COVID-19 Stories and Experiences

Do you want to share your story or experience related to the COVID-19 pandemic as a nutrition and dietetics professional, student or intern? Use the Academy’s form on eatrightPRO to provide your full name, credentials, photo and story.

From Keiy Murofushi, MS, RD | May 26, 2020

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center dietitians facilitate delivery of safe meal donations to hospital staff.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center dietitians facilitate delivery of safe meal donations to hospital staff.

As we all have faced much uncertainty during this pandemic, I feel fortunate to be working at a hospital that views dietitians as essential workers and has helped my team continue doing our jobs safely. This has allowed us to continue making meaningful contributions to the high-quality patient care we provide at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and to support our hospital staff and community in a significant way.

My team has continued performing nutrition assessments at the bedside but without physical contact with our patients. Although we currently are not using the Nutrition-Focused Physical Exams for signs of nutritional impact, we still enter patient rooms wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and get valuable time speaking with patients and observing them to assess their diets and nutritional status. This has allowed us to check tube feedings, meal consumption and identify non-verbal cues to see how well our patients are meeting their goals.

We’ve also been able to facilitate a large volume of safe meal donations to our hospital staff through the generosity of many local restaurants. We have a very strict policy about allowing outside food to come into our medical center, and we’ve helped amend some of those rules by participating in and providing guidance on how to safely deliver meals by maintaining the right food temperature and ensuring donations are distributed as individual meals.

By helping our medical center safely accept these generous donations, we’ve helped reduce stress among our staff who have been working so hard and may not have had the time to prepare healthy meals for themselves. We’ve also been able to help local restaurants that may be struggling financially to do business with donors who wanted to purchase meals or to write off their own food donations while their establishments have been closed. My team has been fortunate to play a critical role in facilitating this symbiotic relationship our hospital has enjoyed with our community.

From Amy Gelfand, MS, RDN, CNSC | May 22, 2020

Amy Gelfand, MS, RDN, CNSC; Michael Perkins, MS, RDN; Cindy Olvina, MS, RDN, CDE, CDN.
Pictured from left to right: Amy Gelfand, MS, RDN, CNSC; Michael Perkins, MS, RDN; Cindy Olvina, MS, RDN, CDE, CDN.

Amy Gelfand, Cindy Olvina, Michael Perkins.
Pictured from left to right: Amy Gelfand, Cindy Olvina and Michael Perkins.

When I watched the announcement that FEMA had built a 2,500-bed emergency hospital in New York City, the first thought that ran through my head was “How are they going to feed 2,500 sick patients?” I have experience working in hospitals with approximately 1,200 beds and knew the massive undertaking this would be. The second thought I had was that I wish I could help.

When I received the request from my division director for dietitians with clinical experience to volunteer with the transition of military-operated nutrition and food services to a civilian-run operation, I knew I had to go. I left my usual position with the NYS WIC program to assist with the Javits Center Food and Clinical Nutrition Services.

I was joined by two outstanding dietitians who were more than willing to jump right in: Michael Perkins, MS, RDN, and Cindy Olvina, MS, RDN, CDE, CDN. We integrated into the military-run Food and Nutrition Department. In two days, we were trained in the military’s PPE procedures, providing nutrition care in the ICU and patient medical floors and in all of the foodservice operations. We provided patient care to high-risk patients and ensured that all patients continued to receive the right meals while the military began to withdraw. I always felt safe with the rigorous PPE protocols and knew there wasn’t anything my team and I couldn’t handle with the support we had.

