Monday, October 27, 2014

Gregs objection and overview of the kitchen department at the Veterans home.

Guys, post this letter in its entirety, as I have written it.

I have your email draft, and have read the draft article about the continual substandard meals being served at the veterans home, and I am raising an objection to it.

You fail to consider all the factors involved.

First, let us look at the main dining hall, which is what your post focused on. The meals sent up to the various units are handled differently than those served in the main dining hall. Many of those meals are specific to a veterans needs, and are not the common meal served in the dining room. They require extra time to prepare and this eats up a lot of the kitchen staffs time.

The dining hall has its problems. It always has had some problems and probably will continue until our government reinstates the budget that the kitchen department once had when Sara Dunne was running it. But since then the State has reduced the kitchen budget here at the home just as it is doing to all the state run institutions (meaning the prisons and jails).

Second, is the style of eating the veterans are being given. Meaning the European style of meals where the midday meal is the large meal, and the evening meal is a smaller meal. The problem the home has is that in Europe, the midday meal is served around 1pm and the evening meal around 9pm just before many of them go to bed. You can't do that at the veterans home, because so many of the vets on the nursing units go to bed before 8pm.

And due to budget cuts, the kitchen department just doesn't have the staff to manage a proper European style way of eating for all the units and the main dining hall.  In fact that issue was brought up when I was at the home at one of the Dom Unit council meetings. Under the current budget reductions there are 2 shifts of kitchen personnel. One comes in for the early morning hours and does breakfast and lunch, the midday meal. The 2nd group comes in and helps out with the lunch or midday meal and stays and does dinner (the last meal). by 8pm all but a few have gone home for the day.

There isn't enough staff to have meals done the American way where lunch is a quick meal, and the largest meal is the last one of the day at 6pm.  This is how it should be done because the current way leaves the guys feeling hungry around 9pm or so, and its almost 12 hours between dinner and breakfast for many of the guys. So they reach for whatever they can to munch on, which usually means junk food. And for guys with diabetes this is not good.

The kitchen also serves way to many carb's, and combined with the junk food the guys are eating, is what I believe is a leading cause of the guys developing type 2 diabetes.

Also, due to a lack of enough personnel the kitchens are limited as to what they can serve as what ever it is has to be prepared by a limited kitchen staff. The fact that they manage to serve fried eggs on Tuesdays is amazing considering how many they have to do, and how long it takes. It would not surprise me to find out that the kitchen crew gets them pre-cooked  and stacked up, from Gordons and all they really do is heat them up for serving.

Limited staff also means more complicated "normal" foods cannot be served, not even in the main dining hall. Even if the main dining hall served "normal food", the number of meals served at each time, would require the staff to have an additional 8-20 people working in the kitchen just to prepare the stuff for the dining hall.

You have to figure that if there are 500 residents at the home, the kitchen is making about 600 to 900 servings per mealtime. The extra 300 meals are for staff, guests, and veterans who eat in the main dining hall and then run to their units and get a second helping from the meal that is served to them there. This is especially true on days when pizza or one of the other popular meals are served. I remember a few guys that would Get a meal in the dining hall, run to their units and eat there, then come back down to the dining hall for 2nds there. That's 3 meals, and one of the reasons some times guys from the Dom unit who got to the main dining hall late in the meal time, found out the kitchen ran out of food.  And it was one of the biggest complaints about the Dining hall, from the Dom unit counsel meetings.

And mind you while I object to beans being put into my Sloppy Joe sandwich, the fact is the home has to do that to increase the protein value of the meal and to make that highly refined stuff they call meat, go a little further as that meat is a big expense and a major part of their monthly budget.

Now I agree with you about the food being served cold. It was when we were there, remember? The VA came in and our biggest complaint was it was cold. That and if we got behind a slow person in a power wheel chair, our food got cold by the time we were able to exit the line. This is because the chow line is in a little room, without enough room to get around some of those bigger people in the larger chairs or scooters.

 The VA tested the food being served and said yes, the food was below proper serving temperature.  The homes solution: heat up the plates.  NO, not a solution in my opinion and from what I am told, they are still doing this. Again, I believe it is due to budget shortfalls. I have to get reports from the guys because I am not allowed to visit the guys nor roam the property yet; I can only go to guitars for veterans at the APR room (or where ever it is being held that night) on Wednesday nights. So I have no idea whats really happening at the dining hall.

And the problems with the Salad Bar. We have all seen guys skip the line and head straight to the salad bar with big bowels that they fill up with salad and other items on the bar. Then there are the guys in the power wheel chairs who don't sit high enough to get access to the items that make a mess of things. We even had one guy who was picking things out of his salad and tossing them back into the main salad dish. Also the guys in the power chairs as they turn, they forget to leave room, and they end up knocking over the salad bar, or pushing it out of their way, when other people are trying to get their stuff, causing a big problem. I guess that's why the staff finally had a guy sit there to monitor it, and to clean up the messes.  This could have been avoided if the salad bar was inside the chow line itself. But that area is limited in size.

I won't even go into the reports of Mice in the room heaters near the windows.

But guys do tell me that the meals themselves have not improved much. And that the kitchen staff is trying new items, and different combinations for meals - but its still the same old Big meal at lunch and soup and a sandwich for dinner.  Things defiantly need to improve.

And I ask how can it, without proper funding? The more I look into things at the home the more I see how that 4.2 million dollar shortfall for the last 4 years has really hurt the home and the veterans. Not just in the kitchen department, but in all departments of the home. Just last week I was told by 4 different guys that the home had a test of the emergency generators and only 1 building had power during the test. Not good if its true. Again, budget shortfall means less maintenance is being done that needs to be done.

Now as you will remember back when Dom unit had its own counsel meetings, the guys there made suggestions to the administration about how to save money. But those suggestions fell on deaf ears, or so the guys believed. That is one of the reasons the guys stopped going to the meetings. Why listen to people complaining and nothing gets done about the registered complaints? Why bother making suggestions to the staff, if the staff is not listening? I think we agree that such is seen by the veterans now as it was then, as a failure of the staff and a failure of the administration. Perhaps that is why there is no more Dom unit meetings and now they are part of the Nursing unit counsel meetings, which the Dom guys tell me is just another glorified gripe session.

Bottom line here: You cannot put all the blame on the Administration or the kitchen staff. The majority of the problem lies with Lansing, and our congress, and Rick Snyder, who has decreased the homes budget.  Right now our state is still suffering a 2 decades long recession that was worsened by Granholms decade of tax increases, and deficit spending. The State has higher priorities now, than a few hundred veterans. Our roads and bridges are in dismal shape, our schools are suffering. Every town, city, village and county government is running on slim budgets, due to revenue shortfalls from the lost manufacturing revenue that once was the staple of the states budget. The home is relying on donations from non state sources, and federal money.

There is only one way to fix the problems at the home. All of us, in and out of the home must work towards getting that budget restored. Only then will we start to see some positive changes for the veterans.

- Greg M.

I thought about this since I've posted it. And Greg, I disagree with you. The home could be providing better meals to those guys. I am not accepting their excuse for why things are the way they are in the kitchen department. I do not accept their excuse for cold meals, for skimpy meals, for having a piece of bread with a slice of cheeses as the alternate to a main meal item, nor do I find acceptable their excuses for beans in the Sloppy Joe sandwiches and for using highly refined ground beef that is so ground up,  it's more like it's half vegetable mix than real meat at all.

Nor do I find it acceptable that there are Mice in the main dining room. It was my understanding the home has a no pet policy.


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