Ramping Up Foodservice Operations for a Pandemic

Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport overcomes daunting obstacles and challenges to accommodate rapid increases of COVID-19 patients

By Eric Lyons

The COVID-19 pandemic pressure-tested hospitals, healthcare systems, and contract management service companies when the world went into lockdown in March 2020.

Organizations were grappling with staffing shortages as people became quarantined, critically ill, or left employment altogether. Nationwide, organizations experienced labor and talent deficits, which the pandemic exacerbated. Industries quickly encountered a scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, goggles, gloves, and gowns, which healthcare workers direly need for their protection.

Disruptions in the standard supply chain affected everything, including everyday food supplies. Parts of the country also began experiencing alarming and massive surges of infected patients, which required additional spaces to treat the ailing with makeshift triage tents for the unparalleled patient volumes. These were just a few challenges encountered by many. It was excessively stressful for everyone showing up to work.

Rapid response

Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport in Louisiana overcame daunting obstacles and challenges to support the quick conversion of an inoperative facility to accommodate the continued increases of COVID-19 patient surge experienced. Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport is a full-service health system with a 452-bed hospital in Shreveport and a 244-bed hospital in Monroe, which faced many challenges. Ochsner LSU Health's St. Mary Medical Center (SMMC) in Shreveport also had planned to add patient beds in a third location.

New Orleans was an early COVID-19 hot spot, and Louisiana officials realized the challenges that were coming for the rest of the state. As the virus continued spreading, Louisiana’s state government worked with hospitals and healthcare institutions to build capacity to handle the influx of COVID patients.

In March 2020, Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport announced plans to increase the ICU capacity at its main Shreveport facility by developing the SMMC location for its labor, delivery, and neonatal, pediatric intensive care units.

The urgency for getting the SMMC operation up and running was critical. Lives were on the line. Since SMMC did not have a working kitchen, the food and nutrition services department decided to prepare the food in bulk at the academic medical center and transport the food to the facility. They also would need a plating kitchen for composing and arranging patient food plates before delivery, with dishwashing facilities, hot and cold holding equipment, and added support.

Making it happen

As the corporate director of standards and innovation for ABM Healthcare, the hospital's food service management contractor, I experienced the project's incredibly compressed timeline firsthand. We only had 35 days to complete the design, go through department of health reviews, finish construction, and open the new kitchen.

The first step was to design a working kitchen that met all the FDA, local, county, and state design elements. Usually, a design phase takes six months. But under these urgent circumstances, the timeline was condensed into seven days to prepare to serve the significant and overflowing stream of incoming patients.

We accomplished this assignment with the support from the Louisiana's governor's office, Ochsner Health, the architectural firm, and a nearly exhausted and dedicated food and nutrition services department. ABM selected available equipment and partnered with Aladdin Temp-Rite and Hotel and Restaurant Supply Co. to begin the process. The construction was provided by Hand Construction.

Bulk food would be shuttled 3 miles between the academic medical center and plated for tray service for patients at SMMC. As a result, SMMC food and nutrition services were set up and ready when the first patients arrived in April. It is rewarding to know we made a difference.

We also received feedback from the hospital's executive team. One leader stated, "Honestly, I don't know how you guys did it. I don't know how you put this all together. Even with such a short time frame, it was perfect from day one."

As many people remained sheltered at home, healthcare workers strived to serve the community. They provided the necessary support and hope one day at a time regardless of the virus. ABM is honored to collaborate with partners like Ochsner Health to tailor services to specific circumstances and serve those in need.

All parties championed with precision and delivered right-sized solutions. We remain committed to our corporate purpose to take care of the people, spaces and places important to our partners, especially those patients in a compromised state of health.

Eric Lyons, CDM, CFPP, CPXP, is corporate director of standards and innovation, healthcare food and nutrition services with ABM. He joined ABM in 2017 and supports the operations and has direct responsibility to review, develop and oversee all new business costings and oversee current operations.

November 24, 2021

Topic Area: Food Service

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