As we look back on an astonishingly challenges year and the beginning of 2021, I reached out to some of my colleagues in the healthcare foodservice industry to get their perspectives. Many of them stated that the biggest issues as they move forward would be a persistent labor shortage, labor turnover, finding qualified candidates and retail revenue streams. Many are looking to reinvent retail menus and delivery options, reenergize their teams, retweak their operations while exceeding customers’ expectations and maintain quality and safe Foodservice operations for all involved. Operators will need to communicate whenever possible within their organization the idea that increasing a modest space allocation for retail venues can have a significant long-term impact in terms of controlling the hospital’s net cost per patient day figures. Note with retail is that net cost per patient day and the impact strong retail sales can have on that net cost. The message should be to invest in retail now for long-term impact.

And keep in mind that the data from industry surveys, associations, dataessentials, NPD, etc.…, indicates that that employee scheduling and employee communication top the list as high pri­ority technology investments to help ensure proper staffing and provide greater flexibility for employ­ees. In addition, respondents indicate they plan to invest in employee health monitoring and employee reward and recognition technologies.

How much optimism does the COVID-19 vaccine inspire?

I can tell you that there was an overall sense of relief and hopefulness that we can move back closer to what the new norm will be.  On the first day of vaccines, it almost seemed like a party with a vision toward the end of this long tunnel of despair and sadness. Cyndi Roberts, Foodservices/Clinical Nutrition Manager, St. Joseph Memorial Hospital/SIH

The vaccine provides much optimism and hope to have more normalcy in 2021.  My thought is that the majority of the population who wants to take the vaccine, will be able to be vaccinated by June of 2021.  With that being said, we need to have 70-80% of the population vaccinated to have heard immunity.  Therefore, much education needs to be done to prevent misinformation about the vaccine.  My belief is that after June, though still wearing masks, I do think we will get back to a much more normal life. Jill Wedeen, MPA, RD Assistant Director, Clinical Nutrition and Patient Service

Based on what I’m seeing in my community we have a lot of people in this part of the world that are not interested, or at the very least want to wait until there is some more firsthand evidence of side effects from the vaccine before taking it. So, to that end I’m not so sure how different 2021 is going to be from 2020. Eric Eisenberg, CEC, CCA, CDM, CFPP, Director of Dining Services, Rogue Valley Manor

Much! Although the virus is new, the process and pathways to make vaccines is not. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I felt as though once we have a viable treatment for those infected and a vaccine, COVID-19 will become like the flu in terms of its impact and our preparation. Michael Atanasio, MBA, Director, Nutrition and Food, Hackensack University Medical Center

I’m very optimistic… I believe the positive marketing message being shared to the public in favor of taking the vaccination will move us over the 80% needed for HERD Immunity. Patrick D LaMont, MBA, Director of Food and Nutrition, Brookdale Hospital and Medical Center

I am very optimistic that the vaccinations will have an enormously positive effect on the soul of our nation in 2021. Although we (Americans) in general are not usually fans of a steady pace and usually prefer immediate satisfaction and results, I feel that we have learned a lot about ourselves through this pandemic. Some, obviously, were hard to face as elements of selfishness, entitlement and less than empathetic behavior became exposed. But there have also been elements of coming together as a nation that should not get overlooked or minimalized. I believe most people have had to do some soul searching and self-realization during this extremely difficult time and we are collectively moving toward an improved society where cooperative work on solutions for all types of problems is possible. The vaccine itself is a reflection of this cooperative spirit as private companies and government agencies were called upon to work together to significantly decrease the time from development to implementation. John Herzog, National Sales Director, DM&A

50/50 optimism.  It’s great that we have a vaccine.  I received mine today and am grateful.  However, many people do not want to take the vaccine, which is very disappointing and frustrating. Dawn Casio, Director, Food &Nutrition, The Valley Hospital

On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being extremely optimistic, I am at a “7”. My worry is about those that will choose to not receive the vaccine in addition to those that are not following precaution protocols now and the expectation that many more will disregard safety measures before there is an “all-clear. Michael Babines, VP of Operations/Sales, Menu Logistics

Hopefully for those who are willing to take the vaccinations will get it by the fall of 2021. Mimi Wang, MA, RD, CDN, Director of F &N, VA New York Harbor HC System

Many of these healthcare individuals as others that I have been in contact with as do myself, believe that the vaccine offers hope. Hope is a good thing and maybe the best of things. It is a source of optimism. The two approved vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are rolling out to people as we speak to health care providers, first responders, other essential workers and people living in senior communities.

What are your predictions for the business health of the healthcare industry in 2021?

