Atlanta, GA,
13:51 PM

On the Menu

During National Nutrition Month, a look behind the scenes at how Shepherd’s Food and Nutrition Services teams serve up nutrition, education, good food, and comfort.

Fairly or unfairly, hospital food can get a bad rap.

Shepherd Center Food Service Manager Joycelyn Saxon, CDM CFPP, is acutely aware of how food can affect a patient’s hospital experience.

“We can be the best thing they ever had. We can be the worst thing that they ever had. So, understanding the importance of what you're doing makes a huge difference when you prepare a meal,” she says.

The responsibilities of the Food and Nutrition Services team at Shepherd run the gamut from making sure patients get a medically appropriate meal delivered to their room, to serving up meals for patients, family, and staff in the cafeteria to catering special events. Every meal is served with care — and pride.

“It's important to be compliant and make the recipes as flavorful as possible. I've always said, let's work backward,” Saxon says. “Let's make the recipe what we want it to be and then hand it to our dietitians to analyze to make sure that it's safe.”

One of those dietitians is Jill Newsome, RD, LD, clinical nutrition manager at Shepherd Center. Her team works on the clinical side to ensure that each patient has a diet tailored to their needs, for example, a cardiac or diabetic diet. As part of each patient’s care team, they educate patients and families about the patient’s dietary needs.

“Many of our patients receive nutrients through a feeding tube either in their nose or stomach when they arrive. So, we manage the tube feeding, and water flushes through the tube. We also work with the pharmacist to manage total parenteral nutrition (TPN), which is when a patient doesn't have a working gastrointestinal tract and needs to receive nutrients through a vein,” Newsome explains.

She says working with patients and families and seeing how far patients have come when they discharge from Shepherd Center are the best parts of her job. And she and her team are always looking for ways to improve care.

Newsome recently led a project to reduce the incidence of patients receiving non-compliant liquid consistencies. She and her team streamlined the process, strengthened education, and added visual cues to ensure that patients receive compliant liquids during mealtimes and beyond.

“With this structure and process measures in place, we have seen zero incidences of patients receiving non-compliant liquids in the past six months,” Newsome says.

Saxon was a member of that award-winning project team, and she has found other ways to improve service during her four-year tenure at Shepherd. Saxon and her team overhauled the presentation of patient meals — upgrading from plastic utensils and paper cups to flatware and glasses. Through the “Dining with Dignity” program, they addressed the appearance of pureed foods by shaping purees to look like the food itself. For example, pureed chicken can be molded into the shape of a chicken breast.

And Saxon consistently reminds her team that it’s not just about what goes on the plate.

“It's that level of engagement that is important — you need to be proud of what you do because you're the expert at it, and you make people happy. For our patients, food and nutrition can provide some of the warm and fuzzies they need, so let's make it warm and fuzzy for them,” she explains.

Newsome and her team work to elevate each patient’s experience as well.

“I hope we bring some comfort to the patients by providing education and helping them reach their goals. We are a support system for the patients and their families and serve as guides. And we're always here for them. Even once they go home, they can call or email us if they need to touch base. It’s a forever resource,” Newsome explains.


Written by Ruth Underwood

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.