I have never seen so many entities coordinating care in such a proficient and caring manner. All of the medical staff — military and civilians — were understanding, caring and, most of all, willing to help in any way possible. It was such a humbling experience, and we all were so grateful that we could offer our expertise in nutrition care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

From Morgan Hook MS, RD, LD | May 16, 2020

Morgan Hook MS, RD, LD
Morgan Hook MS, RD, LD

First, let me give a massive thank-you to all my fellow RDs everywhere and every single person working in my hospital. We don’t work in a bubble, and every moment is a team effort. I am the only dietitian at a 52-bed hospital in Andover, Kan. The initial changes came fast: One Monday in late March, I still had an intern and life was normal; by that Saturday, we were in N95 with no interns, no visitors, no travel for staff, and we had our first possible case in the ICU. In the early days, after elective surgeries stopped and people were afraid to come to a hospital, we initially decreased in patients in all our units. There was an unsettling calm before an unknown storm, everyone preparing for every scenario we could think of while we had time. We have been fortunate and, so far, our case numbers have stayed manageable. My main adjustment for COVID-19 patients has been restricting assessments to visual-only through the ICU windows and calling the COVID unit nursing staff over the phone for assessment updates.

At the end of March, I transitioned overnight from business casual clothes to black scrubs, my long red hair slicked back in a ponytail or braid, no jewelry, minimal makeup, tennis shoes and a mask covering half of my face. It is an odd and minor thing to think about appearance during a pandemic, but my fun earrings were a talking point with my patients, and my red hair and fun food-themed shoes helped them remember me. Patients can’t see me smiling, with only my eyes visible, hidden behind glasses. I have to shout myself out of breath for my patients who are hard of hearing, and they can understand about 30 percent of what I say.

Patients have a hard time telling staff apart, making it harder to build a productive relationship. I spend more time than usual in my non-COVID-19 patients’ rooms because they aren’t allowed visitors and many have expressed feeling lonely. As is possible, we keep all doors shut as a precautionary measure, so many patients spend a large amount of their day alone with their TV or phone. This has played havoc on my patient meal intakes. Some patients are excited for meals and have found themselves ordering meals/snacks multiple times a day simply to break up the monotony. For others, I must use every strategy to get them to take a bite because they don’t desire to eat alone or have any visible external motivation to get better. Diet educations and routine assessments have turned into long talks about patients’ significant others or pets they are missing. Even sitting at my desk in the nurses’ station, we don’t talk as much. It’s a silent toll on us all, but our hospital leadership has worked to lighten the mood. Pictures of ourselves with and without masks are around the hospital from our Hospital Week “Heroes Behind the Mask” theme.

Even with all the changes, some of my favorite work memories have happened in these last few weeks. This was the most festive Hospital Week we have ever had, and so many local places have been very generous donating food to lift our spirits. My mom and her friends have sewn >150 cloth masks to cover our N95s, and others have donated more to our hospital. These add color and personality to our faces to help patients tell us apart. In all, I still love what I do and am grateful to be even be 50 percent of a visible face taking care of those who walks through our doors. We will get through this. Just like a rainy day, the clouds may cover the sun but it is still there; our masks may cover our smiles, but they’re still there.

From Danielle Sallisbury, RDN, LD | May 7, 2020

Danielle Sallisbury, RDN, LD
Danielle Sallisbury, RDN, LD

I am a registered dietitian at a long-term care facility in Miami. One of my units has been converted into a positive COVID-19 floor. In school, I was never taught how to provide nutritional care during a pandemic, but I am quickly learning. The virus has become more and more real to me each day, as I am living in it and seeing it firsthand. My workdays have become more challenging, and I am learning what my new “normal” workday entails.

My residents are being heavily affected by this pandemic. They can no longer dine with their family members who come to visit them, enjoy a meal with other residents in the dining hall or receive food from their favorite restaurant. Because of this, I suit up in head-to-toe gear to face the coronavirus and do all I can. My residents cannot identify me, as I am one of many yellow “blobs” that walk into their room. While visiting them in their rooms, I become sweaty and my face shield fogs up from my radiating body heat as I begin my assessment. I repeat myself many times, as it is difficult for the residents to hear me through my N95 mask. The suit and gear is anything but comfortable or convenient, but I continue to remind myself of the work I am doing and the difference I am making. It is not easy, but I am proud to be on the front line of COVID-19. Being a dietitian has become more rewarding and meaningful to me. My residents need me, and I am here for them during these unusual and unpredictable times.

