Iris Chen, a project planner with UHN's FM-PRO Department, stands outside the kitchen at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre where she received training for possible redeployment as a nutrition aide. (Photo: UHN)

With the Omicron Wave receding and March 11 marking the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, UHN News is asking TeamUHN members how they're doing, what they've learned, how they're coping and what the future looks like.

When Nutrition Services – the team who prepares meals for UHN patients – experienced extreme staff shortages during the Omicron Wave, project planner Iris Chen stepped in to help.

In early January, more than 1,000 members of TeamUHN were off work after contracting COVID-19, or in isolation due to exposure. Nutrition Services, part of the Facilities Management – Planning, Redevelopment & Operations (FM-PRO) Department, was one of many teams struggling with this.

Iris, a member of the Planning & Integration team within FM-PRO, was one of several staff who volunteered for on-the-job training in case redeployment was needed.

She spent a full day in Nutrition Services at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre learning how to prepare lunch bags, double and triple check meal carts to ensure the right meal was getting to the right patient, deliver meals to units and patients, as well as collect trays after meal times.

Pulse of UHN 

"Our first day we were pushing around these giant pods," says Iris, describing the large carts nutrition aides use to deliver patient meals around the hospital. "It was pretty exhausting – but we definitely got our steps in!"

It's not just physical work, though. Nutrition aides have to be incredibly detail oriented and thorough to ensure every patient gets the appropriate meal.

When delivering meals, the nutrition aide asks the patient to state their name, cross checks it with the tray ticket (an information sheet attached to each meal), then matches the Medical Record Number (MRN) on the patient's ID band to the MRN associated with the tray ticket. They also ensure meal items are provided as listed on the tray ticket and according to the patient's diet order.

"You have to triple check everything when it comes to patient food," says Iris. "It takes a lot of effort."

For Iris, it was a great opportunity to take a break from her everyday job – like assisting with planning for the expansion of the Ajmera Transplant Centre – to experience another side of UHN.

"You hear about how strained our healthcare system is in the news – you see mainly the clinical side, but you don't see the non-clinical side," says Iris. "You don't see all the preparation and coordination – these roles really help keep the hospital running.

"Our nutrition aides do so much to keep the patients safe – I just respect everything they do."

While Iris didn't end up getting redeployed, she remains "on call" if needed.

"I'm happy to help whenever," she says.

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