Hospital café manager provides unique patient care

We are IU Health

April 03, 2019

Keola Quartero grew up in a large family. His upbringing didn’t teach him about medicine but it taught him about caring for others.

His name means “health” and “well being” in Hawaiian. Those who know him say Keola Quartero is an example of how every IU Health team member matters when it comes to a patient’s well being.

Quartero was raised outside of Honolulu. His father was in the military for 30 years so the family moved – to California, Georgia, Germany and Washington and back to Hawaii twice. There was seldom reason to worry about making new friends in a family of 15 children. Quartero is right smack in the middle – with seven brothers and seven sisters.

“We weren’t all together. It was usually around seven or eight kids in the house at the same time because we were spread out – different generations,” said Quartero, 38. His oldest sibling is 46 and the youngest is 16. “It was tough sometimes. Food was tough to come around. When it was dinner time you better come to the table on the first call or there was a good chance you wouldn’t eat,” he said. “It wasn’t unusual for us to fight over the showers – we all wanted hot water and we all had chores to do.” The siblings are now scattered around the country – Alabama, Texas, and Georgia – and his mother, 62, lives in Alaska. His father is deceased. The family comes together for special occasions like weddings.

It was an experience that taught him the value of caring and respecting the needs of others. Over time he found his own path to independence. At the age of 16, he came to Indiana to visit a cousin and he didn’t return to Hawaii. He fathered his first child at the age of 17 and now has his own family of five children ages 21 to 15. Of the three oldest who are in college – one is majoring in accounting, one is majoring in education, and one is majoring in nursing. He has been married to his wife Kelli for 16 years.

Quartero quit high school at the age of 18 but four years later earned his GED and at the age of 24 he obtained his associate’s degree in business. Two years ago he earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and became the manager of food services at IU Health West where he does a little bit of everything from ordering supplies to preparing food.

“I love food. They pay me to eat because I get to taste test everything,” said Quartero who is a self-taught chef with a special interest in Asian and Puerto Rican cuisine.

He has worked for IU Health eight years – starting in environmental services and patient transportation. All five of his children were born at IU Health West.

People who know him see the “little things” that Quartero brings to the patient experience. When a mom with nine children recently visited the hospital, Quartero said it reminded him of his own mom. He served them all ice cream.

On another occasion, he was delivering meals in the ICU and noticed a family at the bedside of a dying patient. He asked them if they’d eaten and when they said they hadn’t he headed to the kitchen to prepare something special. A few days later after their loved one passed, he again brought them food and sat outside and talked to them. The family lives in Texas and still remains in touch with Quartero.

“I lost my dad about five years ago. Everyone mourns differently, but I could relate. I didn’t have words to make them feel better but I could listen to them,” said Quartero. It isn’t unusual for him to work long days but he says at the end of his shift it’s hard to just walk away.

“The customer interaction is the best part of my job. A lot of people who come to the café are going through tough times or they have family members going through tough times.” He tries to keep his eyes open for those who are struggling and gives them a care card, a cup of coffee, and a cookie.

“When someone asks me how I’m doing I say ‘I’m doing better than most.’ I picked up this quote from one of my team leaders named Keith that lives by it every day. It makes you realize that something like having a flat tire on the way to work is really no big deal. There are people who are having a really tough time and I like to do my part to help them through it.”

More about Quartero:

  • He’s an ordained minister and performed his sibling’s weddings.
  • He loves to play in poker tournaments and spends time in Vegas playing cards and eating, and he enjoys vacationing with his wife.
  • He holds a black belt in Lean Six Sigma, a business management system that helps organizations reduce waste and improve performance.

-- By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.

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