “Wherever we can be the high point, we take that opportunity,” says Ron, who estimates that Food and Nutrition Services will have served more than a million patient meals by the end of this fiscal year.
One mother’s highlight was the salmon chowder at St. Joseph. She discovered the comfort food while standing vigil at the bedside of her son while he was in Critical Care. They both fell in love with the chowder so much that after he was discharged, she contacted CHI Franciscan via the company-wide contact form.
Where, she asked, can I get my hands on that recipe?
Ron happily provided the recipe before realizing it served more than 100. (They worked it out for a slightly smaller crowd.)
It’s times like those that matter most, he says: “Each day we have the privilege to serve someone’s grandmother, grandfather, mom, dad, sister, brother, or cousin. Why wouldn’t we take the opportunity to positively impact someone’s day, just like we would for our own loved ones? To us, food is medicine.”