Rex Hospital now offering afternoon tea for patients

Hospital hopes that hot tea and treats will improve stays

aweigl@newsobserver.comDecember 27, 2012 

A hospital is often the last place anyone wants to be. So Rex Hospital is offering a new amenity: afternoon tea.

“It gives them 20 minutes to not think about being in a hospital,” explained Ben Kesterson, the hospital’s coordinator of patient food services.

Kesterson started the afternoon tea service two months ago at the direction of his boss, Jim McGrody, the hospital’s director of culinary and nutrition services. Previously, Kesterson worked at The Biltmore Estate where afternoon tea is a regular affair. Right now, afternoon tea isn’t offered to every patient. Instead, the staff identifies about a half-dozen or so patients who aren’t under restrictive diets and can be offered tea and a sweet treat.

This is the latest example of hospitals trying to ditch the bad reputation of hospital food.

In hospital kitchens across the Triangle, trained chefs now serve up salmon or mahi mahi instead of mystery meat. They cook fresh vegetables instead of opening a can. Patients can choose an entree from a lengthy menu instead of having a predetermined meal delivered to their bedside.

In this same vein, some hospitals bring in outside food vendors. There’s a Starbucks at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and an Au Bon Pain opened last month at Raleigh’s WakeMed Hospital.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon at Rex, food service worker Crystal Harris wheeled a cart around the hospital’s sixth floor, the temporary home for orthopedic patients, offering hot tea, scones and other treats. With patient list in hand, Harris knocked at room 6004.

“Room service. May I come in?” Harris asked.

The patient, David Crawford, 68, of North Raleigh, invited Harris into the room. Crawford, who had been in the hospital for two days after knee replacement surgery, ordered the green tea. The oxygen mask during surgery had left his throat raw and scratchy.

“This was just what I needed,” Crawford said.

Another patient, Charlotte Price of Raleigh, was a repeat customer. This was her third tea service this week. The first time, Price had been surprised by the individual tea pot, a ceramic cup and the petit fours or biscotti on a doily-lined plate.

“I thought they’d bring me one of those plastic cups and a tea bag,” Price said. “It was delightful. … This is more like the Marriott.”

Not everyone wanted hot tea. Harris was turned away by several patients who prefer iced tea.

Patient Brian Wayne Benton, 41, and his wife, Crystal, 38, had never tried hot tea before, but were willing customers. Sitting on the edge of his hospital bed, the couple enjoyed their teas and chocolate-dipped strawberries.

“It’s actually nice,” Crystal Benton said. “You don’t expect it.”

Beyond the food and drink, the Bentons got what the staff was trying to offer: a short reprieve from worrying about when Brian Benton would be discharged after coming down with an infection after back surgery.

Weigl: 919-829-4848

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