Perry Point’s ded­i­cated meal mak­ers start early



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.”

Ce­cil Af­ter Dark fo­cuses on ac­tiv­i­ties in the county that oc­cur between sun­down and sun­rise, dur­ing the col­or­fully named “grave­yard shift.” If you have a sug­ges­tion for our con­sid­er­a­tion, send an email to CADWhig@ya­


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.

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