To all the RDs on the front line: We will get through this together, and we will continue to empower and support one another. We have made history, and brighter days are ahead. Nutritional care doesn’t stop, not even during a pandemic. Stay safe and thank you to all the RDs on the front lines! #healthcareheroes

From Michelle Rauch, MS, RDN @DietitiansWithAMission | May 6, 2020

Michelle Rauch, MS, RDN
Michelle Rauch, MS, RDN, who works at Actors Fund Home in Englewood, NJ.
Care packages for health care workers from Dietitians With A Mission.
Care packages for health care workers from Dietitians With A Mission.

At the end of March, my registered dietitian colleague, Johna Mailolli, RDN, and I started a goodwill project called “Dietitians With A Mission.” Our mission is to create nourishing care packages to be donated to our dedicated health care workers in the New York/New Jersey tri-state area.We are partnering with food manufacturers and putting together healthy snack bags to donate to the local hospital workers. Dietitians with a Mission has donated 300 snack bags to seven local health care facilities and are scheduled to do two more over the next week.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to disrupt lives, hitting hardest in the New York/New Jersey metro area, Dietitians with a Mission wants to provide some nutritional support to our health care workers who are exhausted from pulling long shifts and often having little time to eat a good meal. We’re registered dietitians who are on an important mission to do what we can to say “thank you” to those who are most deserving during this difficult time!

From Ryan Cengel, MS, MA, RD, LDN, CPT, SNS | April 30, 2020

Austin Independent School District’s Nutrition and Food Services
Thank-you card received by Austin Independent School District’s Nutrition and Food Services

Austin Independent School District’s Nutrition and Food Services is currently serving healthy and tasty meals via curbside pickup and bus delivery in Austin to students during school closure. We currently have 18 curbside locations and over 60 bus stops serving breakfast and lunch packaged together Monday through Friday. On Friday, families also receive meals for Saturday and Sunday for each child. Since March 23, we have averaged serving around 15,000 meals per day and over 430,000 meals in total to our students.

I am incredibly proud of the hard work our staff has taken to make sure that our students still have the nutrition that they need in order to thrive during these difficult times. They are truly heroes and should be highly commended for the work that they are doing each day to prepare and deliver meals in a safe and efficient manner to our students.

School meals are always incredibly important to the health of economically disadvantaged students across the country, but during school closure due to COVID-19 that need has increased tremendously and has expanded to many families that have never before needed food assistance of any kind. Always remember the importance of school meals in making sure that our students get the nutrition that they need so they can flourish in and out of the classroom. As the leaders of nutrition in your communities, advocate for school meals and school nutrition funding in any way that you can, now and in the future, to improve the health and well-being of children across the country.

From Karen Hallford, MS, RD, LD | April 30, 2020

Gwinnett County Public Schools
Loading school buses to deliver meals to children

Gwinnett County Public Schools — Beginning on March 16 we have been offering meals at 68 of our 135 sites. Families can visit the school site of their choice between the hours of 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and pick up meals for their children in a drive-thru method. We also have close to 500 school buses running routes in those areas delivering meals to children. The school bus delivery method has been the most popular but the two methods combined have resulted in 1.4 million meals over the past six weeks.

The number of children still receiving school meals and our team members who are making that happen is what I am most proud of. We have approximately 800 foodservice professionals working in those 68 sites, producing meals Monday through Friday. Amazing work. I’ve always said that school nutrition is the best kept secret for registered dietitians. The work that happens in school nutrition is so important and incorporates all aspects of dietetics. I am proud to be a part of this group.

