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Food helps families in times of need

Published:  31 March 2021

When Stephanie Hutchen’s 16-month-old son Oliver was transferred from Ayr with respiratory issues, having a meal was the last thing on her mind; it wasn’t until staff asked if she’d eaten that she realised how hungry she was.

“I hadn’t eaten anything since 2pm and when we arrived in the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at midnight the staff told me about the frozen meals available to families; it was exactly what I needed,” Stephanie said.

Stephanie’s meal was part of the new Food for Families program, an initiative of the Townsville Community Partner Advisory Group (TCPAG) that takes excess meals from the Townsville University Hospital’s kitchen, freezes them, then distributes them for families of patients.

Stephanie said knowing frozen meals were available would help relieve some of the pressure of having an unwell child.

“Over the past 16 months we’ve had quite a few hospital stays and there have been times I haven’t been able to leave Oliver’s room because he’s had infectious respiratory illnesses,” she said.

“Knowing there’s food in a freezer just around the corner, so when he’s clingy or upset I can keep my own energy up, is really good.”

Person-centred care lead Jo Sherring said the community partners wanted to try and remove some of the stress from families when they had a loved one in hospital.

“While the hospital has a number of food outlets, there are many reasons they may not be able to be accessed; our community partners knew that and wanted to do something about it,” Jo said.

“Family of critically unwell patients may not be comfortable leaving the bedside, for parents with kids in hospital perhaps they aren’t always able to leave the ward area, or for some, it may just be a financial barrier; whatever the reason, the TCPAG wanted to remove some of the stress that inevitably comes with having a loved one in hospital.”

Jo said the Food for Families program was a joint effort, with kitchen, environmental health, nursing and social work staff all eager to help get the program off the ground.

“Our staff have a true commitment to person-centred care, and that care extends to doing whatever we can to help patients’ families during what can be an extremely distressing time,” Jo said.

“It was very gratifying seeing a consumer-led initiative being embraced and supported by our staff; our community partners are delighted by the difference it is making.”

PICU clinical nurse consultant Sam Tenison-Woods said the program was a great example of the hospital delivering person-centred care.

“Patients can arrive in PICU at any time of the day or night; parents are often feeling distressed and are reluctant to leave their child’s side, so having food available is one thing we can do to support families,” Sam said.

“I’m a big advocate of the program and I think it’s great to see it being rolled out to other areas of the hospital.”

A pilot of Food for Families has now finished in PICU, NICU and ICU. For more information on how you can access the initiative in your area, contact Jo Sherring.

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