Dawn Cascio wears multiple hats in the Healthcare food service industry.
In addition to her position as Director of Dining at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey, Dawn also serves on the board of The Greater New Jersey Society for Healthcare Food Administrators. After moving up from a small psychiatric rehabilitation hospital Dawn moved to a 250 bed community hospital and assumed the position of Assistant Manager before taking over at Valley Hospital. We had an opportunity to speak with her about the Healthcare service industry, her career path and how her occupation has evolved in recent years.
Ms. Cascio, How did you get into the healthcare service industry?
I started out as a clinical dietician. My first job was a mixture of covering critical care units, ventilator unites and a drug detox unit.
What sort of career path did you take to your current position?
I took a few positions, each with increasing food service management responsibilities. One position I had was in a small 90-bed psychiatric, alcohol & drug detox rehabilitation hospital. I functioned as the Clinical Dietitian as well as the Food Service Director. My time was spent fifty percent clinical and fifty percent food service. From there I took a position at a midsize 250-bed community hospital as the Assistant Director/ Patient Services Manager.
How have the dining needs of your patients evolved?
I think the patients in the hospital are more acute and they stay now for a shorter period of time. Most patients are elderly. You have to make sure food is classic comfort food that can be easily eaten. It cannot require too much cutting and it needs to be soft. It is also a balancing act to create a menu that pleases your very ill and older, and your younger maternity patients and their significant others.
What is your approach to building your team?
I think it is best to have a team that enjoys working with one another. Your supervisory team must have a say in who they think will be the best fit for the department. It is also important that work be a collaborative effort. Also, acknowledging a job well done is extremely critical.
What type of employees succeed in your culture?
People who are collaborative and will help each out even though it might not be their area. We really stress that we are one team and team work is essential in meeting and exceeding patient, employee and community expectations
What are you doing to attract the “next generation” of professionals to healthcare dining?
We are a host site for several Dietetic Internships in New Jersey. We take students from Montclair State University and Rutgers University. They typically spend four weeks with us.
I am amazed at the breadth of responsibility you and your department have beyond just food. What else falls under your managerial umbrella?
In July of 2010 we began a project of having our own beehives to make our own honey. Managing bees has been an interesting part of the job. We go up on the roof frequently to see how they are doing. Occasionally we get loose bees that we have to contain. It is always a nice reason to go outside, especially in the warmer months.
How do your foodservice, nutrition and dietitian all work together?
We have monthly department meetings. All staff, both clinical and food service, attend the meetings together. We also involve the staff when making menu changes for the patients as well as for the employee cafeteria.
What makes for a successful operation?
Communication and respect are essential. It is crucial to keep foremost in mind that we are here for one thing and that is to serve the patient.
From a menu standpoint there seems to be tremendous pressure to serve farm to table and local food. What is your approach to that?
I would not say pressure. We want to do local foods because of the superior flavor and freshness. We do as much local and farm to table as possible being in the northeast. We have a vegetable and herb garden on site. Our chefs grow a lot of heirloom vegetables. We also belong to a CSA (Community Supported) Agriculture in at Catalpa Ridge Farm in Sussex Country, New Jersey about fifty miles from the hospital. Jersey corn and tomatoes are amazing!
What role do your food and beverage vendors play in your success?
They are a great resource for ideas and inspiration. Their commitment to the healthcare segment is commendable. We know we can rely on them in any situation.
Do you go to bid constantly?
We are always checking price and monitoring the markets. If we know the price of an item is going up, we’ll modify the menu. Making sure we are getting the best possible value for the hospital is paramount to us.
Thanks for your insight Ms. Cascio and good luck in the future!