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Fighting COVID-19 with Nutrition Support

As the COVID-19 pandemic has reached every corner of Massachusetts and New England, the nutrition team at Emerson Hospital has been on the frontline caring for COVID-19 patients since the early days of 2020. Throughout the year, the nutrition team has been in-house, assessing needs and caring for patients experiencing varying responses to the virus and requiring individualized care.


Dietitians’ Impact

In order to support COVID-19 patients, the nutrition team at Emerson Hospital has relied on a holistic approach, collaborating with Emerson Hospital medical staff and other members of the care team.  

Nutrition teams shifted their focus during the heights of the pandemic. Rather than measuring by interventions, their goal become keeping COVID-19 patients nourished to ensure that other clinical team members could focus on medical interventions to ultimately result in a successful discharge home.

COVID-19 introduced dietitians to new challenges, providing the opportunity to re-shape their clinical skills to care for a patient population they had never encountered. They sharpened these new skills by attending rounds with other care teams. On their downtime, they kept abreast of the latest information on caring for COVID-19 patients. Sodexo’s Medical Advisory Council continues to advise and provide essential information to healthcare teams around the world. Through webinars and global insights from other COVID-19 hotspots, RDNs have had access to reports from their Sodexo colleagues from Wuhan to Paris and beyond. 

To care for these patients, dietitians immediately focused on immune systems by implementing Vitamin D supplementation, which has been shown to aid with immune response. Feeding methods were then impacted, as more COVID-19 patients experience dry mouths and throats, requiring tube feeding.

Thus, RDNs were also a vital part of ensuring supplies were kept in stock. At Emerson Hospital, because tube feeding became common for COVID-19 patients, dietitians were consistently sourcing and maintaining stock of enteral nutrition supplies. Some dietitians have even expanded their skill set to learn new proficiencies, such as how to gravity feed patients in the event of a shortage of pumps.

What became difficult for dietitians to anticipate was responding to the toll that COVID-19 precautions have had on the patient’s body. As frontline workers have demonstrated in countless images during the health crisis, COVID-19 patients were experiencing skin irritation and wounds from constant mask wearing and ventilation. RDNs have been evaluating the need for modified textures following the removal of a vent and ensuring other appropriate nutritional supplements considering any additional medical complications related to COVID-19.

Patients required constant relief for the sores that develop from masks. Some patients, particularly seniors who already require feeding assistance, have needed even more dedicated care to ensure food intake and mitigate the risk of dangerous weight loss.


The Impact on Dietitians

With COVID-19 dietitians have experienced some of the most challenging circumstances of their careers. Through extended shifts, increased patient populations, the constant threat of infection, and the heightened need to provide dedicated and nuanced nutrition support, there has been a significant emotional impact on care teams from COVID-19. And the impact continues long after the patient has been discharged. 

At Emerson Hospital, one dietitian who works on the rehabilitation floor summarized her experience: "It is challenging to put your energy into working towards a goal of sending patients home to the life they had, when the life they had no longer exists." 

Throughout the pandemic Sodexo's general manager for Emerson Hospital has been incredibly proud of her nutrition team.

“The dietitians felt a great sense of pride coming to work and knowing that, as essential personnel, they were helping care teams and patients in an unprecedented situation,” said Sodexo general manager Mayra Seyfarth MS, RD, LDN. “They worked alongside their co-workers and provided support through emotional distress, as well as assistance in the food service section of the department when able and needed.” 

“Overall,” said Seyfarth, “the dietitians have provided clinical and emotional support to those they worked with and cared for while facing this pandemic head-on.”

March 01, 2021

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