In taking a look at today's healthcare foodservice operators, it would seem to me that this segment of the industry features plenty of challenges and opportunities.

Like most other foodservice operators, those in the healthcare segment continue to deal with food and labor costs that keep rising and budgets that continue to fall. As a result, these foodservice facilities must do more with less while trying to run operations that feature business models that tend to be a complex combination of non-commercial (patient feeding) and commercial (cafeteria, catering and coffee service) businesses. Further complicating matters is the fact that each day hospital foodservice operators serve a very diverse clientele that spans pretty much all social and economic spectrums.

But no segment has responded better to changes in its market conditions than healthcare operators. This segment has embraced the challenges and changes of the day by stepping up the quality of its food offerings and becoming more creative in its approach to meeting the needs of patients and everyone else that consume their meals.

A number of hospital foodservice providers are taking culinary leadership positions in their communities thanks to their focus on health and nutrition. They continue to lead by example — showing all of the industry naysayers that it is in fact possible to provide a healthy meal at a reasonable price without compromising quality. In doing so, healthcare operators, such as Elmhurst Memorial Hospital in suburban Chicago, continue to employ leading-edge technology and labor practices throughout their facilities (see page 16).

The creativity these operators display astounds me. Want an example? Take a look at 2012 IFMA Silver Plate Award winner Dan Henroid of the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center (see page 8). Dan took a trash room – yes a trash room – and turned it into a convenience store operation that generates $1.6 million in revenue per year for UCSF. (And if you are worried all of that trash was left without a place to go, don't be. Dan found another home for the trash room without compromising efficiency.)

Despite all of these commercial changes, healthcare foodservice operators continue to play a vital role in the patient healing process. And thanks to the transition to room service, many continue to do so in a way that not only makes fiscal sense but helps the patients play a role in their recovery by allowing them to order what they want to eat when it best suits them. The net result for many operators who transition to room service is improved patient satisfaction scores (see page 12).

What's exciting about the future of this segment, though, is that as the national debate on healthcare plays out, hospital administrators will continue to challenge these foodservice professionals to rise up to meet the new challenges of the day. But that won't faze your average healthcare foodservice professional because the fact remains they have been doing it for years now. And that same solid work ethic, creativity and desire to provide nourishment and comfort through foodservice will continue to serve their hospitals and the surrounding communities well.