*Catering Officer at Ennis General Hospital, Anne Marie Cotter.
Patient birthdays have not been forgotten in Ennis General Hospital despite COVID-19 with the catering staff within the hospital recognising the importance of such an occasion while visitor bans remain in place.
An essential service, provided by essential workers, the catering service headed by Catering Officer Anne Marie Cotter, keeps the hospital ticking over. Since starting in the hospital in 1995 as a household attendant, mother of four, Mrs. Cotter believes that the hospital provides a vital service to the people of Co Clare. No less, just like the kitchen is the heart of the home, so too is the catering department and its staff, the heart of the hospital.
Eighteen staff members currently work in the catering service at the Ennis hospital, comprising of a catering officer, chefs, catering attendants as well as canteen attendants and ward attendants. In terms of duties and tasks, chefs prepare the meals for patients and staff. The daily duties are tended to by the main kitchen attendants. Meals are then delivered to staff by canteen attendants and to patients by ward attendants. A cohesive, collaborative effort predicated on equal input is the basis of the catering departments philosophy.
The intensity of this collaborative effort has been amplified since the beginning of the pandemic. Mrs. Cotter attests to the extraordinary effort put in by the catering team to meet the needs of patients over the last few weeks, admitting that these were the people that bring a smile to the patient’s face when they are at their truly lowest point. Laughing and joking about life outside of medical care is one of the most important services that they provide.
On the changes implemented since Covid-19, Mrs. Cotter outlines, “We have changed from one person serving in the canteen to two people serving, allowing for one person to serve, and one person to handle the money. This also allows for more disinfecting of tables and chairs in between being used. As social distancing has been introduced, we spread out our tables and chairs. From the catering department, it’s the ward catering staff who have the most patient contact, as they are entering the rooms and wards for mealtimes. We changed the way we carried out some duties, so they are not entering the rooms so frequently. For example, we used to do a separate water round, and now we bring bottled water with the patients’ meal trays, so we are entering the rooms fewer times. Most importantly, the catering staff wear hair nets, aprons, gloves, masks and goggles to protect ourselves and everyone around us.”
Diet, nutrition and vital supplementation are paramount in the catering departments bid to sustain the entire hospital network. The small, personal feel to the hospital allows for a special connection to be forged between staff and patients. Each morning, a member of the catering department walks around, handing out menus to patients. This member then discusses patient diets with the ward manager and a line of communication is opened, which eventually leads to a specialised, inclusive menu for the day. Patient requests are accommodated, particularly when someone is in for the long haul.
Patient birthdays are also celebrated, something in which Mrs. Cotter feels is so important on occasions where patients are separated from their family and friends. With regards to catering staff and nutrition, hospital’s dieticians regularly examine the menus, and the Nutrition and Hydrate Committee meets regularly to discuss patient needs and what can be done to enrich the lives of the patients through proper nourishment and a regimented and healthy menu.
On the special imprint left by the catering department within the hospital throughout the pandemic, Mrs. Cotter finishes with, “It is an anxious time for people, and everything is changing so fast and daily. In general, the catering staff are an upbeat group of people who enjoy what they do. As they would say themselves, they are here for the patients. At a time when people were socially distancing and staying away from others, these members and staff were right in the thick of it, doing everything that was asked of them. They are fine people, and I’m very proud to work with them.”