Debra Ryan, President of GNJSHFSA, New Milford NJ


When we last spoke to Debra Ryan it was concerning her position at Care One Woodcrest, a long-term care facility in New Milford, New Jersey.

Today we speak with her on the other hat she wears; her position as President of the Greater New Jersey Society for Healthcare Food Service Administrators. GNJSHFSA is the New Jersey chapter of the national level Association for Healthcare Foodservice (AHF). Here we cover Debra’s path to being President, the opportunities GNJSHFSA presents and their mission in the foodservice industry.

Debra, how did you first get involved with GNJSHFSA?

In 2008, I had joined Overlook Medical Center as an Assistant Director of Nutrition and my director at the time, Michael Atanasio, had been a longtime member of GNJSHFSA. At the time, I was initially resistant to becoming a member of the organization due to having so much on my plate, both personally and professionally. And I didn’t want to take on the commitment of joining if I could not give 110% of my time and energy. About two years later, I joined the organization and came to learn that it is an incredible networking opportunity and a chance to create great professional and personal connections. I am extremely grateful for Michael’s encouragement and mentorship as my past director and leader in this amazing Organization.

Who can become members of GNJSHFSA?

Our organization supports self operated healthcare foodservice operations.

Did GNJSHFSA and the AHF help you in your personal career?

Absolutely! By attending events and networking, I came to know many people in the industry. At the present, upper level food service management jobs are hard to come by but when I was job searching back in 2015, I was fortunate enough to land softly. Within a month’s timeframe, I started a new position as a Director of Nutrition for Care One, of which I am currently employed today. This is a prime example of our networking system put to use.

How did you wind up as the President?

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That same director from Overlook Medical Center encouraged me to run for the GNJSHFSA board, as he has been a part of it and the Organization for over 20 years. I decided do so and after not getting elected the first time around I ran again and was elected onto the board. I was humbled to be elected then and to this day still am. Within a couple of years I was elected as President Elect and then in 2016 took on the rein as President.

What do you think helped you get to that position and how has it gone so far?

I attended every board meeting, I participated in every conversation and I really felt like I went above and beyond to serve the organization. Now as President, the first five months have been incredible, we are doing two events a month and are working very passionately together to serve our member and vendor partner’s needs. I am eager to see what the second half of the year brings.

For a prospective member, what is the benefit of being a part of the state or national level association?

It is extremely important to be active at your state level along with the national level. Both provide you with tools and resources to use at your facility that no one else can offer. There is career advancement as well as opportunities to become part of committees that make important decisions that can positively affect operations throughout your state. If you’re passionate about nutrition, the culinary aspect or whatever it is, both Organizations will help to assist you in reaching your goals in whichever path you choose.

What are the core goals of GNJSHFSA?

It is all about providing networking opportunities and workshops to aid in enhancing one’s knowledge in the fields of nutrition, culinary arts and food service management. We strive to offer our members the best resources, networking system and tools to build their careers. We host webinars and in person seminars on different subjects that are beneficial to our members; whether you are a front line employee or a director.

For someone considering joining GNJSHFSA, what could you tell them?

Why not take advantage of an opportunity to better yourself and your career? You can get to know people in the industry. It is not just about advancing, it is about networking with others in the field who are just as passionate about what they do. There is no downside. Whether you are looking to advance your career as an employee or better your organization as a director, GNJSHFSA provides you with the resources to make it happen.

Anyone interested in becoming a member of GNJSHFSA can go to for more information.