Mercy Health Love County - News

Hospital Patients, Staff Tuned In To Dietary Plans

Posted on Thursday, February 7th, 2008


Patient Cooking: Dietary Manager Valerie DeFoor pulls a food tray from the new cold/hot serving cart at Mercy Health/Love County Hospital.
Hospital patients eat meals prepared from a “dietary plan” appropriate for their illness. But what does the medical staff eat?
For the next 17 weeks, at least, many Mercy Health/Love County Hospital and Clinic employees will be preparing their personal meals under Weight Watchers® guidelines. The goal is to shed extra pounds, and what’s more, to launch a nutritional “lifestyle” that will help them maintain health and fitness.
Inside the hospital, Dietary Manager Valerie DeFoor cooks patients’ meals with foods and seasonings that vary according to doctor’s orders.
Besides a regular diet, there are puree, bland, low sodium, clear, full liquid, soft, mechanical soft (requiring chopping or grinding), renal, dialysis, and gout dietary plans.
“When I get here at 6:30 in the morning, the nurses bring me the dietary lists and that’s how I learn how many patients we have and what their special needs may be,” DeFoor said. Capacity is 15 patients.
DeFoor relies on the Oklahoma Nutrition Manual issued by the Oklahoma Dietetic Association for ingredients and recipes.
She’s been cooking for the hospital for 20 years and managing the department since 1996, the year she graduated as a part-time student from Moore-Norman vo-tech with a certificate in dietary management.
She is supervised by a consulting registered dietician, Janet Charalampous of Davis.
A typical day in the hospital kitchen finds DeFoor cooking breakfast at 7:30 a.m., lunch at 11:30 a.m., and dinner in the oven by the time she leaves at 3:30 p.m. Between meals, she washes dishes, cleans the kitchen, orders and stocks food, and charts patients’ nutritional screenings.
She also takes telephone calls from clinic patients or other citizens seeking information about diets their doctors have recommended. Monthly, she prepares the employees’ birthday lunch, the Chamber of Commerce lunch, and the Hospital Board of Control meeting supper.
“Running the kitchen is pretty much up to me, but I have help from Hope Young and Eugenia Willingham from the housekeeping department when I need it or on days I miss work,” DeFoor said.
In answer to frequently-asked questions, DeFoor avows: “All the patient meals are prepared here, not in Ardmore. We use fresh foods, although evening meals, since they are prepared early, might have frozen entrees, and yes, we use real eggs, not eggbeaters, unless the patient is on a low-cholesterol diet.”
As for raves, the most popular meal turns out to be ham, beans, and cornbread, just like home. “I try to cook as I would at home and season as best I can within the dietary guidelines for the patient,” DeFoor said.
“Dr. O’Connor says the food is good. I value his opinion.”

On the “regular” diet the February day DeFoor was interviewed was a breakfast of fried egg, biscuit, sausage gravy, and pineapple juice; lunch of baked pork chop, corn, spinach, applesauce, bread, and lemon meringue pie; and dinner of Salisbury steak, squash, fried okra, biscuit, and peach cobbler or peach pie.
That works out to 2,000-2,500 calories, and DeFoor concedes that older patients, especially, wouldn’t typically finish the meal. “They eat a bite or two here and there, but it’s a balanced meal. As patients get closer to their release date, their appetite comes back,” she said.
Calorie counting and choosing healthy foods was on the minds of 35 employees who met in the cafeteria that day for their first Weight Watchers class. They weighed in and set an initial goal of losing 10% of body weight at the rate of 1-2 pounds per week.
The hospital is covering the cost of tuition, books, and materials for all participants, a value of about $200 per employee.
“The group lost 81 pounds the first week and they are starting to walk at noon,” said Richard Barker, administrator. “We think the program will set an example for the community. As people become more conscious about the food items they choose, start to eat sensibly, and get more exercise, they will feel better and miss work less often.”
Instructor Maureen Woods of Sanger, TX said she has also been engaged by Denton Regional Hospital, where a similarly high percentage of medical staff signed up.
It is perhaps a reflection of an awakened interest, starting with health care workers, in reversing recent health trends.
According to Love County Health Department administrator Mendy Spohn, Oklahoma is #1 in the country in heart disease, #2 in diabetes, and #1 in the proportion of women smokers. Smoking, obesity, and inactivity are leading causes of heart disease and diabetes, she said.
“Eat better, move more, and be tobacco-free” is the theme of the governor’s program for improving health in Oklahoma.