Athena Celebrates Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day
March 8th recognizes Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day. Our Dietitians play a crucial role in improving the lives of our residents through nutrition. This day of recognition typically falls on the second Wednesday of March. Athena Health Care Systems is thankful for the work our dietitian teams do to assist in the recovery and healing process for our residents. We spoke with a few dietitians across our centers to highlight their roles and the difference they make daily.
Claudia Kastner, RD, CD-N, splits her time between two Bristol, Connecticut centers: Sheriden Woods Health Care Center and Countryside Manor of Bristol. Kastner is celebrating nine years of working with the company this year and is grateful to be in this role.
“I like the team approach and being part of these great teams and being respected by my peers. It all helps me be successful in my job,” she said. “I help give recommendations, so the resident is successful in the recovery process and nutrition is a very big part of that.”
In her role, she is in constant communication with the center’s Food Service Directors, Nursing Departments, and Therapy Departments. Each area has to deal with the residents’ eating habits, diet, modifications, special feeding equipment, and more.
“I just love collaboration,” she said.
Kastner, who attended University of St. Joseph’s, originally thought she would become a nurse. However, after taking a dietetics course, she enjoyed everything about it and quickly changed her studies.
“I love looking at labs and trying to figure out the puzzle of what is going on,” she said. “I love giving my recommendations and I feel valued and respected.”
One puzzle she always tries to figure out is how to get a resident’s appetite back.
“I love food and I think about it all the time. When I hear residents say ‘I don’t have an appetite,’ I can’t wrap my head around that. My goal is to get them back to enjoying food safely and having an appetite again,” Kastner said.
LeeAnn Connolly, RD, LDN, the Registered Dietitian at Southeast Rehabilitation & Skilled Care Center, shares a similar sentiment. She is also celebrating nine years with Athena Health Care Systems at the North Easton, Massachusetts center. She thought she would become a physical therapist, but like Kastner, took a nutrition and dietetics course and changed her whole path. She is a graduate of the University of Connecticut.
“I’ve always loved nutrition, and it is great to see someone laugh and be happy through food,” Connolly said.
A dietitian’s role at each center varies from day to day. They review new admissions, attend care plan meetings, assess weights, make recommendations, help during meal times to pass trays, and see residents’ eating habits. They also review menus with residents, work closely with the center’s Director of Dining Services and therapy teams to develop proper menu and diet selection for residents, and review adaptive eating equipment with therapy, if needed.
While the residents are in their care, Connolly said, “I want it to be as much like their home as possible.” She will work with them to develop food choices that are realistic to follow once the resident does discharge back home.
“I don’t want to ‘prescribe a diet’ for them, I want to work with them to help manage their diet at home,” she said.
An important message Connolly likes to pass to the residents at Southeast is “food is thy medicine” and giving the body the proper nutrition it needs will only help in the recovery process now and in the future.
Both Connolly and Kastner have worked in multiple settings relating to dietetics. However, they both find the long-term care setting much more fulfilling than working in a hospital or acute-care setting.
“Long-term care is very different compared to acute care,” said Kastner. “The hospital length of stay is so much shorter than long-term care. I never saw the outcomes of the patients in acute care. I like being in long-term care and to be able to see the long-term improvements in our patients, you don’t see that in the hospitals.”
The dietitians at our centers play an essential role in the healing of our residents. They work closely with their food service departments, nursing, and therapy teams to help care for the whole person and meet the nutritional needs of the residents in their recovery journey.