Hungry for change? Start with an opportunity for progress, stir in expertise from your local university, season with determination — and voila! You’ve got a delicious recipe for lasting improvement that’s guaranteed to satisfy.
Bellin Health’s Tia DeLeers isn’t a chef, but earlier this year she cooked up a nutrition services redesign for Bellin Health Oconto Hospital (BHOH) that hit the spot for patients and care teams alike. The UW-Green Bay Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Leadership and Management program student took on the overhaul as her capstone project, meeting her requirements for graduation while meeting some very real needs for Bellin’s patients in the north.
“I knew there was a tremendous opportunity to make a difference in the quality of food we were serving our patients, even as I knew that doing so would be a huge undertaking,” DeLeers said. “This was definitely a step outside my comfort zone, but I learned so much and I am so pleased with the results.”
An Appetite for Something New
The redesign opportunity arose when the hospital parted ways with its previous food vendor, leaving a gap and a potential quality improvement project that turned out to be perfect for DeLeers, who works full time as Team Leader of Bellin Health Ear, Nose and Throat. Due to the size of the 10-bed rural hospital, BHOH contracts with local vendors to bring food in, rather than preparing it in-house. On a given day, an average of five inpatients eat their three meals, plus snacks, at the hospital.
With the opportunity to choose a new vendor came the chance to take a close look at the meals and snacks the patients were receiving, including carb counts, portion size, dietary needs for specific patients and more. DeLeers worked closely with Bellin dietitian Regina Young and her UW-Green Bay professors and undergraduate dietary student colleagues to evaluate dozens of food trays from the previous and new vendor, along with spearheading the vendor interview process, to ensure a good match between the new food vendor and Bellin. After months of work, BHOH finalized signed the contract with its new vendor, River City Diner and Smokehouse, in March 2021.
Since the change, the BHOH team has received ample positive feedback from patients. Nurses are able to spend their time focused exclusively on healthcare needs for their patients instead of fielding concerns about their meals, as was sometimes the case previously.
“Tia successfully identified and expertly mixed the necessary ‘ingredients’ for ongoing quality improvement in healthcare: problem identification; research and reading the nursing literature; application of evidence; completion and ongoing evaluation of data and outcomes,” said UW-Green Bay Associate Professor Janet Reilly, Chair of MSN Leadership and Management. “Nursing leaders and managers like Tia will improve the health and satisfaction of patients and staff, with awareness to keep healthcare costs low. While the UW Green Bay MSN program teaches these skills in transformational leadership, the frosting on the cake was Tia’s never-ending positive attitude and infectious smile.”
Working with a Full Plate
The journey to her capstone project was a long one for DeLeers, a mom of two school-aged kids who has long held full-time leadership roles within Bellin Health. She’d considered about getting her master’s degree for about a decade before embarking on the process, DeLeers said, bolstered by Bellin’s culture of professional development — and motivated by the memory of her late mother, who passed away in 2014.
“I knew I needed to do this,” DeLeers said. “And while it was a long four years, it was so worth it – from my first class to the completion of this impactful project.”
DeLeers’ UW-Green Bay nursing professors and advisors worked with her to make juggling kids, career and school manageable.
“The team at UW-Green Bay was amazing,” she said. “They were incredibly supportive knowing many of us were working moms and dads who had a lot on our plate. I’m so thankful for the outstanding professors and instructors who helped make this a reality.”
A Delicious Conclusion
DeLeers has worked for Bellin since 2001, but the nutrition services redesign project helped her get to know the health system in an entirely new way. She worked closely with BHOH Vice President Julie Bieber to learn all she could about Bellin’s northern region, an area with unique opportunities and challenges that the Green Bay-based DeLeers previously didn’t know much about.
“Tia brought incredible enthusiasm and insight into this project, and the result has been improved satisfaction for our patients, as well as the care teams who work with them,” Bieber said. “She has worked so hard, juggling so many competing priorities, and she deserves a ton of credit for making this happen.”
DeLeers isn’t particularly concerned about credit — but she is looking forward to a bit of a break now that she has earned her degree.
“I told my husband and kids we’d take a week of vacation up north once I was done with school,” she said with a smile. “No work, no homework — just us and some time to relax and celebrate.”
Now that’s a recipe for success.
Story by Kelly McBride Moore, Communications Specialist, Market Development
Photos by Dan Moore, Photographer