The Importance of a Good Diet During COVID-19

Stories from the Southcoast Frontlines: Joan Kovatis

#SouthcoastFrontline Hero Joan Kovatis is a Diet Office Ambassador at Tobey Hospital. Beginning her days at 6am, Joan helps ensure that every admitted patient is fed. She gives breakfast, lunch and dinner during their stay in the hospital.

Using patient service software that stores the allergies and special diets patients are on, Joan visits her patients before each meal for menu selection. She then gathers and delivers their meals. When they are finished, Joan checks in one more time. She clears the tray and learns about what each patient liked and disliked before the meal cycle begins again.  

“Going to visit my patients is my favorite part of the job,” Joan says. “In a small facility like ours, we’re able to get to know patients very well.”

When COVID-19 first affected our region last spring, Joan did not let that stop her from doing her work.

Diet Office Ambassadors Connect with Their Patients

She even postponed her retirement to step up and help.

Donning Personal Protective Equipment such as gowns, goggles, and masks, Joan and her team quickly adapted to the changes the virus brought to their roles. The Diet Office Ambassadors contact patients with COVID-19 and patients under investigation for COVID-19 (PUI) by phone to take their meal orders. The nurses caring for these patients then deliver the food, instead of the Diet Office Ambassadors, to minimize the number of people entering patient rooms.

“When these patients are unable to answer the phone, there is some guesswork on what they would like that day,” Joan says. She shares that it can be hard to tell their preferences without face-to-face communication or feedback after the meal, something she normally pays close attention to.

Communication with patients without COVID-19 also became more difficult, as many patients she normally sees are elderly and hard of hearing. Learning to communicate through the masks and not rely on reading lips was a challenge at first.

This summer, Joan experienced COVID-19 asymptomatically. Looking back, she is thankful that Southcoast Health put many extra precautions in place to keep both her and patients safe.

“It’s pretty scary to think about what could have happened if we didn’t do anything and just treated it like the flu,” Joan says. Now fully vaccinated, she is hopeful for the future and thinks that the vaccine could be a much needed light at the end of the tunnel.

Closing Out a Challenging Year

After a challenging year, Joan is looking forward to the days when she can see all of her patients again in person. Later this year, she plans to transition to a per diem role before she retires. Always willing to help, Joan will be at Tobey as long as patients and staff need her during the pandemic.

When this is over, and socializing is safe, she plans to celebrate her retirement by traveling with some of her lifelong friends.

Thank You, Joan!