Q & A with NANA Employees

A Conversation with Melissa Chlupach, Regional Healthcare Dietitian for NMS

This is part of a series of interviews with NANA’s employees.

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Melissa Chlupach is the regional healthcare dietitian for NMS. She was named “Outstanding Dietitian for 2017” by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for the State of Alaska. This award, in part, recognized her efforts in bringing traditional foods to healthcare facilities throughout Alaska. 

 

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Willow, Alaska. (Willow is north of Anchorage, on the highway to Denali National Park. With access to trails, Willow is home to some serious dog mushers.)

Tell us about your family.

My maternal grandfather, Augie Hiebert, moved to Alaska in 1939. Every morning he switched on his shortwave radio. He heard about Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and alerted the military in Fairbanks. He was a pioneer broadcaster. He and his partner, “Cap” Lathrop, built the first radio station in Fairbanks (KFAR), and he and his company built the first TV station in Anchorage (KTVA). He brought the first live satellite broadcast to Alaska. It was the 1969 moon landing, reported by Walter Cronkite. (“The first tourists on the moon.”)

Lots of firsts.

My dad, Bob, is a retired fishery biologist and a dog musher. He ran the Iditarod (the 1,000-mile sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome), the Fur Rondy and North American (sprint races). He still enjoys mushing and keeps a dog team in Willow. My mom, Robin, is a retired seamstress. She designed and made expedition gear—parkas, mittens, fur hats, sled bags and sled dog gear (used by Iditarod champions).

What was your first job?       

My very first job was taking care of our husky pups. I made sure they were exercised daily and got them ready to join the team.

Pretty rough job. Puppies.

[laughing]

My first job as a dietician was for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) at the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center when it was in Fairview. (WIC provides nutrition and health education for pregnant women, infants and children.)

Where did you get your education?

I attended the University of Idaho. I received a Bachelor of Science degree (BS) in animal science with an emphasis on production, which is raising and managing animals for meat and dairy products. Then a BS in nutrition and dietetics, which is how food affects human health. I have a master’s degree in sport science and nutrition.

What is your current job?

I’m the regional healthcare dietitian for NANA Management Services (NMS). I’ve been with the company for 11 years, starting as the patient services manager for the Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC) food services contract.

Today, I support seven food service contracts. Most are in Alaska: Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), ANMC, Alaska Psychiatric Institute, and Marlow Manor Assisted Living in Anchorage; Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC)/ Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital (S’áxt’ Hít) in Sitka; Maniilaq Health Center and Maniilaq Long-Term Care (Utuqqanaat Inaat for Elders) in Kotzebue. In Arizona, we serve the San Carlos Apache Health Corporation.

What do you like best about your job?

Working with our managers and organizations, implementing traditional foods programs into healthcare, long-term care facilities, senior centers and schools. That’s my Zen.

Tell us about the traditional foods program.

Traditional food is more than a diet for Alaska Natives—it’s a way of life. It nourishes people both physically and spiritually, and provides healing comfort.

Traditional foods are very nutrient dense. Many are rich in protein, iron, and Vitamin A and are low in fat, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium.

How do you implement the program?

We integrate traditional foods—like reindeer, moose, wild Alaska salmon, and fiddlehead ferns—into the patient menu. Our chefs prepare comfort food that also meets nutritional guidelines. They use traditional recipes, but also put a new spin on traditional ingredients, with recipes like fiddlehead fern pizza and tundra meatloaf, made with moose and reindeer.

Who has inspired you?

The Alaska Native people I work with and serve. Dr. Ted Mala and Dr. Gary Ferguson. Dr. Mala, a NANA shareholder, is the retired director of traditional healing at the Southcentral Foundation. Dr. Ferguson is the CEO of RurAL CAP and was the senior director of community health services. Also, Amy Foote. She’s the area executive chef for NMS at the ANTHC Patient Housing and ANMC. And my daughter.

What important lessons have you learned?

Take it one day at a time. Sometimes I can’t get everything done in one day, and that’s okay.

Be patient. With my OCD and Type A personality, this is difficult for me, but having a child helps.

Having a work-life balance is a must. You’ll be more productive at work and happier at home.

Take care of yourself mentally and physically. How can we take care of others if we’re stressed-out and not operating at 100 percent? Self-care is important.

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Melissa Chlupach was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.