An Interview with Angela O’Neill



After growing up waitressing in hotels and restaurants, Angela O’Neill got her BS in nutrition and worked in Veteran’s Affairs hospitals in Chicago and Albany. This was the beginning of a long and impressive career in foodservices and nutrition and a position as the Director of Nutrition Services at Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, New Jersey since 2006. Additionally Mrs. O’Neill served as the President of the Greater New Jersey Society for Food Service Administrators and currently sits on the board. Here we speak with her about all aspects of healthcare dining and how they have changed in her 24 years at Hunterdon.

What career path did you take to your current position at Hunterdon?

I got into dietetics because I had a background in food service. Also in college being athletic and into the healthy side of things I decided to go back to school for it.

I have been a registered Dietician since 1991. I started here at Hunterdon as a dietician in 1992, then moved to c-manager of our department, then Assistant Director, and in 2006 I was promoted to the Director of the department which oversees patient services. Additionally, clinical services are under my umbrella. We do daycare meals and we opened a cafe at our wellness center last year.

What was your education before you began at Hunterdon?

I had a bachelor’s degree and went back to school and got two more years in Nutrition. So I have a BS in nutrition and I did my internship at a Veteran’s Affairs hospital in Chicago then my first job was at a VA hospital in Albany, New York.

How have the dieting needs of your patients evolved over your 24 years at the same facility?

We had the old style menu where patients would select what they needed to eat for the next day. When i saw the room service model come out at a national conference in the early 2000s, I really grabbed hold of that. We first instituted it on our maternity unit and by 2009 we had instituted room service. It fits our patient needs so much better because they eat when they want.

The expectations of the patients nowadays are different. I think the generations coming up now eat out more and are looking for foods that they enjoy instead of just comfort food.

How do you build your team of employees and what type of worker succeeds in your culture?

I look for the passion in food service and health because those that are passionate will get the big picture and understand what we need to do as a team.

We look for caring enthusiastic staff. We have many generations in my department, from 16 all the way through 80 and there are many different cultures. We can train for specific skills but you can train for people skills.

What are you doing to attract that younger demographic, say 16-30, to healthcare dining?

We take diet tech students from a local community college and we also take Dietetic interns from Saint Elizabeth College and some others.

How do all the different groups, dietitians, medical and nutrition, all work together? What makes it successful?

Being on the ground level and being among my employees is important to me. My core team has been here for many years and well respect each other and have a really good working relationship. I have managers that have been here 25 years. You’ve really bonded with those people and when you get to know and embrace your staff it does help.

There is a lot of pressure to serve farm to table in restaurants. Is this realistic in a medical center environment?

We do buy produce from a local New Jersey company but we don’t advertise farm to table or anything like that. The quantity and cost of buying everything local can be prohibitive.

What role do your food and beverage vendors play in your success and how do you source your products?

Five or six years ago we switched from Cisco to US food because of a cost saving initiative within the company. other than that we don’t change a lot, but when there is a cost savings we may ask someone to provide us with an RFP (Request for Proposal).

What is your approach to kitchens at Hunterdon?

The organization opened in the 1950s and I believe the kitchen is the same as when the placed open. However as we have received new equipment we have made changes to make it a more functional space.

I involve the staff in changes because to me that is important. When we brought in a new girl recently we worked with them and said “well where do you want to put it?”.

In addition to the grill, what other recent renovations have you made?

We put in a new oven to make pizzas because we now do pizza day once a week and they fly out of the kitchen so we needed new oven space. Also we did the new cafe at our wellness center last year. In the future we are renovating our cafeteria in 2017.

Thanks for the knowledge and updates!