How Nutrition Can Help COVID-19 Patients Heal

Proper nutrition is a huge part of recovery from any illness—and COVID-19 is no exception. Memorial Health System dietitians and Foods and Nutrition staff work together to ensure patients hospitalized with the virus get the nourishment they need to heal more quickly.

“With even a mild case of COVID-19, patients can be at risk for malnutrition and muscle loss,” said Emily Bailey, director of Foods and Nutrition at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield. “Our clinical nutrition team is constantly monitoring the latest research and collaborating with their colleagues across the country to learn more about how best to care for these patients.”

Nutritional challenges can make recovery difficult for some COVID-19 patients. Many patients—both those in the hospital and those recovering at home—experience reduced mobility and a decrease in appetite. Hospitalized patients who require mechanical ventilation often have increased muscle loss, which can cause dangerous complications and a longer hospital stay.

To combat these challenges, Memorial Health System dietitians are working to identify patients at risk of malnutrition before the problem becomes more serious. They perform physical exams focused specifically on nutrition issues and analyze data collected by the patient’s care team to determine how best to provide the nutrients they need.

At the same time, safety is a top priority for all MHS Food and Nutrition staff, who are taking steps to prevent the spread of infection. All COVID-19-positive patients and patients awaiting test results are served food in disposable containers, delivered by members of their nursing team.

“Typically, our Foods and Nutrition colleagues deliver meals directly to patient rooms,” said Matt Oberheim, director of Hospitality Services at Decatur Memorial Hospital. “But for COVID-19 patients, we drop the meals off on the nursing unit so that the nurses can deliver them safely. This not only reduces the number of people who come into contact with the patients, but also allows us to conserve much-needed personal protective equipment for other uses.”

Bailey said that she’s proud of how her team has worked together to help COVID-19 patients.

“This virus is very new, and there’s so much to learn,” she said. “But by continuing to identify the signs of malnutrition early and implementing the right interventions, we can make a big difference in these patients’ short- and long-term recovery.”

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