On March 27, Manuel “Manny” Lopez opened a convenience store in the Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMD) in Annapolis, Md., where he is the senior manager of food and nutrition, to keep healthcare workers out of the grocery stores.
Using items the hospital orders in bulk, including eggs, flour, toilet paper, paper towels and spray bottles of bleach, Lopez and his staff have been in constant communication with the healthcare workers ordering the supplies they need and selling them at cost. And it all started with toilet paper.
“Somebody said ‘Well, [hospital staff] still going to the store for toilet paper’ and the department’s lightbulb went off because we buy that in bulk… and everybody’s creative juices just started going nuts.”
That resulted in the creation of a mini mart to help front line workers at AAMD. Before the mart ever opened five weeks ago, Lopez and his team had completely changed the setup of the salad bar, eliminating self-service and developing a grassroots network to disseminate their newest projects. In fact, Lopez cites that network as one of the reasons the mini mart took off so fast. That, and it never runs out of stock.
Manny, left, spoke with Food Management to talk about how he was able to set up this ambitious project and how he’s helping those in his hospital. Here’s his story:
“On a personal note, I’m the new kid in town. I just arrived from Johns Hopkins and on the last day of my two-week orientation in the department, we were receiving great concerns about this oncoming virus.
In the beginning we were talking about the best thing to do and the best way to remedy ourselves and the operational things we needed to do, i.e., we started throwing tape down and social distancing markers at our register queues. We started corralling all the tables and chairs to the center of the dining room. We removed 80% to 90% of all tables and chairs and spaced everything out in accordance with guidelines.
Then, we were having a conversation that was well received and I thought, ‘Why don’t we start making a bunch of meals in bulk?’ When I had to do renovation at another place of employment and the café closed, we designed these meal programs in bulk and people were very responsive to that. Here, we’ll just take it a step further. Instead of making it for one or two people, let’s make it for four or five people so people don’t have to make a trip to the grocery store, and they can buy it at our cost. We sell everything at cost right now for this event. It keeps them from cross-contaminating the public and potentially us.
I have to tell you, the big one was when we were hit with the common-sense thing that somebody brought up and said ‘Well, they’re still going to the store for toilet paper’ and the department’s lightbulb went off because we buy that in bulk. So, they’re going for toilet paper and all these other items and the idea was presented, ‘Why don’t we just open a convenience store?’ and everybody’s creative juices just started going nuts. That’s how we ended up where we are today.
We didn’t think that we would get the response that we got, but I have to tell you that the response has been overwhelming, it’s beautiful. They are so appreciative of the effort the department made to accommodate these needs. We put our feelers out and asked ‘What else do you need? If it’s something we can do, we’ll do,’ and to this day, we still do that. This morning, we started selling all-purpose flour. I buy it in 25-pound bags. We can’t sell that, so we just broke it down and made everything bargain price. It’s going to fly out of here like everything else. We’re restocking the store two to three times a day. We have two people on that effort daily.
I think that the important thing that we learned as a team and a department is that cooler heads will always prevail and whenever we’re faced with these issues, it’s going to require some out-of-the-box thinking. I work with some really wonderful people and I have to give them credit. At this point, they represent 30% of our sales in the main café, that’s huge because revenue is down everywhere. All these clinics are temporarily closed, all elective procedures have been postponed or cancelled or redirected, so the population of the hospital has been reduced dramatically.
What we did is we looked at the revenue that’s being generated and to what amount can we cut down so we can keep all of our people employed and that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’ve modified menus, hours of operation, we’ve moved people around and transferred them to help in other areas relative to nutrition so that everything we’re doing, both old and new, has great coverage. We also talked about, god forbid, what we’re going to do if we start to fall out. We have to have a business continuity plan.
Everything here in the main café, to a large extent, was serve yourself and sold by weight. The moment the virus hit the town, you cannot have people serving themselves and you can’t have cross-contamination. So, we redesigned, immediately, our salad bar and salad program. We turned a negative into a great positive with that as well because we offer so much more value and so many more ingredients, so people were much happier with the way it came about. They’re saving 40% to 45% on their salads now and they’re seeing ingredients they’ve never seen before. It really enhances their salad experience.
Immediately what we did [to the salad bar] was go from 12 or 15 ingredients to 38 options. We made sure all the ingredients were cut bite size, whether we did it ourselves or, in most cases, we were able to request that specification from our produce vendors, in a ¼-inch dice. Everything became volumetrically measured in the same exact portion and it’s all going into a 2-ounce scoop. Here’s the beauty of that, when you walk up to the salad bar, instead of things being in a long shotgun pan, they’re now in a six pan and everything looks identical. When you come up now, your salad is $5.75 and your first four ingredients are on us.
We did the grassroots effort for three or four days [spreading the word about the new salad bar]. I stood in the cafeteria and told everyone that walked through the door ‘This is going to happen, come and see it’ and sure enough they did come and see it. So, that was our opportunity for us to empower them to carry out the grassroots effort and tell everyone they knew.
When it came to the convenience store, we had already set up a bit of a grassroots effort for marketing ourselves and I think that was very beneficial to our cause as well. When they come in, you’re greeting them with a smile and a free cup of coffee, ‘Here’s some gloves please put them on and wear a mask’ and we provide a shopping bag. There’s fresh milk, butter eggs, margarine, all these vegetables, things that they can’t find at the store and, of course, the toilet paper, the paper towels, the bleach, all the other things they really need.
In the beginning, people were afraid to tell anybody because they were looking forward to coming back every day and buying a little more bleach or toilet paper, but now they see that we’ve not run out of anything and it’s being shared by all. It touches your heart when you have all these people on the front lines taking care of us, myself included, you just want to be able to do something for them and it’s very meaningful and impactful to the entire department.
Photo: The bleach cleaning solution that kills coronavirus in 45 seconds.
From the very beginning our entire staff, whether they were serving food or working the cash register, went into masks and face shields that were provided by the institution to make sure the workers were well protected right away because of our exposure to the staff at the hospital. It was important we picked up on that protocol right away. Stanchions leading into the cashiers with 6-foot markings and, taking it a step further, along with our basic soap and sanitizer, we brought in a peroxide solution from our national chemical company and we ordered hundreds of spray bottles and labels for the appropriate labeling. We brought in MSDS sheets and had classes on this particular peroxide spray cleaner that cleans COVID-19 after a 45-second contact and we have instructions on how to use it. That was important because not only are we keeping our population safe through these efforts, but it further emphasized how much we cared about the staff.
When I reached out to EcoLab and others, they introduced a solution that was this peroxide concentrate that we could mount and connect to our water supply that would dilute to the perfect ratios and go into our spray bottles. Now, we have disseminated that spray cleaner disinfectant through different parts of the hospital where it’s been deemed appropriate for use. I think that everyone is very appreciative of that. Now that we’ve stocked it everywhere, we can use it, we can probably just sell it and we can do refills here. I’m in the process of investigating refilling the 32-ounce bottles now where we can refill it for free. It’s anything we can do to enhance your quality of life while you’re taking care of people. Not only the medical and clinical staff, but the support staff as well."
As told to Holly Petre on April 15.