Note: Recently, Chef John Mayer and the Jackson Parish Hospital was featured in the following Contract Food Service Management article entitled: HOSPITAL’S DINING PROGRAM MAKES A BIG IMPACT ON COMMUNITY CULTURE.
Jonesboro, LA – Everyday Chef John Mayer creates satisfying meals with regional flavor for the patients and staff of Jackson Parish Hospital, a 25-bed critical access hospital in Jonesboro. Chef Mayer is employed by Culinary Services Group, a food management company contracted by the hospital in June of 2021.
With dishes like shrimp étouffée, jambalaya, and Cajun pasta on the menu, Chef Mayer is not only changing people’s perception of hospital food, but he’s also revitalizing the hospital cafeteria and making it a gathering place for staff.
“There are no big I’s and little U’s,” says John Morgan, CEO of Jackson Parish Hospital.
Morgan explains further that it’s not uncommon to see doctors, administrative workers, and maintenance staff all sitting together, co-mingling and enjoying a meal together.
“It’s just impacted [the community] in that people want to be here instead of going out and eating somewhere else, it’s a community and family and we’re all together in one place.”
Since taking over the hospital’s dining services Chef John Mayer has seen a 66% increase in meals served in a month. Of course, the hospital has grown from 12-beds to 25-beds due to a recently completed patient wing renovation, but the hospital has been quick to point out that patient guest visits have increased during mealtimes when guests have the option of an additional meal to eat with the patient they’re visiting at the hospital. There’s also been an increase in staff breakfasts and lunches thanks to new southern-style menu choices.
“We took the pressure off the can opener and placed it on knife skills in the kitchen,” jokes Chef Mayer, who’s implemented fresh, from-scratch meals, with plenty of fresh produce, non-frozen items, and locally sourced eggs.
Through this fresh-is-best approach, Mayer has been able to stabilize the patient per-day cost, driving it down more than seventy cents per meal. Breakfast at the hospital features, fresh juice, eggs made-to-order, grits, biscuits and gravy, Cajun sausage, pan sausage, pancakes, and waffles. Lunch often features Cajun specialties such as gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp and grits, and shrimp étouffée, but also features freshly made pot pies and a variety of cakes made by the “excellent country cooks” on Mayer’s kitchen team.
“Hospital food has a new connotation here,” says Morgan. “Some patients have even refused to leave without getting some delicious food to take home.
Jackson Parish Hospital may be rural, but the hospital has invested heavily in state-of-the-art technology to improve patient experiences. They’ve added a new wing and modernized all patient rooms to include features like LED lighting, flat-panel televisions, UV air purification, and negative pressure. Every nurse’s station has patient monitoring dashboards and digital whiteboards in each patient room. It’s clear the hospital is committed to providing a high quality of care, but they recognize that technology and modernization are not the only components to an enhanced patient stay.
“One of the hardest things to get right in a hospital, you’d think it would be the care, but it’s not necessarily. The food is one of the hardest things to get right,” reflected Morgan. “The patients don’t feel well, maybe they’re nauseated, maybe they’re getting antibiotics or various things that change their taste buds, so it’s a hard thing to get right. And I guess the real issue is it’s a subjective, moving target because what I like and what you like are two different things.”
Morgan goes on to say how impressed he is with Chef Mayer’s commitment to making connections with patients. Mayer takes time to meet with every patient both before and after meals, asking them about their diet and trying to make sure they’re getting food they enjoy.
“If they’re on a renal, diabetic, or cardiac diet of course there are going to be things on the menu they can’t have. But when there is menu overlap, I try to make the same item for the patients that the staff are eating,” says Mayer. “One thing the patients really seem to like is when they see a brand they recognize on their tray, a Tony Chachere’s seasoning or Tabasco packet makes a huge difference.”
The decision to partner with Culinary Services Group was not one the hospital considered lightly.
“We looked at other companies,” says Morgan, “But just the way CSG presented themselves to us and the overall tenor of how you have to care and have to do the right thing even when no one looking, those types of things just resonated with us. I felt like if we wanted to separate ourselves from other hospitals, we had to do something different. You can’t do the same thing everyone else is doing and get different results.”
Today he’s glad the hospital and its board of directors made the decision to partner with Culinary Services Group.
“Our food has become our calling card here at Jackson Parish. The care is great, the rooms are great, we have great doctors and nurses but having Culinary Services Group and a great chef like John Mayer here really helps us stand out. He has been a rockstar around here, everyone likes him, he’s a good guy.”
The future of hospital dining looks bright at Jackson Parish. The hospital is currently renovating the kitchen space. There are plans to add more seating in the hospital cafeteria and a touch-and-go staff kiosk for evening and weekend employees who currently enjoy refrigerators stocked with fresh salads, sandwiches, and other healthy grab-and-go items. Jackson Parish Hospital is an emergency evacuation site, so Chef Mayer says he’d also like to create more appetizing meals to keep on hand in case of emergencies.
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