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In the face of COVID, 3 dietitians find themselves working with food in a different way.

Their usual duties revolve around food — educating patients about good diet choices, screening people for malnutrition and even ordering tube feeding when needed.

Now, as our communities battle COVID-19, Geisinger dietitians Emily Newhard, RDN, Trish Yacovoni, RDN, and Alyssa Thomas, RDN, find themselves working with food in a different way.

All have been reassigned to the heart of Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center: the kitchen.

From the clinics to the kitchen

Along with five other dietitians who are reassigned systemwide, Ms. Newhard, Ms. Yacovoni and Ms. Thomas are temporarily working in Foodservice, cooking, checking tray lines and, in Ms. Thomas’s case, learning to open the kitchen for the day.

“When I learned I was being reassigned, I was definitely nervous about the unknown,” Ms. Thomas admits. “When I found out I was going to Foodservice, I was relieved. Prior to becoming a dietitian, I used to work as a Foodservice patient liaison, so I was happy to already be familiar with the department and the great staff there.”

Ms. Newhard, whose usual duties include running two of Geisinger’s outpatient programs — the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine cardiac rehabilitation program and Culinary Medicine — is cooking for patients, staff and visitors at Geisinger Wyoming Valley.

“I do lots of prep work and create recipes on a large scale,” she says, adding that she was anxious and even suffered “some sense of loss” when she learned about her temporary reassignment. “But I was also relieved and grateful to have work. And I have to say it’s exceeded my expectations in terms of how independent they let me be and the tasks I’ve been able to assume. The staff are all genuinely kind and helpful, and the days go quickly.”


Hospitality services: The heartbeat of the health system

After working as an RDN for 35 years, Ms. Yacovoni was also “unsettled” by the prospect of taking on a new role. However, she’d also worked closely with Foodservice and knew she was joining an outstanding crew. “I’ve never experienced such dedication to patient care as I have with this group of employees, from the Foodservice manager to the supervisors, cooks and hostesses,” she notes.

Ms. Newhard agrees.

“Hospitality services are the heartbeat of our system in so many ways,” she says. “I feel at times they’re not recognized as much as is deserved. Cooks, dishwashers, receivers, patient ambassadors, supervisors, hosts, caterers, bakers… They’re all essential employees.”

She adds, “The food you see in the retail area or on your patient tray is the product of tens or even hundreds of dedicated employees and countless hours. These women and men show up faithfully every day to do jobs you might not even know exist, but are crucial. Please remember to show them gratitude in times like now.”

Emily Newhard
Trish Yacavoni, RDN
Trish Yacavoni
Emily Newhard, RDN
Alyssa Thomas
Alyssa Thomas, RDN

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