Newly-Appointed Food and Nutrition Director Looks to Improve Menu at PH Clearfield

Julie Daquilante, director of food and nutrition at Penn Highlands Clearfield, left, and Mary Ann Howe, sous chef at Penn Highlands Clearfield, show off a variety of foods that are now available to patients, family and staff. Since taking the position of director of food and nutrition in May, Daquilante has worked to improve the selection of food, the service and the kitchen facilities at the hospital. (Photo by Kimberly Finnigan)

CLEARFIELD – Hospital food may not be what a connoisseur considers “haute cuisine”; however, Penn Highlands Clearfield has a new director of food and nutrition who is working to change patient’s food for the better, one tray at a time.

Julie Daquilante came to Penn Highlands Clearfield from Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh in May of 2019. She said she had worked for 10 years for Morrison Health Care and heard about the opening from the former service line director.

“It was a complete change of life,” Daquilante said. She said she has always loved the Clearfield area and the “small-town lifestyle” was a welcome change from “city living.”

“It’s been a very good change,” Daquilante said. “They had just hired the new president when I came here. I knew there was going to be a lot of really positive changes. Rhonda (Halstead) has the energy and passion to make things happen. We’re blessed to have the leadership we have. It’s not something you find in a lot of places.”

Daquilante said soon after taking her new position, she began to improve the kitchen. “We had the oldest kitchen (facility) in Penn Highlands, so when they started the renovations (at Penn Highlands DuBois) I took some of that equipment and brought it here (to Clearfield).”

Daquilante said the kitchen and cafeteria area are scheduled to be part of major upgrades to the hospital, but she wanted to take advantage of the chance to improve facilities until the project gets started.

Another area Daquilante is working to improve are the menu options, not only for the patients, but for their family and for the hospital staff.

“We’ve been working on some new recipes and some additional healthy options,” Daquilante said. “I really want to give the patients food that tastes good, but also meets their dietary requirements.” She said she has been working to provide seasoning packets with the patient food trays to help add a little spice to their meals.

Daquilante said she makes rounds each day to speak to the patients and get their opinions of the meals, along with any suggestions to make things better.

“We added a turkey sandwich with gravy and mashed potatoes that the patients really love,” Daquilante said. “We’ve also upgraded the tray mats to keep the plates from sliding.”

For the cafeteria, Daquilante has worked hard to expand the menu options while keeping the prices reasonable.

“The biggest challenge is change,” Daquilante said. “Nobody likes change, but everything we’re doing is to make things better.” Daquilante said the hospital is offering a “killer” breakfast, that includes sausages, gravy, biscuits, ham and all the other breakfast favorites.

“I’d really like to get back to the old days,” Daquilante. “There was a time the food here was so good, people would come in off the street to eat. I would love to see that again.”

Daquilante said she has been working to provide food options 24-7, whether the cafeteria is staffed or not. She recently acquired a vending machine, that she keeps stocked daily with fresh food items, such as entrees, sandwiches, drinks and other items for families of patients. She has also developed a “take-out” menu for staff who may have had to work through the normal dining hours.

“It has items like fried chicken, burgers, pizza, but I can also make specific items if they let me know enough in advance,” she said.

Daquilante said her staff has been instrumental in helping to change the stigma surrounding hospital food.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the staff,” Daquilante said. “That’s one of the benefits of a small-town hospital. We have an open-door policy and you can really work one-on-one with the people and really get them to mesh together.”

She said she has a lot of big goals for her department.

“It’s all about the patients,” Daquilante said. “We have a whole different group of people working here and we’re hard on ourselves. We set goals and we push ourselves to make it happen. The leaders here truly care about making things better.”

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