Healthcare News & Insights

Health initiative: Hospitals are practicing what they preach

181469795A hospital’s environment should be one of positive energy and healing. So why do they offer unhealthy food, use toxic chemicals and suck up huge amounts of energy? 

This is a debate that’s become more heated in the past few years. And it’s an argument that’s grown beyond food offerings.

Taking action

That’s why kudos should be given to Boston-area hospitals that are making widespread changes to help promote healthier lifestyles for patients, visitors and staff. Not only are they offering more nutritious food and beverage choices, but they’re also making their facilities less toxic to the environment.

Since its launch in 2012, more than 40 hospitals in Massachusetts, as well as 10 in the Partners HealthCare system, and 900 facilities nationwide have joined the healthier hospitals initiative. Some examples of how these facilities have embraced a healthier way of living include:

  • replacing sugary sodas and candy with healthier options, and buying more local produce and growing their own in roof top gardens
  • cutting down on the use of harsh cleaning agents in favor of more environmentally friendly products
  • increasing recycling efforts, which includes phasing out the use of disposable surgical tool for reusable instruments, and
  • replacing outdated heating and cooling systems with energy-efficient ones.

“Each hospital is moving at its own speed, but all are moving in the right direction,” John Messervy, director of capital and facilities planning for Partners HealthCare, which is a sponsor of the initiative, told The Boston Globe.

Real-life examples

How hospitals embrace the initiative is, for the most part, up to them.

For example, Boston Medical Center is concentrating its efforts on reducing red meat consumption among everyone – patients, visitors and staff. They hold a weekly farmers market in the facility’s lobby, and they’re upgrading their menus to offer more nutritious meals throughout the year.

On the hand, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital went all out. The facility moved into a new environmentally friendly facility in Charlestown last April. Some of its environmental friendly design features include:

  • a roof partially covered with vegetation to reduce storm water runoff and provide extra insulation, and
  • raised floors and landscaped lawns to protect the facility from rising sea levels and storm surges.

In addition, you won’t find any fried foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, white bread or Dunkin’ Donuts at Spaulding any more. Instead of sodas, Spaulding’s vending machines now have bottled water, diet beverages, baked chips and sweets with less sugar.

Sure there’s been resistance, but it seems to be more from staff than from patients.

Last year, four Partners hospitals decided to switch from disposable sharps containers to reusable ones in patient rooms and that alone saved 112,080 pounds of plastic from ending up in landfills every year.

One of those facilities was Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which also has embraced the use of greener cleaning products and eco-safe paint – it has no volatile organic compounds. The facility also switched to LED lighting, which reduced the facility’s electricity use by 2%.

Quantifying results

While many of the changes facilities are making cost money in the beginning, they save money in the end. But just how much money have they saved and how are they affecting patients?

Massachusetts General Hospital has started to figure it out. Four years ago it created a traffic-light labeling system for its cafeteria. Foods were labeled green, yellow or red depending on their nutritional value. What researchers found was that 33% of cafeteria customers said they looked at nutrition information before making a purchase, whereas only 15% looked at the info before the labeling was added.

The study on the labeling system, which was published last October in the Journal of Preventive Medicine, also found that 61% of customers reported that health and nutrition played an important role in their decision on what to order. Previously, only 46% thought about it.

The facility has also seen an increase in its water and juice sales, but noted that it isn’t ready to pull soda off the shelves.

Some facilities like Beverly Hospital experienced a big loss (40%) in profits when it removed candy bars, potato chips and soda from its vending machines in 2012 and switched to healthier options. But the hospitals executive supported the move. “It’s a conflict of interest for us to profit from poor eating habits like selling a bottle of Coke or fried chips,” Lynn Larsen, clinical nutrition manager at Beverly, told The Boston Globe.

While that’s a significant loss, hospital executives and administrators see it as a means to an end – healthier employees, visitors and patients, which is a huge costs savings in the not-to-distant future.






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