Banner Health dietitian balances multiple responsibilities during her 35 years of service; still going strong

 WHEATLAND – Platte County Memorial Hospital has been a steadfast presence in Wheatland for decades. Although the hospital was located in different buildings prior to the present-day site, the structure on 14th St. (while having undergone many changes in its own right), has been the hub of critical care access in the county and outlying rural area since 1955. 

Debbie Collins, MS, RD, LD, CDCES has been working at Platte County Memorial Hospital since 1988 as the registered dietitian; more precisely, was working at the hospital in Wheatland while simultaneously writing her thesis and earning her master’s degree at the University of Wyoming. “I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1986, and added the MA in 1988,” said Collins. “My undergrad degree was in dietetics, and the graduate degree was in Meat and Food Service & Human Nutrition. I worked a lot with the Game & Fish Department at that time.”

At the beginning of Collins’ tenure, the hospital featured an in-house long term care facility and nursing home, and Collins’ responsibilities were focused primarily there. “In those days I was responsible for the culinary team; overseeing the kitchen, hiring, developing menus, and maintaining nutrition guidelines set forth by state and federal agencies. It was challenging,” Collins explained. “Our role was to meet all the nutritional needs of our patients and residents.”

A turning point in the life of the hospital came when the kitchen was slated to be remodeled. This meant conducting food services, meal plans, cooking, and dishwashing off-site. “We had to move out and we were using the kitchen at the Big A restaurant. We rented that space for a summer while remodeling was taking place,” Collins recalled. “We transported meals to all of the residents and hospital patients from the Big A kitchen.” The commercial kitchen of course had to meet state approval to do so. “We did everything right and followed all of the state’s rules that summer and operated without adding more staff; we often staggered shifts but did it all with only three staff members per shift, including me.”

Collins’ career has encompassed many years as manager of the culinary department which has presented a variety of roles and responsibilities, however, she recently transitioned to a full-time Registered Dietician role, providing outpatient Nutrition Consultations for patients in Wheatland and Torrington. “I decided that I wanted to branch out and get certified as a Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, which I have done for about 10+ years,” Collins said. “A dietitian can always teach diabetes education because of the food part of diabetes, but I handle the entire spectrum of the disease which includes understanding the medication factor. Diabetes is so huge, and diet is a part of it, but there is so much to this disease and its processes in each patient can be so different.” Once the nursing home was no longer operating at the hospital, Collins managed the culinary department, but also started her Diabetic Education Certification.

Currently, she offers in- and out-patient consultations, visiting her Torrington patients twice per week. Out-patient consultations are initiated by a physician’s referral. As each patient’s needs and life circumstances vary widely, Collins is able to meet with these patients and organize educational materials, as well as individualized meal plans:  going so far as to photographing acceptable and unacceptable food items (according to patient needs) at the grocery store and cataloging them into a visual guide while also incorporating them into a packet of dietary DOs and DON’Ts and other educational materials for each patient. “Sometimes people need extra support,” said Collins. “Sometimes they need a review of their health plan, and sometimes they need extra motivation to get going. I’m not a therapist, but oftentimes I am offering a certain type of support during these sessions, whether it’s for a food addiction, or managing a disease process like diabetes. There can be a significant emotional factor around food.” Collins also sees bariatric patients and has access to bariatric equipment. 

Collins is in love with what she does and what she provides for her patients, but states that getting the certification in diabetes education was one of the toughest things she ever did. But well worth the effort. Even after 35 years the romance has not waned. Collins will continue well into the future providing patients in Platte County and beyond with new hope, new health, and even new habits. 

In October 2020, Wyoming Medical Center and Banner Health partnered, continuing Banner Health’s long legacy of commitment to Wyoming’s communities. Banner Health is one of the largest nonprofit healthcare systems in the country, with 30 hospitals and other facilities across six states.