The Eating Assistance Team (EAT) won the Ben Taub Hospital/Quentin Mease Innovation Award at Harris Health's Fifth Annual Innovation Summit.
Months ago, the Clinical Nutrition Department and Volunteer Services at Ben Taub Hospital piloted a volunteer program that fed patients in 5D. One day, dietitians noticed several patients had difficulties eating because of issues with mobility, chewing and swallowing. Recognizing the need, she asked Dana Wilson, manager, Clinical Nutrition, for help finding a solution.
Dietitians found the wasted food resulted from difficulty eating and not lack of appetite. Wilson sought help from Volunteer Services.
"We all know patients are lonely, scared, anxious or depressed while in the hospital," Wilson says. "Having volunteers visit them at mealtimes has provided socialization and a sense of caring and empathy that goes beyond the meal."
During the pilot program, 141 volunteer encounters were recorded—2041 minutes or 34 hours of assistance and interaction. In those encounters, 61 percent of patients consumed more than 60 percent of their meals and 55 percent of patients consumed more than 75 percent of their meals.
Courtney Hoyt, manager, Volunteer Services, Ben Taub Hospital, loved the innovative idea and began to research similar programs around the country to model the new program.
"One of the hardest, yet most rewarding parts of my job is finding new ways volunteers can improve and impact the lives of our patients," Hoyt says. "So far, our research shows improvement in eating habits for our patients, which has led to lower malnutrition rates and increased patient satisfaction."
When the program was created, clinical nutrition reached out to nutrition students to help feed patients and give them an opportunity to get valuable experience in a clinical setting.
The program's success has led other units at the hospital and at Quentin Mease to implement the program. Ian Todd, manager, Volunteer Services, Quentin Mease and Ambulatory Care Services, says volunteers engage with patients in a new meaningful way. After beginning at Ben Taub, Ian says the implementation process at Quentin Mease went smoothly.
"The leadership at Quentin Mease saw the potential of the program and through collaboration with the Volunteer Services Department and several student organizations at the University of Houston, we soon filled all positions," Todd says. "Our volunteers motivated and assisted some patients from eating only 15-20 percent of their daily meals to finishing 70-90 percent."