11.18.2016 Back to News

Methodist Memories: Meal Delivery Chaos & Other Glitches

Kitchen facilities were all that employees could ask for, though the delivery system of meals to patients created some problems.


Sunday, April 28, 1968, was the day the first patients arrived at the new Methodist Hospital at 84th & Dodge, and patient volumes quickly soared, exceeding even the most optimistic projections. The glitches experienced are outlined in this excerpt from the book about Methodist Hospital's first 100 years: "A Century of Medical Miracles":

The trash burner didn't work right from the beginning, and trash had to be hauled away, adding an unexpected expense. It wasn't repaired until two months after the hospital opened.

Fire broke out in a patient's room, caused by a cigarette, which did have a good side. It allowed the hospital to test its fire procedures, and they passed with flying colors.

The front doors were either difficult to open or blew open of their own accord, depending on the direction of the wind. It was determined a design flaw was the culprit, and it had to be corrected. Some windows had been improperly installed, and they cracked and had to be replaced. Some steam lines burst during the first days of cold weather, and some temperature controls in individual rooms didn't work right. Water leaked into the radiology department. These problems were quickly solved by the mechanical contractor.

Nurses were unaccustomed to working in the larger nursing units — 55 beds per station instead of 28 or 30 — and there was some confusion until practice proved that the larger units would be more efficient. 

But perhaps the major headache for hospital employees was the new system of transporting the patients' food from the kitchen to the patients' rooms. An elaborate conveyor belt system had been designed to carry trays from the second floor directly up to the supply centers on the patient floors. This necessitated the trays making some 90-degree turns and moving from horizontal conveyors to vertical conveyors. A real plus on the drawing board, the system was something less than perfect in reality. The system held up to 50 trays at a time in the vertical shaft, and when the tray at the top slid off — as it often did — chaos was the result, with 50 meals in a messy pile at the bottom of the shaft.

Fred Wright, who had supervised much of the move into the new building, had an office on the second floor near one of the 90-degree turns. He swears this story is true:

"A technical representative from the conveyor manufacturer was in my office, checking out the system. It was breakfast time. The trays began to pile up, just before heading up the vertical lift. He opened up the line. All this food came pouring down on him and he ended up with a fried egg right in the middle of this forehead." It took weeks, but the food transportation system finally settled down.

Hospital Administrator John W. Estabrook slept in his office for nearly a month in order to be on hand when another crisis occurrred.

"There was a great deal of uneasiness and most of it stemmed from change," said Estabrook. "We all are uneasy with change. Later I found out that all hospitals have problems when they move into a new building. It took perhaps a year, but at the end of that year, everything was going smoothly and nobody would consider going back to the old way of doing things."

Source: "A Century of Medical Miracles: Nebraska Methodist Hospital (1891-1991)" ©1991 by Hollis J. Limprecht and Nebraska Methodist Health System.