Perry Point’s dedicated meal makers start early
QUALITY CLEANING AFFORDABLE PRICING PERSONALIZED SERVICE
Special to the Whig
— For many people, their daily wake-up routine involves activating a coffee maker and preparing a single breakfast meal — or two or three or four, depending upon the size of their family. That done, they head off to begin their workday.
At Perry Point Veterans Affairs Medical Center, adjacent to Perryville, food preparation begins much earlier and is significantly more complex.
Nutrition and food service supervisors begin their workday at 5 a.m. facing a substantial mission: Produce more than 1,200 meals, and deliver them — warm and ready to eat — to awaiting patients at the Perry Point facility and also to the VA’s Loch Raven Community Living and Rehabilitation Center in Baltimore.
Busy Perry Point cooks and their assistants utilize the latest food preparation
methods, while being attentive to the individual dietary and religious needs of each patient. In addition, nine food service workers efficiently deliver meals, using a fleet of small tractors. Each pulls scores of hot breakfasts, lunches and dinners through a complex of hallways and underground tunnels, which connect medical care facilities housing hundreds of patients throughout the 365acre campus.
Mary Ellen Ward, of Rising Sun, has been employed at Perry Point for 24 years. As site manager of Perry Point’s clinical food service and nutrition and food services, she is in charge of the facility’s kitchen operation, including overall food preparation.
Antonio Brown, of Belcamp, a 25-year Perry Point employee and U.S. Army veteran, is chief of food production and services, directly supervising the work of cooks and their assistants, plus food delivery, tray retrieval and cleanup, sanitation, and shipping.
Brown explained that the kitchen prepares enough food to make up hundreds of meals with the same attention you would do at home. Except the volume is significantly larger.
He said the Perry Point site uses a Cook-Chill Advanced Meal Preparations System, which allows his staff to make up meals several days in advance of their use.
Walk-in coolers, called “food banks,” are used to store food that has been cooked, blast chilled, sealed and labeled. This process enhances food preservation. When removed from the food bank, meals can be reheated to proper temperatures for serving.
Ward explained the attention given to different dietary needs of each Perry Point patient. The five main food production categories include: regular, for nonrestrictive patients; carbohydrate control, for diabetics; low sodium, for those with high blood pressure; cardio, for those concerned with cholesterol; and texture modified, for those with dental and chewing issues.
“Of course,” added Ward, “we address other patient concerns, if they request certain foods because of their religious or cultural customs.”
She mentioned that, at times, her staff members have gone to local supermarkets and area stores to secure hard-to-find items to fulfill a patient’s special food requests.
Supporting Ward’s comment, Brown added, “And we do as much as we can to accommodate the requests of our hospice patients.”
Perry Point’s normal workday for Food Services extends from 5 a.m., when supervisors arrive, to 7:30 p.m., when food service workers final cleanup should be finished. Unless there’s an equipment breakdown, or the threat or arrival of severe weather.
“Our service has to go on,” Ward said. “We have to provide meals.”
Brown agreed, saying, “When it snows, we have to be here. Some of us have stayed overnight during storms, or when we knew they were coming. I remember when we had a few 20inch snowfalls. Some of us never left.”
“This is not a regular job for me,” the veteran added. “I take pride in what we do. It’s a source of pride for me to work here.”
Mona Robertson, a Perryville resident, has been a food service worker for more than three years. She said she loves her job, which involves driving through tunnels on a tractor, pulling a rack containing about 40 individual meals.
According to the facility’s engineering staff, about a mile of tunnels and hallways link buildings throughout the sprawling campus. Former Perry Point Community and Outreach Coordinator Margaret Hornberger said this mode of tractor tunnel transportation helps with delivery time and provides fresh food, at proper temperatures, to veteran patients.
Robertson said she and her coworkers drop off meals to patients, then return to pick up food carts and transport dirty trays to the kitchen for cleaning and sanitation.
When asked about patients’ favorite meals, Ward looked toward Robertson and jokingly said, “She scrapes the plates. She ought to know.”
The three food service employees agreed that fried chicken, chicken with spare ribs — as well as the special patient birthday menu, offering crab cakes — were among the top requested menu items.
Reflecting upon her long career at Perry Point, Ward said, “I enjoy interacting with the veterans and making people happy. And going the extra mile to individualize our services, plus having a staff that doesn’t complain, and provides excellent customer service.”
For Brown, job satisfaction involves close personal association with his fellow service members. “I’m a veteran,” he explained. “It’s near and dear to me. For some of the veterans here, this is their home. They don’t get to leave and go home. And I have satisfaction by serving them.”
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Antonio Brown is chief of food production and services at Perry Point and also a U.S. Army veteran, which makes serving awaiting patients that much more meaningful.
Perry Point food service worker Mona Robertson sits on her tractor, which she uses to pull a rack containing about 40 individual meals.