From Whitney Ellersick, MS, RDN | April 30, 2020

Portland Public Schools

Before the announcement of school closure, our team [nutrition services at Portland Public Schools] was closely monitoring the guidance and shifting services to ensure food safety and sanitation. I actively contacted our major distributors to devise a plan for how we could provide food to schools if our central warehouse was impacted or there was a need to close our central office in any way that we had reassurance of how we would continue our services. I also confirmed that each distributor had a plan in response to a confirmed case within their own organization. Things quickly changed as the decision to close schools came around 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 12. By Monday, March16, our team had gathered together to train everyone on expectations and answer questions, while our drivers and warehousemen gathered perishable foods from all the schools to be repurposed for sack meals later in the week. We worked feverishly to switch our purchases, cancel or modify orders and seek out materials to packaged foods for our students.

By Tuesday, March 17, we had 15 school sites up and running with walk up and drive-thru meal services to families supported by campus security agents at every location, counselors to provide emotional support, and administrators welcoming families and later passing out grade appropriate printed curriculum materials. We paused services during our spring break to continue ordering and receiving food and supplies, address needed standard operating procedures and safety plans, and create better signage and translated messaging to help our staff and families. Since then, we have continued to provide daily services with Friday services including meals for Saturday and Sunday, and expanded our outreach to include 13 various low-income apartments and mobile home parks, and a direct home delivery service in partnership with DoorDash and now Amazon.

I am most proud of my managers within my department who have been by my side, quickly adapting and shifting with each new request or need. They have made this all possible, providing on-site support to the staff, problem solving concerns and actively working with me to address each process. The managers also took the time to create a video to help show staff and families what our meal services look like, directing, producing and writing the script for the project and working in collaboration with our district’s communication/media department. They took the time to call all staff individually, making sure to connect with all 200 employees and check in with them, answering questions or addressing any concerns. Three of our managers are RDNs, and others come with other foodservice, culinary, business and complimentary backgrounds. Their passion for serving the community and our children never waivers. They inspire me and I’m incredibly grateful for such a unified, creative and supportive team.

I would want my colleagues to know what we are doing in case we can be a resource or reference for their patients, clients or community that they serve. We know many families are facing food insecurity for the first time and may need help navigating this. I would also want colleagues to know that while this work is challenging, it is incredibly rewarding. For any DTRs, RDNs and RDNs-to-be, school foodservice and child nutrition programs are career paths that should be explored.

From Laura Brookover-Ybarra, RDN, SNS | April 29, 2020

Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District Nutrition Services
Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District Nutrition Services

May 1 is School Lunch Hero Day. I wanted to take a moment to share what school dietitians and school nutrition professionals are facing during this pandemic. Our school district [Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District] is serving the community curbside meals, mobile meals and meals through home delivery for families with certain circumstances. We are currently operating under the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program Seamless Summer Program. Meals are distributed weekly, each Wednesday. We are currently serving over 22,000 meals in one day. The staff works tirelessly over the course of only a few days to prepare all meals served. The department is also incurring significantly higher food and non-food costs associated to serving higher cost menu items and an increased need for non-food goods such as bags and packaging for the meals.

While the department is serving 22,000 meals weekly, this is still significantly less than what we would serve in a week of normal operation. These costs are not supplemented by the school district and the department is funding this out of our fund balance. Not all districts are equipped with a fund balance and will be significantly financially impacted because of the pandemic. Even through all of the hardships faced, staff members still show up with a smile and a positive attitude day in and day out with the goal in mind that we are positively impacting children in need. It is my staff and all School Nutrition Professionals out there that need the recognition for all of the work they are doing to serve their communities.

From Gisela Bouvier, MBA, RDN, LDN @corporatenutritionist | April 23, 2020

Gisela Bouvier, MBA, RDN, LDN
Gisela Bouvier, MBA, RDN, LDN
Gisela Bouvier delivering items to food bank
Gisela Bouvier (second from left) delivering donations to a food bank.

