CDM, CFPP of the Month - April 2021

Laura Walters, CDM, CFPP

Name: Laura Walters, MS, CDM, CFPP

Job Title: Director of Culinary Services and Wound Care & Hyperbaric Medicine
Employer: Arkansas Heart Hospital and Arkansas Heart Hospital Encore Medical Center
Job Location: Little Rock, AR and Bryant, AR
Years at Current Facility: 5 Years

Years in Current Position: 1 Year

CDM, CFPP Since: 2020

Why did you decide to become a CDM, CFPP?

I became a CDM, CFPP to better equip myself and my team with the proper education to successfully run a foodservice department and lead us safely and effectively. Since both becoming a CDM, CFPP, my lead supervisor and I confidently opened a kitchen in our brand-new hospital and passed all the inspections with flying colors. Having this knowledge helped us know how to meet the guidelines, requirements, and expectations to comply with CMS and State Health regulations.

What are your main responsibilities in your current position?

As the director of Culinary Services, I act as a global leader for my department by overseeing both hospital’s kitchens, inpatient tray lines, both cafés, nourishment pods, Food from the Heart food truck, our hospital garden, the RDN team, and our June Bug’s gift shop. I manage the finances, coordinate the repairs and preventative maintenance on all equipment, work with vendors, write and review policies/procedures, conduct trainings/in-services, promote and market our services, and work closely with staff members offering support to help them accomplish their jobs effectively.

How do you organize your time at work to make sure you accomplish all your responsibilities?

I utilize my supervisor team to help accomplish tasks within their area and to efficiently broadcast information to the staff. My leads are the reason why we operate so smoothly each day. I live by my calendar and stay organized by taking time each morning to plan out my day and week. This quiet time allows me to focus and strategize on the day’s activities with my lead supervisor.

What is an example of an innovative way you have made change at your facility and how did you implement it?

Due to the CDC guidelines protecting against the spread of COVID-19, all communal dining was shut down. My team and I quickly jumped into action by removing our salad bar and building a portable live salad station where our chef and cooks made the salad in front of the client using fresh ingredients picked from the garden that morning. We kept expenses down by using supplies we had on hand and ingredients from our garden. This supported our initiative to continue to provide heart healthy meals in our café for our patrons. We had so much fun with it that we started featuring live sushi and teriyaki bowls between salad bar days. These small but fun changes increased our revenue by 35% which would have otherwise been a total loss in revenue altogether.

What was your first job in the foodservice industry?

My first job in the foodservice industry was hostess and dairy bar girl at a small town drive-through restaurant. This family owned establishment taught me a lot about customer service, teamwork, and pitching in where you’re needed, even if that meant picking up trash in the parking lot. I quickly worked my way up the ranks to dishwasher, cold prep, then ended up being the cook of their famous hub cap burgers.  

Who has been your biggest mentor in food service and how have they helped shape your career?

My lead supervisor, Tarneisha Daugherty CDM CFPP, has been the biggest mentor in my foodservice career. She has been by my side from day one of me taking over this department and is one of the strongest business partners I have ever had. We are constantly challenging, encouraging, and teaching one another. We lead the team in unison and compliment one another’s strengths and skillsets. It is important that we run an innovative, efficient business while creating a positive culture. Our biggest accomplishment to date is opening a kitchen and café together at our brand-new hospital in Bryant, Arkansas. 

What are the biggest challenges you face in your position and how do you handle them?

I challenge myself and my team to stay creative and not to get complacent with our services and menu. Since we are a 5-star hospital and top 6 in the nation, it is our duty to provide 5-star service. It’s important to meet the needs and provide spectacular cuisines for every patient, employee, and visitor.

What is your favorite part of your job?

The team, hands down! I love these people so much and every day I learn something new from them. Their knowledge in the foodservice industry is exceptional. I am always impressed with their ideas and how much more they want to do for others. 

How do you stay up to date with current innovations and trends?

Through discussions with my team, social media, ANFP newsletters and emails. Also, I am blessed to work with a strong leadership team at Arkansas Heart Hospital who take the time to mentor me and push me to new levels I never knew I could reach. Our executive team is passionate about our culinary services and are always supporting us to stay ahead of the curve by sending us to learn and discover what’s new in the food industry. 

How do you envision the foodservice industry changing in the next few years?

I envision advanced technology in the hospital labs that promotes genetic testing. This will allow collaboration between the healthcare team and the kitchen staff centering the patient trays around the disease state, etiology, and genetic makeup of the patient. Patient trays will be tailored to the individual’s genomics allowing nutrition to be used as medicine and aid in the healing process, like a prescription. I imagine tailored menu items for the patient to choose from based on lab results that directly send menu tickets from the room to the kitchen. As far as the future in public dining services are concerned, I envision curbside cuisines over fast food will continue to grow even beyond the pandemic. I expect to see more QR codes used in place of menus, an increase in fine dining carry out, and more outdoor seating areas created in cities. 

What is your advice to those just getting started in the foodservice industry?

Listen to your team! They know how the day-to-day operations run and they understand the customer’s needs. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something and show them you are eager to learn. To be in foodservice, you must have a servant’s heart and an “aim-to-please” attitude but, most importantly, you must have a sense of humor! I have been blessed to be surrounded by encouraging leaders and a strong team that works hard and delivers results every day while smiling and laughing.