Michael (Mike) West, director of Dining Services at Stony Brook University Hospital, has been selected by Food Management, a national trade magazine, as one of 13 leaders in onsite food service operations across the country.
West was originally nominated to Food Management’s sister site, Nation’s Restaurant News, which names the top leaders in the food service industry in its 2021 Power List. From that list, he was identified as a standout leader in the industry, recognized for his outstanding leadership and his impact on the hospital, the Stony Brook community, and the industry during the coronavirus pandemic.
West has navigated a year of unprecedented challenges by excelling in areas such as resilience and innovation, workforce management, leadership, and knowledge sharing while remaining focused on diversity, inclusion and equity for all. As director of Dining Services, operated by the Faculty Student Association (FSA) at Stony Brook University Hospital, West manages the patient, guest, visitor, and employee foodservice operations including Market Place Cafe, Jamba Juice, Starbucks and Panera Bread. He oversees a diverse workforce of 185 employees and has created an atmosphere where many cultural and ethnic backgrounds among patients and staff are not only recognized, but respected, understood, and embraced.
For a four-month period at the beginning of the pandemic, West provided COVID patients with a minimum of three to four meals per day. In addition to patients in the main hospital building, West facilitated meal production and delivery of over 80 meals per meal period, coffee, and other supplements to off-site locations such as the Ambulatory Surgery Center and the Ambulatory Cancer Center. In addition to patient meals, he oversees feeding over 3,000 employees each day. During the pandemic, West provided his expertise to SUNY and New York State for the surge plan for FEMA to provide emergency feeding to healthcare workers and patients that were not part of the hospital, and provided advice for patient feedings when field hospitals were being built on campus.
Starting the week of March 10, 2020, West quickly prepared to avoid the supply chain shortages affecting restaurants. He immediately met with the facilities team and loading dock staff at the hospital and food suppliers EBP and US Foods to secure multiple tractor trailers at the loading docks. The facilities team provided a special hookup for his electrical needs at the loading dock for the refrigerator and freezer trucks and two dry storage trucks for paper supplies and supplements. West was able to avoid interruptions and continually provide 98% of the food needed. He maintained those trucks at the loading dock for four to five months.
In addition to Food and Retail Services and Concierge Operations, he also provided assistance to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital to give patient feeding recommendations, help their team avoid supply chain issues and launch a meal train program for essential healthcare workers. West has also been providing expertise and advice to the design of patient feeding and retail services while they build out other areas of the hospital.
West also oversees the dietary department at the hospital. Working with Kathleen Carrozza, RD, assistant director of Food and Retail Services, he was able to solve a very complex situation to benefit patients battling COVID-19. “It is our mission that the patients at Stony Brook Hospital always receive the best care and meals to nurture their recovery,” he stated.
The software system for patient meals was unable to customize meals specific for COVID-19 patients. COVID patients generally do not eat three meals a day, and may have other underlying medical conditions that require special diets, so the dietary team manually input all of the information for up to six small meals per day for about 600 patients, seven days a week. They also worked with the nursing departments to time the deliveries, so they were not inundated with all of the meals for the entire floor at once.
“Mike West is truly one of the top 13 leaders in food service across the country because he recognizes the importance of compassionate care and that every patient has different needs that matter in their own way,” stated Van Sullivan, executive director, Faculty Student Association.
When the hospital revised its visitor policy, West and his team needed to feed family members in multiple areas. This required coordination to provide these meals and keep family away from the main restaurant cafeteria.
With healthcare staff working long hours, it is sometimes difficult to go to the grocery store to stock up on pantry items and grocery essentials for home. West launched a mini-market just for healthcare workers so they could stop in before they leave for the day to pick up milk, bread, eggs, ready-to-eat meals, paper towels and other dry and perishable grocery items. His goal was to increase morale and make it easier for healthcare workers to get the basics for their families.
The outpouring of support from community members has been profound. In response, West — along with catering manager Kevin Daly and the catering team — launched a meal train platform in early April with contributions that have exceeded 10,000 meals and snacks donated and distributed. This provided a safe, convenient way for members of the community to give a much-needed boost during the second wave of COVID-19.
West motivates his staff to work together to instill positivity throughout the department. He gives great hope and reassurance that together, with good people helping others, we will get through this even stronger than before. “He stepped up in the time of need, making do with minimal resources and found creative solutions to complex problems,” explained Van Sullivan.
None of the foodservice employees were furloughed or laid off. When sales in retail services dropped, he redeployed staff to other areas to assist with food production, prep work, meal train distribution, cleaning, sanitation and safety. Staff morale remained high because they were able to keep their hours and remained employed with their health insurance.
While managing the restaurant cafeteria for employees and visitors as well as four retail locations, patient feeding and catering services, West oversees a $5.5 million renovation, bringing major modernization to the main restaurant area with a live action station, new salad bar, pizza station and bakery area as well as an updated hot serving line.
Over the last decade, West has brought positive changes to the Stony Brook University Hospital dining program including providing more healthy menu options, greater variety, better value and delivering freshness and high quality standards to exceed the expectations of patients, staff and visitors.