By Sara O’Brien, MS, RDN
To help maintain social distancing many dietitians were asked to work remotely during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. For dietitians who are coming back to work in a healthcare facility during COVID-19, you need to be prepared for the following changes.
Social Distancing is Here to Stay
Healthcare staff and visitors need to be ready for the permanent changes post COVID-19. Walking into a hospital may become very similar to entering an airport to prioritize safety and minimize the risk of infection. Entrances for both staff and visitors will be limited to properly check identification and screen for symptoms. Anyone who is exhibiting virus or respiratory symptoms should be treated outside the facility in triage or separate designated areas.
The total number of visitors and patients entering the facility at one time will be limited to allow for social distancing. Masks or face coverings will be required for everyone entering the building. Hand hygiene supplies, masks, and physical barriers will be available throughout the facility to promote handwashing and limit close contact between personnel and patients. Visiting hours may be permanently decreased with only access to the patient’s room while family members are visiting.
Goodbye Salad Bars
Cafeterias are where staff, patients, and families all congregate to unwind. This will now have to be done sitting at tables six feet apart with a limit to the number of chairs per table. You may even have physical barriers between tables when social distancing is not possible. This is because to eat you cannot wear a mask causing an increased risk of infection. All self-serve food stations like our beloved salad bars will be removed and cafeterias are now going to focus on grab-and-go options. Some COVID-19 designated hospitals are even considering not opening up their cafeteria at all.
The CDC recommends utilizing tape and floor markings to ensure that even while standing in line with masks you can stay six feet apart. Hand sanitizer wipes and trash cans will be available at all entrances. The food will be served in disposable containers with individually wrapped utensils. Bulk dispensers for salad dressings, coffee creamer, and beverages will be removed because they are high touch surfaces. Many facilities are also offering take-home dinners or basic grocery items to staff and families.
Protecting patients and yourself
Many healthcare facilities have adopted a universal masking policy. This means all staff and visitors must wear a mask or face covering at all times. Because personal protective equipment is still limited in many locations, your facility may restrict how many clinicians and which disciplines are permitted to enter COVID-19 positive rooms. Your facility may also adopt new policies for reusing PPE that is not visibly soiled. Do your best to follow these new protocols, as they are specifically designed to protect patients and staff.
Telehealth will be the new normal
Telehealth will be a major player in the post-COVID-19 era. To reduce the facilities’ overall virus risk the CDC recommends utilizing telehealth whenever possible. While telehealth is more convenient and safer, the technological risks and lack of continuity of care are causes for concern. Clinicians should prepare their patients for utilizing telehealth by ensuring that they have appropriate technology with a high-quality camera, built-in sound/speaker system, adequate lighting, and a private, safe space.
Clinicians should communicate any information that the patient should collect before the appointment, like anthropometrics, food logs, or medication lists. Similar to in-person appointments, patients should come ready with questions, concerns, and a support person, if applicable.
Although COVID-19 has brought many changes to our facilities, this can be an opportunity to adjust best practices and explore new ones as we continue to provide top-notch care to our patients. After all, we’re all in this together…just six feet apart.
Sara O’Brien, MS, RDN, is the Clinical Nutrition Manager for Blythedale Children’s Hospital a specialty pediatric rehabilitation center and long term care facility. She completed a combined bachelor’s degree and dietetic internship at the University of Connecticut and a Masters Degree in Dietetics at the University of Rhode Island. Sara is a specialist in pediatric nutrition and believes in an individualized patient-focused approach to nutrition.
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“Infection Control Guidance for Healthcare Professionals about Coronavirus (COVID-19).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 June 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/infection-control.html.
“Preparing Patients for Telehealth.” HHS.gov, telehealth.hhs.gov/providers/preparing-patients-for-telehealth/.
“COVID-19 Guidance: Businesses and Employers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 May 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html.