“Our whole role as Dietitians is in getting our patients home and setting them up to succeed.” 

Meet Terry Petruska, Chief Clinical Dietitian at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital-Westborough. After 40 years as a Clinical Dietitian, Terry still loves what she does and is passionate about it – she says “it’s all about the joy and love of eating! The food we eat can impact our health and well-being. Food should be one of life’s great pleasures, with everything in moderation.”

Terry says: “Our patients are why we are here. No matter how you look at it, it’s about customer service. Customer service with our food and with our food service – to go above and beyond!” She says “nutrition is the key to recovery for every patient! I cannot stress enough the importance of nutrition in helping our patients participate in rehabilitation. Our job is to assist and educate them about nutrition, and help them with their food choices.”

As a dietitian, listening to the patient’s desires, and prescribing food for their specific nutritional needs, are both equally important. Terry has two favorite memories from her career: one is clinically related and the other is food service related. As a brand new 23 year old dietitian, Terry was asked to go to the ICU and educate a newly diagnosed diabetic about diet. He was angry about the diagnosis and threw a piece of angel food cake at Terry when she entered the room. Terry was upset but she said “that has stayed with me forever – I realized that when you are messing with people’s food, you are messing with their life. You can’t go in and think you know it all and just give lists – always offer options and work with the patient’s lifestyle as best you can.”

The other memory is indicative of the team approach at Whittier – where extra steps taken by the food service team make life better for patients and their families. Several years ago, Terry realized that their lead menu specialist was bringing hot coffee to a patient every morning at 6:30 am because her husband, during the pre-admission interview, mentioned the coffee as part of his wife’s morning routine at home. That menu specialist went out of her way to brighten the patient’s day by bringing some of the comforts of home to her, and did so on a daily basis without fanfare or recognition. Terry recalls that small act of kindness as just one of many other gestures that the Whittier team regularly extends to their patients.

Terry started her tenure at Whittier over 16 years ago. When she interviewed in 2004, her sister had been a Whittier employee for several years, and so Terry knew that, as a family run organization, there was “established trust’ within the company – where loyalty, dependability and a focus on treating employees like part of the family take priority. Terry’s mother was a resident at Hannah Duston for 16 years, and they were like a “second family’ until her mother’s passing.

At Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital Westborough, Terry is on patient units 3/4 of the day, with the other 1/4 of the day in the Dietary Department. She is part of the Dietary team, where every component matters – from menu specialists, to hospitality aides, to chefs. Most of the food is made from scratch, which is possible because our rehabilitation hospital is a relatively small operation as compared to larger facilities. Terry says: “We get so many compliments on our food – that is a Whittier trademark!”

“The role of the Registered Dietitian has transitioned over the past decade – the Dietitian is really part of the medical team. In addition to formulating special diets, we prescribe and calculate IV nutrition for people who cannot eat. That enteral nutrition can make the difference in turning around the recovery of a patient who cannot get nutrition into their bodies any other way.” In her position as Chief Clinical Dietitian, Terry said that she loves interviewing and hiring Per Diem Dietitians because that enables her to “find out what is going on out there, to keep up with new trends.”

The goal of Whittier is to keep patients alive, to treat them, and to get them stable. From there the goal is to get the patient up, and moving, and eventually to get them home. Terry Petruska says “I love the nutrition education aspect of my job. My role is to teach the patients and to give them guidelines about their diet to remove the stress associated with that. My goal is to do everything in my power to take the stress away so they will not be overwhelmed with their new diet(s). Just to see the relief on their face – we can do this! They tell me ‘you made me feel so much better!’ And I know I made a difference for them when they get home. You can’t ask for more than that!”

For referrals or more information about Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital Westborough’s services, visit their page on our website.
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