Born into a family of pharmacists, Charlotte Sant Portanier has been steeped in the world of healthcare all her life. Encouraged by her father, she found herself contributing to the family pharmacy from a young age, a transformative experience that enabled her to back her academic pursuits with the hands-on realities of running a community pharmacy. Upon graduation, more opportunities presented themselves leading Charlotte to gain invaluable work experience in eight hospitals across three countries.

“I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to study and work abroad, as it truly broadened my knowledge and expertise within the healthcare industry. Particularly when I moved to Australia, the field of hospital pharmacy was extremely well developed. So being exposed to all this expertise first-hand was an invaluable experience that really shaped my understanding of healthcare in profound ways,” says Charlotte, explaining that during her time on the continent she had the opportunity to sit on various medical committees and receive comprehensive training in critical facets of hospital operations, ranging from quality use of medicines, manufacturing of sterile and cytotoxic pharmaceuticals and specialised clinical pharmacy services, all within various acute hospital settings.

Upon her return to Malta, Charlotte’s overseas healthcare experience facilitated her journey in the local private healthcare sector. After a successful number of years as COO of Saint James Hospital, widely recognised as Malta’s largest private hospital group, she contributed to other ventures such as Niumee and was head of pharmacy in another local hospital operation, beforeshe assumed the role of CEO at Malta Healthcare Caterers in 2021.

The scope of Malta Healthcare Caterers is extensive, encompassing various verticals of business, including contract catering, the provision of qualified care workers and nurses to hospitals, management of nursing homes, and the delivery of domiciliary care. Currently employing some 3,800 individuals, the company’s impact on the sector is both substantial and transformative, setting a new benchmark for quality and service in Malta’s healthcare landscape.

Within her role, Charlotte shapes the company’s vision and strategy while overseeing the day-to-day operations at a high level. This responsibility extends not only to local business but also encompasses the ambitious goal of expanding internationally. Embracing a self-described transformational leadership style, Charlotte places great emphasis on fostering alignment, motivation, and engagement across her teams at all levels of the business.

“Our people are crucial to everything we do, and effective communication is vital for our success. That’s why I personally prioritise visiting all sites at least once a week. During these visits, I have conversations with our team members and strive to foster an environment of open communication. By nurturing a strong sense of emotional intelligence within our organisation, I aim to develop good leaders who will continue to guide our business towards a successful future,” Charlotte explains.

The scale of the business’ catering operations alone is truly remarkable. Malta Healthcare Caterers prepares and delivers a staggering 8,500 meals each day, all year round, without fail. This colossal endeavour demands significant dedication to ensure consistent delivery of quality and adherence to stringent safety controls to meals that must cater to a diverse range of individual requirements and dietary needs. All this, in an environment of rising costs and challenges with the availability of raw materials.

“We have a dedicated team of chefs, food technologists, and nutritionists,working closely together in-house with the quality department to ensure that every meal we serve is not only balanced and delicious but also tailored to meet the specific dietary requirements of each individual client. Our menu planning is a meticulous process that begins months in advance. We have strict specifications that must be met, taking into account both the hospitality and clinical perspectives. This includes considerations such as palatability, serving size, calorific and nutritional values (including limitations with seasoning) available produce, seasonal variations and other factors. We also need to anticipate future market availability of ingredients and raw materials to ensure we can provide meal options months down the line.”

Stringent safety measures are followed throughout encompassing rigorous hygiene practices, constant temperature monitoring, quality checks, allergy verification, and comprehensive traceability documentation. Once these meticulous checks are successfully passed, the meals are sealed, securely stored and transported to the various facilities under very strict temperature controls. The company also produces a number of “ghost meals” per batch production that allow for quality control and recall if required.

The company, Charlotte attests, has spared no expense in investing not only in its state-of-the-art catering premises and top-of-the-line equipment but also in the development of its intellectual resources, particularly its human capital. Charlotte elaborates: “Our team possesses a wealth of intellectual knowledge in service delivery, adeptly navigating through highly challenging conditions. Over the years, we have implemented innovative strategies to ensure uninterrupted service even in the face of extreme challenges. This resilience has been demonstrated during the pandemic as well as recent supply chain disruptions, where we have adapted and persevered to maintain our commitment and duty towards our clients and patients.”

Staff shortages have been another challenging factor in the local healthcare industry in recent years. Charlotte sheds light on this pressing issue, saying, “staff shortages continue to affect both the catering sector and healthcare professions such as nurses and care workers. Our small island exacerbates this situation, as we struggle to produce enough skilled professionals to meet the increased local demand. Moreover, competition from overseas has led to a significant outflow of talent from our shores.”

“All this has meant that we have had to explore recruitment possibilities from outside the EU to meet the growing demand. Whenever engaging new staff, especially those coming from different backgrounds, cultural alignment becomes crucial. That’s why we place great importance on induction, training, ongoing education, and ensuring competency assessments throughout. Moreover, I believe that our commitment extends beyond offering employment opportunities; it encompasses providing comprehensive support to our diverse foreign employees who often leave their families behind overseas. Our goal is not only to enhance their skills and knowledge but also to improve their overall quality of life as they advance their careers, whether within Malta or elsewhere in Europe.”

Despite the myriad of challenges faced, Charlotte has steered Malta Healthcare Caterers towards “continued growth and a steadfast position as a leading industry specialist”. The company, she shares, remains dedicated to constant improvement, not only solidifying its local services but also expanding internationally with the recent establishment of a training centre in Dubai. This strategic move opens up new opportunities to further fulfil the company’s long-term approach to both global expansion and local diversification.

Charlotte elaborates on this approach, stating that “in addition to our commitment to maintain and improve upon our leading reputation in contract catering and healthcare services, we are venturing into the field of education. To facilitate this, we have launched a specialised training centre in Dubai, focusing on health and social care training. Through this initiative, we aim to equip our care workers with the necessary skills and bridge the gap between practices in different countries, ensuring they meet the high standards expected in Malta.”

With years of experience in the private healthcare sector, Charlotte says she is well aware of the ongoing debate surrounding public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the local industry. Rather than viewing it as a contentious issue, she sees it as an opportunity to shed light on how PPPs, when established within the right frameworks, can effectively alleviate the burden placed on strained public healthcare systems.

Charlotte explains: “Having first-hand experience with healthcare systems overseas, private healthcare plays a crucial role in supporting government to fulfil its duty to offer quality healthcare. It is widely recognised and extensively studied that the private sector operates with greater efficiency and has the flexibility to make timely decisions without compromising patient safety and healthcare delivery. Therefore, PPPs have the potential to be highly successful if established and operated in ways that prioritise service delivery, quality management and defined key performance indicators (KPIs) which must be audited and measured to ensure success.”

“Ultimately, we are driven by a commitment to provide the very best, continuously improving our practices, and ensuring the highest standards of care. Our efforts are guided by the belief that every individual deserves access to high-quality healthcare, whether it’s through a nutritious meal as part of their recovery or tailored domiciliary care. That’s why we strive to make a positive impact in the lives of all the patients we service, directly or indirectly,” Charlotte concludes.

This interview forms part of the 50 Business Leaders project. The new online serialisation on MaltaCEOs.mt will feature 50 distinguished business leaders, CEOs, and emerging business minds to create debate and encourage business leaders to share their journey with our readers.

Want to know more? Please drop us a line at info@maltaceos.mt

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