Nutrition deficiency contributes to many serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, and certain cancers. Studies also show correlation to increasingly high health care costs and reduced productivity and chronic absence from work.
Many of the low-income populations served by essential hospitals do not have access to nutritious food, cannot afford it, or are not aware of the crucial role it plays in their health. Members of America’s Essential Hospitals are taking a holistic approach to addressing this health care crisis.
Many member hospitals have tackled this in phases, starting with changes that are easiest to integrate at their hospitals. The elements of these phases are interchangeable and can be applied in different orders to best suit the circumstances at any essential hospital.
Phase One: Education
Offer classes on nutrition and other wellness instruction
- Cook County Health & Hospitals System created The Lifestyle Center (TLC’s) at its Fantus Health Center in urban Chicago to teach patients about nutrition and other elements of a healthy lifestyle, including exercise and smoking cessation. Evidence-based interventions, group learning, and individual counseling are among the tools used to teach patients about food label reading, portion size, meal planning, and choosing and preparing food. Lessons are hands-on and take place in TLC’s grocery store area, classroom, and virtual kitchen and dining out area. Registered dietitians are on hand to help with nutrition education. Staff report treating thousands of patients in the past eight years, demonstrating positive results with weight loss and management of health conditions.
List nutritional values for all food sold in the cafeteria
- Eskenazi Health, formerly Wishard Health Services, in Indianapolis started with this step and paired it with nutritional classes as reinforcement.
Offer consumer-focused wellness content online
- Broward Health in Florida has won multiple awards for its website, which taps Baldwin Publishing’s Health eCooking to offer healthy food recipes, as well as how-to videos with professional chefs. All recipes provide nutrition information and are categorized by dietary need, so users with conditions such as diabetes or celiac disease can search for dishes that fit their restrictions.
Phase Two: Access
Incorporate more healthy food options into hospital menus
Set up a farmers’ market on site
- Prior to opening the new Eskenazi Hospital, the then-called Wishard invited local farmers to come and sell fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as plants, in its courtyard. Leadership encourages staff to get outside and spend breaks digging in the garden.
- Wishard then incorporated many of the items for sale into the cafeteria’s menu. According to Chief Executive Officer and Medical Director Lisa Harris, MD, the initiative is “a direct extension of our commitment to the health of our employees, as well as our commitment to our community.”
Phase Three: Expansion
Partner with others locally
- Slow food is based on the idea that good, clean, and fair food should be accessible to everyone. In 2011, Eskenazi partnered with Growing Places Indy to support what was then called the Wishard Slow Food Garden. The 6,000-square-foot urban garden is used not only to produce fresh, healthy food items for sale through local farmers’ markets and eateries, but also to engage community members in learning about gardening and healthy food. Along with this initiative came new partnerships with the Marion County Public Health Department, Indy Winter Farmers Market, and Big City Farms, all of which will serve to provide health-related education, support, and access for urban gardeners and community residents.
Expand in green ways
- Eskenazi also incorporated a green roof complete with an organic garden for the new hospital building. Operated by Growing Places Indy, the 5,000-square-foot sky farm will provide additional healthy food options for patients, visitors, and staff. In addition, the plant life and white roof will lessen the solar heat impact, make for a more comfortable campus, and contribute to the building’s overall energy savings, estimated to be about 45 percent.
The goal for all of these steps is to support a healthier community that promotes a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable environment in which to live. Has your hospital incorporated these or other initiatives?