HealthPRO Canada News

March 16, 2022

Dietitians Day: An interview with Catherine Chong

HealthPRO employee Catherine Chong

Celebrated annually in March, National Nutrition Month invites everyone to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthful eating and physical activity habits.

To learn more about dietetics and the multi-faceted role nutrition teams play in acute care settings, we recently spoke with Catherine Chong, our in-house dietitian and Clinical Advisor for HealthPRO’s Nutrition and Food Services team.

Q: Why did you decide to become a Dietitian?

A: As cliché as it may sound, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a strong passion for nutrition. At a very young age I became conscious of how food can impact your health. Even now, I’m fascinated by how food can empower people to live healthier lives.

Q: How are Nutrition teams involved in patient care?

A: I think there’s a misconception that Nutrition and Food Services are one and the same in a hospital or acute care setting.

Nutrition teams, while often integrated with Food Services, perform multiple distinct functions related to patient care. This includes identifying high-risk patients, conducting patient nutritional assessments, managing electrolyte replacement and bowel function, providing ongoing monitoring and much more. In fact, in addition to dietitians, a nutrition team may also include nurses, pharmacists, and physicians.

Food Services, however, focuses more on a patient’s dietary needs when receiving care. From my experience in acute and long-term care, I’ve observed that patients often look forward to mealtimes, so there’s a social and emotional aspect to this function as well.

Despite the professionals involved, or its relation to Food Services, in most settings the goal remains the same: to provide the right type of food and diet to reinforce positive outcomes.

Q: How does HealthPRO help its members advance nutrition and food services in their facilities?

A: We help members navigate a very volatile market. Food prices can fluctuate daily and are often going up. In this regard, one of our primary goals when developing a contract is to provide pricing stability so our members can confidently manage their food budgets.

Additionally, our team helps deliver adaptable contracts that help alleviate a myriad of our members’ challenges. For hospital nutrition teams, this may involve looking at food menus or focusing on advancing patient-centred food and dietetics needs. For instance, Nova Scotia Health Authority recently implemented a room service model in their facilities which gives patients more choice and flexibility when it comes to their food and nutrition needs.

Q: Overall, regarding nutrition and food services, what’s the biggest value that HealthPRO provides its members?

A: Aside from the significant savings on products and services that our contracts offer, HealthPRO truly advocates for our members and their needs.

Now more than ever, I think the greatest value we've continuously provided to our membership has been providing them with predictable pricing when they’re planning their next food budget.

Right now, the market is just so volatile, and we’ve all seen the rising cost of food when we look at our grocery bills. While we don’t have contracts for all food service items, we provide our members with predictable pricing for the items we do have on contract.

Q: How has the food industry changed over the course of the pandemic?

A: The resiliency of the people who work in food services is amazing. They're able to make changes on a dime and be flexible based on the circumstances. Over the past two years, those in the food services industry have faced both significant price increases and supply disruptions. Right now, we're seeing many contracted items on backorder resulting from ongoing global supply chain disruptions. When an item is on backorder, it is more than just a simple swap. Members must find a substitute that meets their menu’s nutritional requirements, while also taking into consideration their food budget, which isn’t always easy.

HealthPRO has been trying to support our members as best we can by providing them with weekly supply disruption updates, so they can pivot their operation as required based on all the changes going on around them.

Q: What do you see for the future of Nutrition and Food Services?

A: I'm seeing our members really focus on patient satisfaction, which in turn improves patient outcomes and reduces food waste.

To improve patient satisfaction, some members have tailored their menus to meet the preferences of their diverse patient populations, as food is an important part of the healing process. When patients eat in-hospital, they are able to heal faster, they can be released sooner, and there are better patient outcomes.

Some members have incorporated a room service model, where patients can choose what they want from a list of items. In some cases, they can also choose when they receive their meals, so the food comes when they’re actually hungry. This model has been shown to reduce food waste, which is huge for our members.

Q: This nutrition month, what’s one thing you want everyone to know about nutrition?

A: There’s no one size fits all approach to healthy eating!

Culture, food traditions, personal circumstances, and nutritional needs all contribute to what healthy eating looks like for you.