From proper sanitation to extensive food management, restaurants and cafeterias have to do a lot to stay in business. But that is small potatoes compared to the Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s dining services, which is responsible for feeding the hospital’s patients, many of whom have weakened immune systems and dietary restrictions.
“When patients are in the hospital, their immune system is often compromised,” said Barbara Mayfield, director of nutrition services at NGMC. “So we want to go above and beyond, making sure the food is prepared and stored in a safe way.
“Our employees all have that heightened sense of ‘we’re cooking for patients.’”
Northeast Georgia Medical Center kitchen sous-chef Robert Marvin takes the concept to heart. In fact, the importance of catering to the patient’s dietary requirements is personal. Marvin’s 12-year-old son has sickle cell anemia and spent time in the hospital. Sickle cell anemia is a disorder that causes red blood cells to become misshapen, and it can require special diets.
Based on this knowledge, Marvin — a professionally trained chef specializing in international cuisine — was motivated to work at NGMC. Working at the hospital has taught him some important lessons about nutrition.
“The biggest thing I have learned here is the knowledge of well-being,” he said. “I can’t express it enough. It has just taught me and my family how to eat healthier and better.
“I love helping people. The greatest pay is for someone to smile when they like your food. That is what drives me.”
More than 160 people employed with NGMC dining services, including two professionally trained chefs, tackle two concerns when dealing with patients’ health: sanitation and dietary restrictions.
To ensure the food is safe to eat for the thousands of meals served during the 21 hours the cafeteria is open, the kitchen undergoes regular sanitation rounds. Staff ensure the food is properly labeled with expiration dates, and hygienic cooking practices are followed.
“Everybody has their thermometers,” Mayfield said. “When we cook chicken, we make sure it is cooked to 165 degrees.
“We don’t just put it in the oven and say ‘Oh, it looks like it is done.’ We put a thermometer in it to make sure.”
The day starts at 2:30 a.m. when the first cooks arrive to begin preparing for the breakfast rush. From then on, staff stagger in and out through lunch and dinner hours before closing around midnight.
To cope with patients’ extensive dietary requirements, dining services must prepare a vast menu with different meals for 13 common types of restrictions, including patients with diabetes or those suffering from renal or heart failure. The menu takes into account the patient’s daily and weekly nutrition and calorie intake. A dietician also must be consulted for every change.
This can be further complicated by the fact that some patients may have multiple dietary restrictions, such as diabetes and renal failure, which can require special measures .
To help build rapport with patients and meet their individual needs, the hospital employs “catering associates,” who meet with each patient several hours before their meal to tell them the available options, note any preferences and address any dietary concerns.
“They go into the room, and they get to know the patients,” Mayfield said. “They actually see what the patient is eating and develop a relationship with them.”