Focused and flexible—as director of food and nutrition services for
Torrance Memorial Medical
Center, that’s what Johanna Johnson-Gilman has to be. Overseeing
six managers, 140 staff and all hospital food services, retail cafes,
catering and financial operations, plus ensuring top-notch food safety
and patient safety, means there’s never a dull moment.
“There’s no such thing as a typical day. The one constant is
that I whittle each day down to the essential priorities and try to stay
focused on those,” Johnson-Gilman says.
For five years, Johnson-Gilman has started her day (some begin as early
as 5 a.m.) doing “rounds”—checking in on her team and
ensuring all areas are fully operational, getting up to speed on any immediate,
unplanned needs and learning the daily patient census.
“Our business increases as our patient population increases,”
she says. A handful of meetings, catering assistance, maintaining and
documenting regulatory compliance, and communication with dietitians who
perform patient dietetic evaluations and track their nutritional status,
can round out the day.
“Our staff is hardworking, industrious and resilient, and they have
taught me so much,” she says proudly. “I feel really fortunate
to be at this hospital, where the leadership and the focus on the patient
are both outstanding.”
That her career path led to the health care food service industry seems fitting.
“I’ve always loved to cook. As a kid, I was usually right next
to my mom in the kitchen—her little helper.” Johnson-Gilman
earned a degree in community health education and got a certification
in nutrition and dietetics. But even before that, working with patients
had called to her. A critical head injury when she was growing up landed
her in serious condition in the hospital, and brain surgery ensued. It
was a scary time.
“I learned early on how important empathy and the need to be nurtured
are for patients and families in the hospital,” Johnson-Gilman recalls,
“and years later, I knew I wanted to do something meaningful with
Her job provides her the best of both worlds: food and customer service
in a health care setting.
In fact, it’s the customer service aspect of her job that gives her
“It’s a bit of a lost art in today’s society. Technology
has led to our losing some sense of relating to people. Providing good
customer service in a patient environment is enjoyable, because you can
see how much your day-to-day work impacts a person’s life.”
And nationwide, she adds, hospitals are focusing more on the patient experience.
“It’s about, ‘How do we make the patient’s stay
less like a hospital and more like an experience in a hotel?’ When
you focus on this, it guides everything else.”
Good-tasting food matters, too, as anyone who’s stayed in the hospital knows.
“Hospital food absolutely has a reputation of being bland as cardboard,”
she says. “But in general, the trend is about taking it to a new
Torrance Memorial is embracing this trend. Its chefs are highly trained—executive
chef Sam Sellona trained at the Culinary Institute of America, Johnson-Gilman
points out, noting that, “You may get an orchid on your breakfast
A greater emphasis is being placed on food quality to maximize taste, texture
and overall prep methods, as well as healthy options with flavor profiles
that are customized based on community or region of the country.
Early next year, the hospital will offer patients its new “At Your
Request” room service. When admitted, they will receive a menu and
can select what they want to eat, or they can call on the spot and place
an order, and within 45 minutes their meal will be delivered. The hospital
is working on finishing a new kitchen to accommodate this service.
“The idea that a patient can eat what they want, when they want and
with their family, offers a huge amount of control,” Johnson-Gilman
explains. “There are so many things patients don’t have control
over, so if they can control their meals, we want them to be able to.”
Once she’s home with her family at the end of each day, Johnson-
Gilman doesn’t stray far from food service.
“I’m constantly menu planning. The same skills are required
whether it’s prepping to serve a patient population of 300 or a
family of four.” Focused and flexible—notable qualities in
a busy mom, too.