At your service: Area hospitals ratchet up amenities

Monday, May 16, 2005

Are they hotels or hospitals? With both Cape Girardeau hospitals offering new services like valet parking and room service, it's getting tougher to tell.

Southeast Missouri Hospital recently started a dining service called "At Your Request," where patients can order food off of a menu -- from cheeseburgers to baked fish with herb butter -- and a uniformed server delivers it right to a patient's room.

Meanwhile, Saint Francis Medical Center has announced that sometime next month it will begin offering free valet parking to all patients and their families who use the Registration Center entrance.

There is no extra charge for either service, and car parkers are forbidden from taking tips.

"It's just another opportunity for us to improve customer service," said Rick Fehr, who oversees the new valet service as well as Saint Francis security. "We want to make their stay here as convenient and pleasant as possible."

At Southeast Missouri Hospital, the room-service style service was added in December and has gotten rave reviews, according to Hugh McGowan, food and nutrition services director.

It fights the image of hospital food, with a menu that includes meals like chef salad, fettuccine, beef stir fry and blackberry cobbler. The menu features nine entrees, 16 vegetables and sides, 13 deli or grilled sandwiches and more than a dozen desserts, along with pasta, entree salads and beverages.

"Patients like the idea of ordering from a restaurant-style menu and getting the food they want when they want it," McGowan said. "This program really is all about customer service and changing the reputation that hospital food so often has."

From menus at their bedside, patients can order their meals anytime from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Unless a later time is requested, the goal is to get the meal delivered within 45 minutes.

Meal orders are placed with the clinical dietitian's office, McGowan said. When placing an order, patients are counseled by a dietitian to make sure they are ordering food that is appropriate for them.

"If your diet is restricted, then you have the opportunity for one-on-one diet instruction every time you order a meal," McGowan said. "So if you're on a low-fat diet and call and say you want a cheeseburger and fries, you'll be told that's not on your diet and would you like a chicken breast and a salad."

In a way, McGowan said, that helps patients learn what they can and cannot eat even after they get out of the hospital.

McGowan said the food service company he works for, Sodexho, has implemented the service in more than 200 hospitals across the country.

"My company has found a huge impact on customer satisfaction when we switch to this service," he said.

So far, feedback has been good.

"We're getting a lot of good comments so far," McGowan said. "It gives the patient some control. If they want to eat a cheeseburger every day -- and their diet allows it -- then they can."

Those at Saint Francis are just as proud of their new valet parking service.

The complimentary parking service will be available from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Customer service attendants will greet visitors and patients as they exit their vehicles under the covered Registration Center drive.

The attendants will then assist patients and visitors by parking vehicles in one of 72 parking spaces reserved for valet parkers. The attendants will also assist disabled patients in and out of vehicles, provide umbrella escorts in bad weather and offer directions to various parts of the hospital, Fehr said.

Fehr said he is in charge of the service because it is a designated security function so patients and visitors can feel confident about knowing their vehicle will be properly parked and secured.

And Fehr said he is serious about the tipping rule.

"Even if somebody offers, we're going to say thank you, but no thank you," he said.

Also, the valets will be on hand should a patient have a flat tire, locks his keys in his car or needs a jump start.

"It's not a valet service for just parking cars," Fehr said. "There are a lot of good reasons to do this."

335-6611, extension 137

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