Sodexo: Patrick Connolly, North American COO and Market President of Health Care Services

by HCE Exchange on August 19, 2010

If you’ve eaten at a hospital—as visitor or patient—chances are very good that you have had a meal prepared by Sodexo. The company serves an average of 9.3 million meals every day in places like hospitals, university campuses, private and public schools, corporate environments, federal government and military bases. Sodexo has 120,000 employees in North America alone, with operations in the United Kingdom and France, as well.

Within the healthcare industry, Sodexo manages 4.2 billion dollars of business annually in hospitals, senior care centers, and laundry services. They serve approximately 1,200 hospital clients and 430 senior facilities. Sodexo has 45% of all contracted food services in hospitals in the United States. “We are clearly leading the market in terms of contracted services in the United States,” says Patrick Connolly, Sodexo’s North American COO and Market President of Health Care Services

The Patient and Resident Experience

Sodexo is one of those rare businesses that has continued growing even when the economy isn’t. Connolly attributes this, in part, to the company’s outlook on business. “We’ve focused on how we can become integral in the industry,” he says. “Become an industry expert, and figure out how the services we provide can improve the quality of lives in the places we operate, as well as help clients succeed in what they do.”

Rather than just focusing on driving down food costs and increasing labor efficiencies, as would be standard in this line of business, Sodexo concentrates on things they can do that would make a nurse’s day better. They look at how their food services could help decrease the nurse turnover rate in hospitals, for instance. “If we can impact the productivity and engagement in nursing in a hospital, then we impact something that really matters to clients,” says Connolly, citing a nursing shortage which plagues healthcare facilities across the nation.

In another example, he talks about a “to the table” program for the elderly. The company wanted to create a buffet line in their assisted living facilities. “If we can give those folks who are losing control over their lives and their choices are being taken away from them—we tell them what time to get up in the morning and people check their apartments to make sure they are directionally up and about—now through simply recreating the buffet, we’ve given them some choices in their day to make them feel like they have control over some things,” Connolly says.

From a user perspective, however, the traditional buffet setup could create more problems than it solved. The clientele is a little less agile than they used to be. They might be in wheelchairs or using canes or walkers, so the question becomes much larger than just what foods to serve on the buffet line. Sodexo’s answer was to create small hot and cold carts that could be rolled right up to the tables.

“From a food perspective, residents tend to eat more because they get what they want. They are happier with the experience and ultimately it helps them live a better life. That perspective is what makes us different, because we are literally focused on how we can improve the lives of the nation’s elderly as opposed to being focused on being a really good food or facilities management company. It makes our people significantly more engaged than others,” says Connolly.

An Engaged Workforce

That engagement makes for a more satisfied work force, as well. Connolly says, “We have found a way to get our hourly employees connected to why what they do makes a really big difference in the world.”

Every year, Sodexo holds a meeting where employee engagement is celebrated and acknowledged. The organization strives to create a culture where employees are given the independence to make decisions at local levels. Connolly illustrates with a story of an elderly woman whose only granddaughter was getting married. The woman was going to be unable to travel to the wedding, so an employee took it upon herself to recreate the wedding within the facility where the woman resided. A room was decorated to match the wedding colors, a cake was brought in, and a video link set up so the woman could attend her granddaughter’s wedding without having to leave the facility.

“Every month I collect CARES stories,” says Connolly. CARES stands for compassion, accountability, respect, enthusiasm and service. “People from all over the organization send me CARES stories and I personally review the stories and chose monthly winners. We celebrate them in publication and audio files or video uplinks. At the end of the year, I pick five or six really significant stories and invite those employees and their families to come celebrate with us at our annual meeting. I make sure that people know that I expect them to do these things.”

Partners in Healthcare

Sodexo services can be found at many of the top-notch health organizations across the country, including Yale University Hospital, Mayo Clinics, Stanford University, University of Chicago, Cleveland Clinic, and Johns Hopkins. “We do business with the industry leaders in all of the industries we are in,” says Connolly. “I think it speaks to the kind of organization we are.”

The organization is primarily thought of as a food service company, but they also do a lot of business in facilities management, environmental services and engineering. “We’ve begun to expand what we do to pretty much everything non-clinical in hospitals because we believe that our core competencies are transferable to things like admissions or copy services, for instance,” says Connolly.

Housekeeping, concierge services, patient transport, and clinical technology management are among the many services Sodexo covers. One recent service brings in-room technology to patients via their television sets. “We give the patient in the bed access to movies or games, but also to medical information on their illness and the ability to give the hospital instant feedback on how the services are being provided,” says Connolly. “It’s all part of our efforts to improve the patient experience, to really focus on the consumer more than just on the hospital.”

With the faltering economy, and the difficulties within the healthcare industry specifically, Connolly says Sodexo remains focused on opportunities. Clients who might have resisted outsourcing in the past might now be realizing it’s the only viable alternative. “We’ve moved from being a service provider to the healthcare industry to being an integral part of the healthcare industry and an impact on its success,” says Connolly.

“This organization, since 1966, has focused on how it can make people’s lives better. I think that’s allowed us to weather some significant downturns of economy and country dynamics and everything else. We are rooted in a very strong foundation—strong principals and strong values—and I think those things get us through the difficult times.”

-by Tracy Million Simmons

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