Five Questions for: Patti Oliver

FoodService Director - Five Questions for Patti OliverPatti Oliver, director of nutrition services, and her staff at 525-bed Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, know just how important it is for patients to learn how to eat right. The department offers special diets, but Oliver knows educating patients to eat right once they leave the hospital is equally important. That's why the staff is creating a cookbook for patients to help them continue using the therapeutic power of food. 


How many different special diet menus do you have for patients and what are they?

We have 13 different menus, but some of those are not necessarily special diets because they include regular and pediatric. Some examples are regular pediatrics, carbohydrate controlled, low sodium, low potassium, low bacteria, pureed and mechanical/soft.  There are between 25 and 30 approved diets at UCLA. Because our patients are so sick here, it’s not uncommon to have a patient on a combination of four diets. For example, a patient can be carbohydrate controlled, low sodium, low potassium and fluid restricted.

What kind of education do you do with patients regarding their doctor-prescribed special diet?

Any patient who is on a therapeutic diet gets a diet instruction from either a diet technician or a registered dietitian. So someone will go into the patient’s room and say, “This is what you’re allowed to have on your diet and this is what’s not allowed.” Any patient who is on certain medication might have a drug-nutrient interaction gets a special education on the way that the drug may interact with food.

What kind of education do you give patients regarding maintaining special diet specifications after they leave the hospital?

We give them educational materials, which they can use when they are eating at home. One thing we are doing right now is writing a cookbook. It’s actually kind of a cookbook/healthy-eating book. We are trying to make it very specific for the types of patients that we would have here at the hospital. It will include recipes that could be used once a patient gets home. Some of the recipes are ones that we are currently using. We have a different chapter with disease-specific recipes. We are also coding the recipes with icons so that they show if they are approved for [patients like] diabetics or cardiac patients. We hope to have that done within the next year and we will give them to patients once they leave.

How do you address special diet requests from customers in your retail operations?

People want to know the nutritional facts. We have our wellness program, so we have a green apple on items that are heart healthy. We are working to get more and more nutritional analysis [posted]. Our next goal is to have it up on our Web site so people can look up the nutritional data on every item. The problem with posting all this is that it takes up a lot of space. At the deli we have a binder out with all of the information for the items that people could put on their sandwiches.

What are the most commonly requested special diets in retail?

We haven’t really had too much of this, other than vegetarian. We always have vegetarian entrées and vegetarian soups and, of course, the salad bar.