What is currently going on in the world saddens me. However, seeing a community together to help others warms my heart and brings a smile to my face. A neighbor in my community started a food bank collection bin two weeks ago. Every day, she leaves the bin in front of our clubhouse so neighbors can donate food for the local food bank down the street. Every day, she then delivers the collected food to the bank and once again drops off the bin for collecting in the morning.

This morning, I got to join her in donating the much needed items and see more of what it takes to help feed a community in need. The food bank has been extremely grateful for our donations. I, however, am extremely grateful for my neighbor for her kind heart and for all of the neighbors who have donated and continue to donate. Doing our part to help others during this time doesn’t need to take a lot. Even the slightest gesture of giving and kindness can help feed a family, fill someone’s pantry and remind others that this too shall pass.

From Gena Seraita MS, RD, CDN @rdoninstagettingcoffee | April 17, 2020

ohn Falce, Megan Miller, Natasha Cimino, Pratigya Singh and Sheila Mae Gabe
Left to right: John Falce, Megan Miller, Natasha Cimino, Pratigya Singh and Sheila Mae Gabe

With all that’s going on in the world, did you forget it’s National Preceptor Month? For the past few weeks, we have been preparing to ensure excellent nutritional care for the NewYork-Presbyterian Ryan Larkin Field Hospital, and this week we started accepting patients there. Patients who have been impacted by the COVID-19 virus.

When we needed clinical nutritionists who were qualified and prepared to care for the unique nutritional needs of these patients (and needed them quick!), these five amazing humans stepped forward and rose to the occasion. Weeks ago, they graduated from their rigorous NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Dietetic Internship Program and now are ensuring their patients have the fuel they need to fight this virus. As amazing as they are, they would not be able to do this without the incredible, selfless, patient and passionate preceptors who prepared them for this moment. Normally we celebrate National Preceptor Month in April with our #PRECEPT conference, but I cannot think of a better way to honor and thank the preceptors out there by highlighting the results of your labors.

THANK YOU to the RD preceptors who put in the time to develop the future of our field. This is what it grows. Thank you to these leaders, thank you to our preceptors, and thank you to all of the clinical dietitians on the front lines of this battle, setting the example our dietetic interns need to see. You are seen, you are important, and your work is invaluable. Let’s do this.

From Top Nutrition Performance @topnutritionperformance | April 14, 2020

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Christina Schreckengaust, MPH, RD, CSSD
U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Christina Schreckengaust, MPH, RD, CSSD.

This morning, we had a chance to catch up with one of our team’s registered dietitians: U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Christina Schreckengaust, MPH, RD, CSSD. Christina embarked on the U.S. Naval Hospital Ship COMFORT to head to New York City. This photo is Christina coming out of the ICU, where she spends time working with patients as a dietitian. She averages about 25 patients per day and works with many who are on ventilators. For a dietitian, when a patient is on a ventilator, that means she needs to calculate their nutritional needs for tube feedings. This may seem easy and trivial, but it is anything but easy. A dietitian needs to review all of the patient lab values, allergies, anthropometrics and many other needs to determine the exact chemical formula, calories, carbs, proteins, fats, vitamin and minerals plus volume of water for each tube feeding. Then determine the rate of which the person can tolerate the volume of tube feeding. Dietitians carefully track blood lab values and GI tolerance. Some formulas are made from scratch, and others are ordered in bulk and then applied to the right patient. Medical logistics are involved in ensuring the right supplies are on board to aid the dietitians and staff in providing care to the patients. Christina works hand in hand with doctors and nurses on the front lines of COVID-19 to ensure patients are properly nourished. Like all the other health care providers, she and all other dietitians on the front lines of this world-wide epidemic are our heroes. Thank you all for your service to our country and world-wide health.

From Heidi Silver, PhD, RDN | April 10, 2020

Vanderbilt University Medical Center - Heroes of the Week
Vanderbilt University Medical Center “Heroes of the Week.” Clockwise from top left: Heidi Silver, PhD, RD; Dianna Olson, RD, LDN; Michelle Robles, RD, LDN; Timothy Olszewski, MS, RDN, LDN.

