Volunteer Ashley Del Rosario provides companionship to Marion
Written by Dietitian Services

Can friendly lunch and dinner dates lead to better nutrition and outcomes in hospital patients? A new pilot program named TLC Dining at Royal Columbian Hospital is determined to find out.

Last month, the Volunteer Resources and Dietitian Services teams at Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH) kicked off a six month pilot project aimed at treating and preventing hospital malnutrition in Fraser Health patients.

The program consists of volunteers accompanying patients during mealtimes and builds on the existing TLC Volunteer Program at Royal Columbian Hospital, whereby volunteers take on simple, but effective, activities such as conversing with patients to brighten their days. In addition to joining patients for meals, volunteers assist with hand hygiene prior to meals and make notes about food preferences, which are then provided to Food Services for consideration.

“The idea is that by incorporating a social aspect into mealtimes, patients will eat more than they would by themselves,” explains Fraser Health Dietitian Educator Alysone Martel, who brought the idea forward during a CEO Coffee Chat last fall. “The project is important because we know nutrition can play a big role in a person’s recovery.”

Research completed by the Canadian Malnutrition Task Force shows that almost half of all medical or surgical patients are already malnourished upon arrival and that continued inadequate intake of energy, protein and other nutrients can result in undesirable consequences such as a delay in healing, longer hospital stays and readmissions.[1]

Feedback from volunteers has been positive too. Many say they enjoy the opportunity to provide companionship while playing a role in the patient’s nutritional well-being.

“I’ve had one patient tell me she loves the idea and another who is now reporting eating more than usual thanks to the program,” says Negar Karami, a Fraser Health volunteer who is currently enrolled in the Food, Nutrition and Health Program at UBC.

“For now, we’re just asking for everyone’s support in welcoming the volunteers and being supportive of the program if you see it in action,” says Alysone.

Alysone is also encouraging other sites to take on similar initiatives. “It’s strongly aligned to Fraser Health’s strategy of providing high quality care and services,” she says. “There are teams in Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Surrey Memorial Hospital who are doing similar things. My hope is the idea will keep spreading.”

Alysone says people should reach out to their site’s volunteer resources manager or dietitian practice lead if they are interested in starting their own TLC Dining pilot project.

[1] Allard JP, Keller H, Jeejeebhoy KN, Laporte M, Duerksen D, Gramlich L, et al. (2016). Malnutrition at hospital admission: Contributors and impact on length of stay. A prospective cohort study from the Canadian Malnutrition Task Force. J Parenter Enteral Nutrition. 40(4):487-97.

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