I think it will take a few years for the overall healthcare industry to recover.  Increased costs will remain related to how we serve patients in a safe way.  I’m hoping that we can revert back to a more sustainable approach in foodservice.  It saddens me to think of all of the disposables we are using now after we made such strides over the last 10 years. Cyndi Roberts, Foodservices/Clinical Nutrition Manager, Joseph Memorial Hospital/SIH

I believe that the retail end of the healthcare industry will still take a hit in the 1st quarter, and maybe the 2nd quarter of 2021.  I think it will depend on the surge of COVID-19 cases; when visitors are allowed back in healthcare facilities; and also, how fast the country gets vaccinated.  I do feel that if the retail/business end of the healthcare industry can put procedures in place to enhance the comfort of patrons in their retail spaces, and look for ways to increase revue, business will come back strong in 2021.  Patrons will be itching to go out to different retail establishments; even if it is a retail establishment in a hospital. Jill Wedeen, MPA, RD Assistant Director, Clinical Nutrition and Patient Service

I think with the transition to so much telehealth and only the most acute cases being treated inpatient I think overall healthcare expenses to the organizations will go down.  As long as elective procedures can be done safely and those revenue streams return the future looks bright. Eric Eisenberg, CEC, CCA, CDM, CFPP, Director of Dining Services, Rogue Valley Manor

Grim for the next 2021. Regardless of Gov subsidies or stimulus packages, healthcare organizations have been pushed into a significant financial hole in which to dig out of. Although organizations can’t cut their way to financial solvency, it will certainly be a part of the recovery. Additionally, our path to telemedicine has been expedited and came quicker that hospitals were prepared for, skepticism and concern will continue to hinder outpatients and some inpatient column (for hospitals), and I’m sure there will be changes to the Joint and DOH requirements that will add cost to the overhead of healthcare organizations. Michael Atanasio, MBA, Director, Nutrition and Food, Hackensack University Medical Center

I believe the new Administration philosophy appears to focus on the science and the people and, that alone gives me optimism and a greater degree of trust in our government to, do the right thing for all Americans regardless of their political affiliation or the color of their skin. I think with this optimism by fall we should be back to Pre COVID-19 with a new normal which may be even more efficient than ever. COVID-19 forced many of us to take a fresh eyes approach to business practices.  Patrick D LaMont, MBA, Director of Food and Nutrition, Brookdale Hospital and Medical Center

The financial strain on healthcare operations has been, and continues to be enormous. This will not be easy to reel back in to “business as usual” and our industry will have tube open to some significant and, at times, creative re-design. This is probably the best opportunity we are going to get for honest and frank discussions regarding how healthcare can be provided to all citizens. In order to heal financially, there will need to be calm, thoughtful engagement from those who have not previously played well together in the sand box, but again- I am relying on the idea that the common good will prevail and decision makers will approach 2021 with a renewed cooperative spirit. At the heart of every good healthcare professional and government leader is a sincere desire to help those in need. Now, healthcare for our fellow citizens is in dire need healing and we will answer the call as we always do! I have already seen the signs that Healthcare Foodservice & EVS has gleaned increased (and very well deserved) respect as an integral part of healthcare operations. It was Food Service & EVS Directors, Dietitians, Chefs, Food Service Workers and EVS staff who reinvented the cafés, patient service models, sanitation processes, and stood side by side with all other hospital teams as they hit the pandemic head on. I feel this was noticed by C suits across the country who may have been somewhat unfamiliar with the mettle of our people and the importance of our mission (and how seriously we take our responsibility as part of the healing process). We should see a bigger seat at the table in 2021 and beyond and perhaps can get that 25-year-old dish machine replaced! (Figuratively speaking, although there are plenty of them out there!) John Herzog, National Sales Director, DM&A

It has to be better than 2020.  As long as we still have elective surgeries and other procedures, we’ll be fine. However, if there is a drop in electives, then we’ll see the need for budget reductions in both supply and expenses and labor. Dawn Casio, Director, Food &Nutrition, The Valley Hospital

My prediction is zero growth for the F&NS healthcare business market. There are too many competing factors that place F&NS as a low priority. Additional issues with labor, uncertainty about the impact of the vaccine, and the current freeze on development, integration, and new programs even in light of the positive impact these would provide to the organization leaves F&NS treading water. Michael Babines, VP of Operations/Sales, Menu Logistics

Healthcare will remain busy coping with different types of COVID-19 patient. Grab and go, distancing, hand hygiene and mask wearing will remain a major player in the healthcare- Mimi Wang, MA, RD, CDN, Director of F &N, VA New York Harbor HC System

Here are my views on the future of health care post pandemic-great opportunity for renovation, expansion, and reprogramming many functional areas including better building air ventilation systems, configuring out how to add modular patient rooms to existing hospitals (for future pandemics),larger areas needed for PP gear equipment, larger triage areas needed, larger lab areas needed (on site and off), common nursery areas in OB going away, limiting self-service food bars, renovating serving areas for better food safety, more touchless patient food delivery; robotic delivery, and more QSR codes used for retail foodservice. Kip Serfozo, LEED ID&C AP, WELL AP Design Director East, CINI•LITTLE INTERNATIONAL, INC.

My thoughts

Healthcare providers realize how critical staffing is to the viability of their organization and respondents indicate these workforce challenges will persist for quite some time. The vast majority of respondents believe challenges retaining employees, finding qualified employees, managing labor costs and staffing to meet needs, will remain the same or worsen over the next three years.

Given that these workforce challenges are likely to continue, healthcare providers are looking to make investments that allow them to better support their staff during this crisis and well beyond. Doing so will provide a foundation to help prevent employee turnover, while also making their organization more attractive to potential new hires. This is critical for providers because with a more stable and consis­tent workforce, organizations can more effectively improve the quality and continuity of resident care.

Retail sales number will start to rebound with innovation, ghost (virtual kitchens), food delivery options and menu reimagined for their customers needs, ease of convenience, food safety and food tastes.

I believe 2021 will begin the healing process and some revenue growth, leaving sustainability and growth to 2022 and beyond.  2021 should bring the dawn to a very, very, long night.  Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Abraham Lincoln

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