After 11 months of working outside in a mobile kitchen under challenging and frequently changing environmental conditions, the Tucson VA Nutrition and Food Services moved back into the kitchen with some newly renovated equipment and 60+ year old plumbing replaced.
Despite the challenges of working in a mobile kitchen, Tucson VA Nutrition and Food Service staff kept a positive attitude. The team focused on teamwork and serving healthy meals to inpatient Veterans.
“There was already a lot of change going on because we moved our food operations to a mobile kitchen,” said April Walters, Tucson VA Food Service systems manager. “Then you put restrictions on top of that, it adds a little more to the constant changes.”
The supervisory staff came up with creative ways to keep food service staff up to date on the latest hospital operations. One way was providing daily hospital updates describing the impact on food service operations.
“It was difficult for our staff to be socially distant in a mobile kitchen and we had to keep them safe [while] delivering meals to Veterans with all of the unknowns,” Walters added.
One of the hottest summers on record
The mobile kitchen also experienced multiple air conditioning and freezer unit failures during one of Tucson’s hottest summers on record. Management and staff worked closely with the engineering team who had to think outside of the box and act quickly to keep employees and food resources safe during the hot summer months.
“Part of our regular huddles included a heat briefing,” Walters continued. “We talked about the highest temperature for that day and to be on the lookout for your co-workers, drink plenty of water and go to the main hallways to cool down.”
To provide some relief from the heat, staff were provided cooling towels and a swamp cooler for the outside work area.
Had to put liquids on ice inside refrigerators
“It was really hard to keep cold foods cold when it was really hot. We had to put the milks and juices on ice inside of the refrigerators and the drinks had to go on the ice when served. There were a lot of moving parts. You really had to use some crafty ideas to make it all work,” said Carol George, acting chief, Tucson VA Nutrition and Food Services.
Now, the Nutrition and Food Services staff have moved back into their newly renovated kitchen. These motivated staff are ready to spread out and focus on providing quality meals for Veteran inpatients without the challenging and constantly changing conditions.
“They love it. They are so happy to be back. Staff that started with us while we were in the mobile kitchen were impressed with how big our new kitchen is,” said Walters.
Despite the challenges over the past few months, Mai Truong, Tucson VA food service worker, always kept Veterans in the forefront of his motivation.
“We had to adapt to a challenging environment. Most of us are Veterans here and we are resilient and can adapt to different changes.”
Luke Johnson is the assistant public affairs officer for the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System.