Keeping stomachs full and spirits strong during COVID-19

Members of the Food Services team worked through the pandemic, feeding patients and co-workers at the Jewish General Hospital
Members of the Food Services team worked through the pandemic, feeding patients and co-workers at the Jewish General Hospital

Throughout the upheavals of the COVID-19 health crisis, staff at the Jewish General Hospital have been able to count on one reliable source of comfort: An army of devoted kitchen workers who have kept colleagues—and patients—well fed.

Members of the Food Services team are among the unsung heroes of the coronavirus outbreak. From their bustling kitchen in Pavilion B, cooks, cooks’ helpers and food service attendants have remained a steadfast presence through the pandemic, preparing more than 2,000 meals every day.

“It’s been tough, but we pushed through. Everybody was very dedicated,” says Anna Dimitrakopoulos, Chief of Food Services at the JGH. “I’m so proud of our staff and supervisors; they didn’t let anyone down.”

To keep stomachs full, staff had to overcome their own worries about catching the virus or passing it on to their families. One kitchen supervisor insisted that his wife and three children relocate to a cottage in the Laurentians during the pandemic. Another moved out of her house and rented an apartment near the hospital to avoid putting her family at risk.

They did so to ensure they could remain healthy—and keep serving others. “Some were scared. They could have easily said, ‘I’m not comfortable coming in,’” Ms. Dimitrakopoulos says. “But they made sacrifices, put their faith in the hospital’s policies, and worked hard to keep patients and staff safe and healthy.”

The Food Services kitchen is a hive of activity, seven days a week. Staff move around gleaming stainless-steel vats, reach for giant hanging pots and pans, and stand at an assembly line to load food and beverages on trays. One day recently, a welcoming aroma of soup filled the air, along with whirring noise of pureeing blenders and the friendly chatter of staff.

The early days of the coronavirus outbreak were tense. When COVID-19 first erupted, so did threats to the food supply. The Food Services team worked behind the scenes, stocking up on non-perishables like cereals, canned goods and legumes (such as peas and beans), along with an inventory of fish, chicken and meat. They also scrambled to secure extra quantities of disposable dishware, which would become indispensable for limiting contamination among COVID-positive patients.

“It was chaotic and stressful at first,” Ms. Dimitrakopoulos says.

Once supplies were in place, staff moved quickly to ensure that their colleagues at the JGH—a designated COVID-19 treatment centre—were fed during their work shifts. With restaurants shuttered due to the pandemic, Food Services introduced daily specials every other week at the Pavilion K cafeteria, keeping the food court operating at full capacity.

Meanwhile, they worked with the Infection Prevention and Control team to overhaul the basic routine of delivering meals to patients. Food trolleys were left outside hot zones, with nursing staff distributing the meals to patients’ rooms. Everything was carefully sterilized afterwards.

The experience was demanding, but it has prepared the team for a possible second wave of the virus. Like a good recipe, the system got tested and fine-tuned for the next time. “Anything can happen now,” Ms. Dimitrakopoulos says, “and we’re ready to go.”