The Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) presented the Rural Health Ambassador Award to Melissa Osterhoff, Executive Chef, on June 6 at Columbus Community Hospital (CCH).
The award recognizes health care employees at RWHC hospitals who have gone above the call of duty in promoting their respective organizations, while making significant contributions to rural health. Each recipient demonstrates a history of fostering positive communication and relations within the hospital’s respective service area by: serving on community boards/service organizations; taking advantage of volunteer opportunities; and supporting community health activities beyond the scope of the hospital.
“Chef Melissa’s positive attitude, compassion, teamwork, respect and tremendous work ethic are central to the success of our culinary services team,” said Emily Briggs, Manager of Culinary, Nutrition and Diabetes Services at CCH. “She always keeps the patient and customer’s best interest at heart, while never straying from our vision to provide delicious, healthy, fresh and affordable food to our community.”
Osterhoff received her Culinary Arts Degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago. She joined the team at CCH six years ago as the organization’s first executive chef. Her role includes: Oversight of the kitchen, including food safety, storage, sanitation and team education; menu planning for all areas, including patient meals, catering, café and coffee shop; scheduling; adherence to nutrition requirements from a therapeutic and regulatory standpoint; recipe development; ordering and purchasing; community education and engagement initiatives, and quality improvement activities.
As a strong rural healthcare advocate in the community, Osterhoff is a regular presenter for CCH’s women’s day and diabetes awareness events, the Columbus Senior Center lunch and learns, the Live It! nutrition class in five middle schools, and occupational health programs at area corporations.
“Since Chef Missy came on board, CCH culinary services has developed a strong community presence through increased involvement with education programs, fund raising and increased access for community members to healthy and affordable food,” said Briggs. “We welcome community members to eat with us seven days a week and have enjoyed strengthened relationships with local businesses and their employees over delicious, healthy meals.”
According to Briggs, because of Osterhoff’s menu planning and recipe development, the CCH cafeteria (the Park Avenue Café) has seen a 400% increase in hot entrée production and 300% increase in vegetable sales.
“Through her community outreach, she has inspired people to drop the fast-food and cook at home,” said Briggs. “We enjoy hearing from community members whose cholesterol, blood glucose or weight is now in a healthy range because they have changed their eating habits, in part due to their access to nutrient-rich food at CCH. We are also amazed at the number of people who actually like to eat vegetables now because of her recipes.”
Incorporated in 1979, the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative receives national recognition as one of the country’s earliest and most successful models for networking among rural hospitals. RWHC serves as a catalyst for regional collaboration and as an aggressive, creative force on behalf of rural communities and rural health. RWHC offers its members a wide-range of shared services that meet local community health needs, including: staffing, consulting, management, networking and education. Columbus Community Hospital is an active member of RWHC.