Riverside Tappahannock Hospital Has the Recipe for Success

Riverside Tappahannock Hospital Dietary Staff

The Food and Nutrition team at Riverside Tappahannock Hospital (L to R): Josephine Pierce, Jacqueline Ambrose, Kim Nelson, Keiona Gillis, Rosetta Richardson, Helena Chappell, Jessica English, Tammy Dabney, and Estelle Brooks. Not pictured: Narita Pollard

Tappahannock, Va. - To Kim Nelson, director of Food and Nutrition at Riverside Tappahannock Hospital, whether her staff is feeding patients or the many visitors, staff, and physicians that eat in the TreeTop Café, being part of a small community means that everyone is close-knit. That’s why she and her staff strive to make everyone feel like family.

“This is a team that really carries out our mission of caring for others as we would care for those we love,” says Esther Desimini, administrator and vice president of Riverside Tappahannock Hospital. “They take care of our staff and our patients and you can taste the love in their food.”

Nelson describes her team as special and extremely dedicated. They are also very busy. In fact, her team of 10 prepared and served 78,658 meals to hospital patients and people in the café in 2017. In addition, the small-but-mighty team caters some of the special events for the hospital, including the Champion of Caring banquet, annual holiday party, Christmas Wishes community reception, and special Hospital Week celebrations. They also support the hospital medical staff as well as Riverside Medical Group events and meetings throughout the year.

“We have a lot of long-term staff and we work together like a family,” Nelson says. “I love coming to work with these people every day because we support one another, and we always have fun.”

Food is good medicine

Nelson knows that good clinical care is essential for taking care of patients, but she also understands the important role that food and nutrition play in delivering quality care and a positive patient experience. Her staff takes patient orders daily, trying to provide choice and variety while taking into consideration any special dietary needs or restrictions.

“When you’re in the hospital, food is sometimes the only thing going for you,” Nelson adds.

Nelson and her team have to consider special patient diets like clear liquids or low sodium. Sometimes it is the rare requests that require creative solutions. For example, Nelson says it is not very often that they get a patient with gluten intolerances or allergies. When they do, it often means her staff has to make a special trip to a local store in order to provide food items to fill those special requests.

One of her team members even went out to purchase gluten-free cookies over a weekend when a patient made a specific request. They will often send specialty items like that home with the patient at discharge so the food doesn’t go to waste.

In the Café, Nelson and her team have created a menu cycle that provides variety with a healthy mix of options. They even take suggestions from guests to try and deliver what customers want. They recently added several lite dressing selections to the salad bar in response to a visitor’s request.

Some of their most popular menu items have drawn people from the community that may not have any other reason to visit the hospital. Nelson and her team enjoy serving them all.

Nourishing the soul

The dietary team’s impact on the hospital and the community goes much deeper than the selections on the menu. Nelson says it is not uncommon for her staff to help a community member carry food back to their car, or even help to cover the cost of a meal from their own pockets for a customer that has a financial hardship.

In the spirit of giving back, each staff member sets aside two dollars per paycheck toward a fund that totaled nearly $500 by year end. Nelson’s son-in-law had been diagnosed with leukemia that year, and her team surprised them all by presenting the money to her family to help during their difficult time.

That tradition of collecting money and granting a special holiday gift has continued. The dietary staff has shared the gift with hospital employees and even family members who might be struggling. They have also reached out to local families that are in distress.

“We decide the gift as a team and everyone participates,” Nelson says. “This is a really special group.”

Staying hungry for improvement

Nelson continues to look for ways to improve her department and is appreciative of hospital leadership for allowing her team to try new things. She has plans to bring on additional staff so that the team can begin serving breakfast next month.

“They are so supportive of us and they always share their gratitude for what we’re doing,” Nelson adds.

Nelson has been at the hospital for 40 years, but she’s not anywhere near finished. Her goal is to make it to 50 years before retiring. When asked how she does it all, she is quick to add with a smile, “I just try to practice what I preach by staying busy and maintaining good health.”

Published: February 26, 2018