Friday, November 6, 2015

New Reid Health Nutrition Assistants help be sure patients eat right

When Norma Carnes-Schroeder was hospitalized recently at Reid Health, one side effect of her illness was that she did not have an appetite. But a program launched earlier this year helped make sure she was able to eat enough to get proper nutrition during her stay – and she made a new friend too!

“It helped me a lot,” she said recently, a day before her release. The Patient Nutrition Assistant (PNA) program, part of Room Service Choice, connects a PNA with patients who have challenges because of their illness or other issues that make it difficult or impossible for them to choose and/or use the phone system to order their food. Before the program, these patients would receive a standard “non-select” meal until they were well enough to make their own choices using Room Service menus.

The Nutrition Assistants are based on each floor, so they get to know the patient’s, their likes and dislikes with food, and help them order appropriate items they are more likely to eat.

“They actually go and see each new admission and determine if they will need help with ordering their meals,” said Rachel Wendel, Patient Services/Community Programs Manager, who oversees the program that was launched in June 2015. “If the patient is determined not to be appropriate to use Room Service, they are marked ‘assist’ and their Nutrition Assistant will make sure they see them prior to meal times to help them with their ordering.”

Carnes-Schroeder established a “buddy” relationship with Julia Finley, PNA, during her stay. “This one was so good,” she said of Finley as she looked at her and smiled. “She really helped me. If I didn’t like something, she helped me find something else.”

The program specifically targets patients who before, if unable to order for themselves, would have received standard meals based on their diet needs – but not necessarily on their preferences. That meant it was less likely the patients would always eat enough, “and of course proper diet is an important part of the healing process,” Wendel said.

Prior to Room Service Choice Finley delivered trays to patients under the previous system. She said she really enjoys the new system better because she is able to be more involved in a patient’s care and getting to know them.

“For example,” she said of Carnes-Schroeder, “I know she wants her coffee on her tray. I know she likes milk shakes. And helping the patient find food they like makes it more likely the tray won’t go untouched, and they will eat better.”

Wendel said the program has improved the patient experience, helped ensure patients are getting better nutrition and is also reducing costs by lessening waste. Before the program, more food was delivered but not always consumed.

The PNAs were also trained to use glucometers to help create a better patient experience. “Any patient who needs a glucometer check with a meal, the PNA’s are now able to do this. They no longer have to wait for nursing or a patient care tech to do the glucometer, which in turn causes the patient to receive their meal much quicker. This made the process more efficient because sometimes the food would sit until a nurse or patient care tech was available to check glucose,” she said.

The number of patients benefiting from the program has more than doubled since June, Wendel said. She also sees the program reducing annual food waste from $35,000 a year to $15,000 or less.

The PNAs also help educate the patients on their menus and work directly with registered dietitians. If they see that a patient has a lot of questions about their diet, the PNAs are able to reach out to the appropriate dietitian so they can meet with the patient and do further diet education, something that benefits them even after release from the hospital. “The program has already exceeded our expectations by improving nutrition and creating a better experience for our patients,” Wendel said. “And that’s what it is all about.”

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