I am a research professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center with a team of research dietitians, and we were discussing how we, as nutrition researchers, can help our VUMC health care providers on the frontlines of COVID-19 testing and care. Since I design and implement diet interventions, I have a very large supply of food items stored at our Center for Human Nutrition that were previously purchased and designated for our clinical trials. This included about 75 pounds of nuts and 75 pounds of other nutritious snack food items. I thought that our health care providers are so busy, and becoming fatigued and stressed from the demands of providing COVID-19 care. Recognizing that most people respond to this kind of stress by consuming comfort foods that are not nutrient-dense and do not provide the type of macro- and micronutrients needed when a person is under physical and emotional stress, I knew they would benefit more from nutrient-dense snacks that could be consumed readily during each day of this overwhelming battle. So, I called my research RDNs and suggested that we carefully go into the medical center, have our temperatures taken and then don masks and gloves (and hairnets). We then spent many hours portioning and packaging these snacks under sanitary conditions and delivered 150 pounds of quick, easy and nutritious nuts and other snacks to our frontline healthcare providers to help protect their energy level and health status. At the same time, we provided another 300 pounds of food items to two local food banks as they have been publicizing an substantial increase in need due to both increased unemployment from COVID-19 restrictions and a recent tornado in the metropolitan Nashville area. We are deeply respectful and appreciative of the efforts of all our frontline providers, and hope that our food provisions can make a small difference.

From University of Saint Joseph Department of Nutrition @usj_nutrition | April 3, 2020

Madi Kreck and Elena Pevar
Madi Kreck (left) and Elena Pevar.

Our sports nutrition dietetic interns have finished their telehealth training and are ready to get started working with athletes virtually during COVID-19. Meet Madi Kreck and Elena Pevar. Normally, our interns would meet in person with about 10 athletes a day, sometimes more. COVID-19 changed the way we needed to practice, and our interns had a crash course in using telehealth to their advantage.

From Jennifer Griggs, MS, RD, LDN @road2rdn | April 2, 2020

Jennifer Griggs, MS, RD, LDN and Carlotta Orlando, MS, RD, LDN
Jennifer Griggs, MS, RD, LDN (left) and Carlotta Orlando, MS, RD, LDN.

Yesterday I began treating my first COVID-19 patient, and I can’t begin to explain how much more real it feels to me now. Feeling scared to go home and pass it along to loved ones, yet feeling anxious to go to work and be in a building full of a virus that’s killing people every day. Pray for and thank your health care providers, y’all.

From Alexis Pinto, MS, RDN @discoverd_nutrition | April 1, 2020

Alexis Pinto, MS, RDN
Alexis Pinto, MS, RDN.

This is the new norm now. This week so far has been interesting to say the least. It’s testing me a lot mentally, and apparently physically because I’m exhausted for no reason?? Although there is a reason: I’m stressed. I’ve been having anxiety attacks daily. Although I’m not physically seeing COVID-19 patients and have the luxury of calling most from the office, it put this into perspective for me. A dietitian’s job doesn’t stop in the middle of a pandemic. People still need to eat and tube feedings don’t stop.

For once, I understood on a deeper level what nurses and doctors are going through. They have no choice. They are on the forefront. Yes, us dietitians are too, and so is every other health care worker out there – but this is intense. We’re all walking around with masks on and honestly we don’t know if they’re protecting us or not. There’s new information thrown at us daily. But what concerned me more was the handful of workers that continued on like there was nothing to be scared of.

Not only is it so important to do your part and stay home, but it made me realize I need to continue working on prioritizing my health throughout this too. So while my anxiety is through the roof, it’s the last thing my body needs. Which is why I always emphasize to my clients that stress management is so important, as is focusing on the positives, even when it seems like there’s only negatives to talk about. And again, please #stayhome.

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