March is National Nutrition Month, and this year’s theme is “Eat Right, Bite by Bite.” Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day falls right in the middle of National Nutrition Month on March 11th, and we wanted to take a moment to honor all that Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) do at healthcare communities across the country.
Today, the RDN’s role is about much more than just coming up with diets. Modern dietitians are now meal planners, wellness consultants, recipe testers, and educators. Dietitians across the entire food service industry are responsible for creating healthy, nutritional meal plans and education programs, whether they work in hospitals, sports facilities, college campuses, or restaurants.
At behavioral healthcare and long-term care communities, RDNs play a large part in making sure food service programs best serve their residents’ and patients’ unique needs. The RDNs day-to-day role can be very different depending on the community that they’re serving.
What Are Registered Dietitian Nutritionists?
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are food and nutrition experts who have completed at least a bachelor’s degree at a US regionally accredited university or college, completed an ACEND-accredited supervised practice program, passed a national examination, and completed continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.
Most healthcare-focused food service providers have their own dietitians on staff to help with meal planning and nutrition guidance. These RDNs are a great resource and consultant for the rest of the community. We’ve seen some food service providers make their RDNs also serve as Food Service Directors, but we don’t recommend that. The RDN is a clinical professional and their day-to-day duties should reflect that. (You can read more about the differences between a dietitian and food service director in this blog).
What Do Behavioral Healthcare Dietitians Do?
RDNs at behavioral healthcare communities are responsible for making sure patients’ nutritional needs are met. Behavioral healthcare communities include substance abuse rehab centers, psychiatric facilities, or other outpatient programs.
In substance abuse rehab centers, good nutrition is essential to each patient’s recovery. On a daily basis, RDNs conduct patient assessments to determine what each patient needs, what their food preferences are, and which substance abuse-related nutritional deficiencies they may have. Then, the RDN comes up with nutrition plans that take all of those factors (as well as a person’s medications, pre-existing conditions, and food allergies) into account.
RDNs at behavioral healthcare communities might also be responsible for education. Because several of these patients will eventually return home, they (along with their friends and families) need to understand how to maintain a good diet and nutrition once they leave the behavioral healthcare community. Dietitians will typically work with the patient and their families to understand what their home life is like and create care plans that can easily be incorporated into the patient’s life outside the facility.
What Do Long-Term Healthcare Dietitians Do?
The phrase “long-term care” typically applies to home health care, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and other senior living communities. Long-term and sub-acute hospitals are required to have a registered dietitian.
RDNs at long-term healthcare communities typically conduct new admission assessments and reassessments based on minimum data sets (MDS), a tool for implementing standardized assessment and for facilitating care management in long-term care facilities. By law, all residents in Medicare and/or Medicaid-certified nursing homes must be assessed according to this tool.
RDNs also provide nutritional education and act as consultants for the Interdisciplinary Care Team (IDCT) when a patient may be at a nutritional risk due to cognitive changes, dental changes, wound care, and more.
RDNs in long-term care facilities need to be familiar with how to treat people who have a variety of conditions, like dysphagia, malnutrition, and dementia. These conditions affect how and what patients eat. These patients typically require food to be served in a different way than other residents. For example, patients with dementia might require a finger food diet in order to eat independently, and those with malnutrition may need more fortified foods. RDNs can help come up with meal plans that still give these residents the nutrients they need in a way that’s easy to eat and appetizing.
For communities that Culinary Services Group works with, we offer weight measurements and various labs that can help RDNs track nutritional risk. We also work regularly with Speech Language Pathologists to determine if there’s a need for a modified diet in patients with certain conditions.
Empowered RDNs are the Best RDNs
If your healthcare community has an RDN, take some time this month to appreciate all that they do for your residents and patients. If you’re looking for a great RDN to join your community, we can help. Culinary Services Group provides RDNs to all of our senior living communities. To ensure they’re providing the best care possible, we also give them ample educational opportunities and encourage them to constantly be auditing and developing improvement food plans. We also want them to be able to learn from other dietitians in similar communities. That’s why we created an internal, virtual platform that connects our RDNs and allows them to ask each other questions and provide support.
A good food service program is about a lot more than just taking corrective actions. Culinary Services Group wants our dietitians to feel empowered to improve processes in their communities and create a better quality of life for residents and patients.
If you want to learn more about how we can provide your community with an expert RDN, contact us here.