Sanford food service adds grocery items to help caregivers

After a long hospital shift, 'pantry to go' can eliminate a stop on the way home

A woman reaches for a grocery item in a refigerator case offering groceries for convenience at a Sanford Health food services spot

Sanford Health director of nutrition and food services Teresa Beach is familiar with the stories out there about caregivers putting in long hours that are followed by a necessary but not particularly convenient stop at the grocery store.

It’s often part of the return trip to family life after a tough day at work. Anything that can make that trip smoother, safer and more efficient is a good thing.

“’Pantry to go’ is what we call it,” Beach said. “It’s like a little grocery store.”

At Sanford Health, a lot of people ask themselves how they can help fellow employees get through a day.

For the folks who provide food within the health care system, the answer is easy on one count — who doesn’t have to eat? There are ways, however, to shape the delivery system to make it easier.

“It started with talking about ways we could help the people who spend a lot of time here,” Beach said. “A lot of nurses work 12-hour shifts. So what can we do to provide them with some one-stop convenience things?”

Sanford kitchens set up for catering and in-house dining now have added retail grocery items.

Included are assorted packages of family-sized quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables. It is an opportunity to bring home an impressive variety of fresh produce while avoiding a grocery stop.

Stronger together

The response to a caregiver need was quick, comprehensive and enthusiastic.

“We’ve had everything in place early,” said Lisa Gibson, senior director of support services in Fargo, North Dakota. “We’ve been communicating with each other for some time now, so we’re ahead of the curve if things get really busy.”

Within a matter of days, Sanford’s major markets were all in on the effort.

“The groceries were our way of trying to make things easier,” said Debbie Dobson, Sanford Health director of employee experience. “We knew the staff was understandably anxious about getting to grocery stores. We rallied as an organization because of it.”

In many cases, Sanford Health has access to supply chains that are not available to grocery stores. It can mean caregivers will be able to buy items that may be sold out at conventional outlets. It’s a win-win, in other words.

“We’re trying to offer solutions,” Dobson said. “We’re working on providing things that will be morale boosters for the staff.”

Food service in full support

As an example, employees can use their Sanford ID or set up a Sanford debit card to pay for items that families need.

“It helps because you don’t have to make another stop before you head home,” Gibson said. “They can grab a half-gallon of milk or whatever they need. We get a lot of positive comments about it.”

It could be viewed as a small gesture, though a particularly thoughtful one.

“It’s been fun for the staff,” said Cheryl Kraft, a Sanford Health nutrition and food service supervisor in Bismarck, North Dakota. “Some of the things we’ve done have really taken off for us.”

The Bismarck team alters the take-home menu daily with a lineup that includes things like homemade buns and bread, fruit pizzas and vegetable pizzas.

One of the biggest hits has been knoephla soup (recipe below). It’s a German dish that includes dumplings and is popular in North Dakota.

In this case, it’s an indication the staff in Bismarck is trying to have some fun with providing convenience and home-cooked meals.

“We cool it down, package it in round, cylinder containers and put it in our refrigerated cases to sell,” Kraft said. “It’s very popular.”

Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive for the prepared items as well as grocery staples like ketchup, cereal and eggs.

“I’m just very appreciative of how the staff has helped with this,” Kraft said. “It was a shot in the dark to begin with. We wanted to make things that are affordable and convenient. I can’t tell you how many people have stopped me, or someone from the staff in the cafeteria, and thanked us. We try to provide the things people can just grab and take home.”

Input from staff important

At Sanford Bemidji (Minnesota) Medical Center, the goal has been much the same. To that end, the staff has added a standup freezer and refrigerator that include the basics and a few extras.

“A lot of our ideas come from within,” said Lori Schuver, food service operations assistant in Bemidji. “Someone will say they’ve been having a hard time finding this or that, and then we’ll go out and find it. We use local food sources whenever we can.”

It’s tough to go wrong with the convenience theme. Likewise, it extends to other areas. The gift shops at several sites offer personal care items to a degree they did not during pre-pandemic days.

Unfortunately, the demands placed on caregivers are not going to disappear in the immediate future.

Recognizing that, Sanford food services departments are always listening for new ways to make lives a little easier.

“We’re open to new ideas,” Beach said. “We’re hearing from people quite a bit. It’s, ‘Can you do this? Can you do that?’ And then we find out if we can help. We want feedback from people, and we’ll check into whether we can help. If we can, we will.”

Knoephla soup recipe

  • 7 cups water
  • 10.5-ounce can cream of celery soup
  • 10.5-ounce can cream of chicken soup
  • 6 ounces diced celery
  • 6 ounces diced onions
  • 1.5 ounces chicken base
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 small bag of frozen spaetzles
  • ½ cup frozen diced potatoes
  • ¼ cup of cream

Slow-cook all ingredients except spaetzles until tender. Add spaetzles and cream, heat through and serve.

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Posted In Bemidji, Bismarck, Coronavirus, Faces of Sanford Health, Health Care Heroes, Wellness

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