COVID-19 presented challenges for Regional One Health’s food and nutrition services, including staffing issues, vendors not being able to supply products, and new safety guidelines.

When team leader Andrea Chatman was faced with those issues, her only concern was finding a way to provide patients with a healthy meal.

Chatman stepped up to get the job done, and her team continue finding new ways to ensure food quality while showing patients compassion and empathy.

It was the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Andrea Chatman was faced with a food and nutrition services team leader’s worst nightmare: she was short-staffed, vendors hadn’t been able to supply their usual products, and everyone was getting used to new safety guidelines.

But Chatman was also faced with something else: hundreds of patients who needed a nutritious meal to help them regain strength and get better.

And with that in mind, there was no question she was going to get the job done.

“She grabbed the bull by the horns,” said Rick Libby, patient service manager. “Andrea and the executive chef came up with a strategy to feed patients by going to a soup and sandwich meal. Andrea called the nursing teams to let them know the meals would be on their way, and then she and the chef made 300 sandwiches.”

“I really couldn’t be more impressed with the way she took control of it.”

For Chatman, jumping into action wasn’t something she had to think twice about. Since she was a little girl, she’s had a desire to care for others no matter what the obstacles.

Andrea Chatman said a desire to take care of others comes naturally to her. “I love people, and I love what I do,” she said. “It really didn’t matter to me that I didn’t have all my usual resources – my only obligation was to make sure our patients were fed.”

“I love people, and I love what I do,” said Chatman, who has been with Regional One Health for four years. “My grandparents raised me, and my grandmother was always caring for family members, so it’s embedded in me. It really didn’t matter that I didn’t have all my usual resources – my only obligation was to make sure our patients were fed.”

Chatman’s efforts that day are just one example of how she’s been a caring, reliable presence for her team and her patients, Libby said. COVID-19 has presented plenty of challenges for food and nutrition services, and she’s gone out of her way to overcome them.

The biggest changes are in how meals are delivered to patients, all aimed at minimizing potential for COVID-19 exposures.

For one thing, meals must be served on disposable trays and plates, meaning the chargers, plates and domes food and nutrition services normally uses are not an option.

That makes it harder to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold – a concern when the goal is to make meals appealing for patients who may have poor appetites or, in the case of some COVID-19 patients, an altered or diminished sense of taste. Chatman and her team address the issue by keeping doors on their carts shut for better insulation, expediting delivery as much as possible, and taking the extra time to reheat food when a microwave is available on the patient floor.

Even more difficult is the fact that only nurses and doctors can enter COVID-19 patients’ rooms, so food service staff no longer deliver trays themselves.

“I miss it,” Chatman said. “You just want to be able to see the patient and get to know them a little bit; get to know their likes and dislikes. And sometimes it’s so busy that our face is the only smiling face they get to see for a long time.”

Yet again, food and nutrition employees found ways to address those concerns.

Rick Libby, patient service manager, is proud of Andrea’s efforts during the pandemic. “She knows that by having a smile on her face and sincerely caring for people, she’s going to make their experience better,” he said.

For floors where they can’t enter patient rooms, they call each patient to describe the menu and take their orders. If a patient can’t pick up the phone, nurses take their order.

They even created a “thinking of you” card to deliver to patients with the meals. They often write personal notes on the cards to brighten patients’ spirits.

“These patients don’t always know from day to day, meal to meal, what’s going to happen in their lives, and that can make the world feel cold,” Libby said. “Any warmth we can show is so important. We want to do our part to show these patients genuine empathy.”

For Chatman, the challenges posed by the pandemic have only strengthened her desire to help others by making a human connection. She hopes to continue advancing in her career at Regional One Health and keep building a team that delivers not only food, but compassion and hope.

Libby has no doubt she’s up to the task. “She’s got a real commitment to serving our patients, and as a leader, there’s nothing she would ask her team to do that she wouldn’t do herself,” he said. “She’s reliable, she communicates well, and she makes it happen. She knows that by having a smile on her face and sincerely caring for people, she’s going to make their experience better.”

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