Michigan Green Healthcare Conference focuses on food as an aspect of sustainability
Photo from the Michigan Green Healthcare Conference website
When I was kid, you had to eat the green Jello because the overcooked processed food in hospitals was so bad it could make feel you worse than you already did. And it was pretty common to see fast food outlets set up in hospitals.
Now that there's widespread acknowledgement of the harm and expense that comes from diet-related disease, many area hospitals are working toward healthier and more local food as part of a "triple aim" to "provide better patient care, improve population health, and reduce per capita cost."
The Michigan Green Healthcare Conference taking place in Detroit Sept. 11-12 will showcase examples of sustainable approaches that area hospitals are undertaking in food and other areas.
Hospitals are making changes because they are developing a "Triple Bottom Line" approach that takes into account more than just financial cost in their decision making process. They say they are considering the "social and environmental impact as well as financial performance — people, planet, and profit."
Many of the hospitals participating at the Green Healthcare Conference are working on a Healthy Food in Healthcare Program, part of a broad national Health Care Without Harm campaign. The Healthy Food in Healthcare program "works to expand the network ofÂ interested hospitalsÂ transitioning their current food procurement practices toward purchasing more sustainably-produced food for their patients and staff while also making the critical link between how food is grown and distributed and public and environmental health."
One of the most interesting approaches is the "Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge" that more than 40 organizations in Michigan have signed to send an "important signal to the marketplace and policy makers about their interest in local, nutritious, sustainable food, and more importantly, beginning to model healthy food practices in an ongoing stepwise fashion."
Some innovative examples of how organizations are carrying out their pledge include "prescription for health" in which clinicians write prescriptions for fresh fruits and vegetables which are redeemable at farmers markets. Nearby, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital has hired a farmer and built hoop houses to supply some of their food and offer rehabilitation and education. Other hospitals are having CSA farm shares delivered for their employees.
To see some of these ideas in action at the Michigan Green Healthcare Conference, participants can take part in sessions like the the "Food & Nutrition Tour: Connecting patients to sustainable food systems." The Community Health and Social Services Center in Detroit will "highlight their new food prescription program and environmental building features. This tour will also include a short presentation about sustainable food systems and share examples of other innovative healthcare programs."
Another session will focus on the role of food hubs in scaling up the availability of locally grown food to meet institutional demand. In "Purchasing Locally: Michigan Food Hubs and Beyond," speakers from Detroit's Eastern Market and area hospitals will define what food hubs are about and show how the relationship between food hubs and hospitals are "connecting the dots between supply and demand for local food in Michigan."
Hospitals are beginning to seek systemic solutions for the systemic challenges that current policies and chronic diet-related disease have created. Conference organizers write that "by adopting healthy food purchasing policies, health care organizations are demonstrating a commitment to "first, do no harm" and treating food and its production and distribution as preventive medicine that protects the health of patients, staff and communities."
A quote I saw recently said it even more succinctly: "Medicine is not healthcare. Medicine is sick care. Food is healthcare — let's all get that straight for a change."
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.