Shara McMullen is showing me the new kitchen on the lower level of the medical center. She knows the place well. She’s the hospital’s Dietary Director now but about five years ago she worked as a cook.
“It’s like a new beginning,” McMullen said. “It’s easier for them.”
She’s talking about the kitchen workers who are busy preparing food for hospital patients and residents of the nursing home upstairs.
The remodel project replaced the kitchen’s plumbing, the flooring, and the walls. McMullen says staff is working in the same space but there’s a lot more room now.
“The work flows better, they have their own stations now, it’s not as cramped,” she said. “I mean, everything is just better.”
Before, plumbing was a major problem. Pipes in this part of the building were over 50 years old and would often leak water onto the floor. The hospital was up to code and had passed all of its recent inspections but operations were inefficient in the kitchen.
“Everything worked up to par to get through the day but just leaks in the dish room mainly, the dish machine and stuff like that,” McMullen said.
Now, there’s more stainless steel and more surface space.
“So we kept this three compartment sink which used to be over there,” McMullen said. “Now we have a prep sink where we wash our vegetables and stuff like that.”
There’s new flooring with a non-skid surface. A lot of old piping under the floor was removed and replaced. There are a few new refrigerators. McMullen says the dish room is where the most notable changes have been made.
“Before it wasn’t that big so you’d bring the cart in here and you’d be bumping into the cart and it just didn’t flow very well,” McMullen said. “Now, it’s a lot bigger, a lot more space, a lot more places to put things and it’s all together now.”
“And then the grease traps,” said Mike Boggs, the Medical Center’s Maintenance Director. “That’s something we never had, which was probably one of the main reasons for having really slow drains.”
We look at the new cream colored walls made of reinforced fiberglass, which is easier to clean than the old painted sheet rock.
Construction on the kitchen began in September and finished up in mid-January. During that time, the kitchen staff had to cook off-site. They traveled back and forth between the medical center and a cookhouse at one of the fish plants near downtown.
“That’s how we did it,” McMullen said. “Back and forth back and forth all the time but we managed.”
There were a few surprises with the remodel. When they ripped up the flooring they noticed that a lot of fill under the building had sunk. That added some more work to the project. But despite minor delays, staff agrees all the work was worth it.
“It’s like not having a big cloud over your head,” he said, laughing. “Because literally it was every day or twice a week, it’s, ‘come to the kitchen, we have water coming out!’.”
The kitchen remodel cost the medical center about $407,000 which included the architectural design and all the equipment. It was paid for with $300,000 from the hospital’s investments as well as current operating funds.