CLARION – This past Monday, Butler Health System Clarion Hospital received a bronze-level recognition for achieving food, beverage and procurement standards throughout the hospital’s food management system.
“BHS Food Institute is being recognized by the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) and the Good Food, Healthy Hospitals (GFHH) initiative in their annual achievement report for innovation,” a press release issued Oct. 11 by Clarion Hospital states about the award. “The bronze level of recognition represents achievement in implementing two of the five GFHH standards — Food and Beverages Served in Patient Meals and Cafeteria.”
According to the release, in October, GFHH began the fourth year of a five-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expand the impact of GFHH. The program includes 37 Pennsylvania hospitals, dedicated to offering nutritious, locally sourced foods in vending machines, patient meals and cafeterias. It also covers catering and purchased food.
“Butler Health System is the first health system in western Pennsylvania to participate in the GFHH program that helps hospitals provide healthy food options and nutritional education to their employees, visitors and patients,” the release states of the hospital’s nearly one year participation in the program. “In return, this leads to healthier lifestyle choices that help combat high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.”
The staff pointed out that while there is no cost to the hospital to participate in the program, they have been facing some interesting changes and unexpected challenges.
Dave Wasilowski, director of food service at Clarion Hospital, said that the biggest challenge from the very beginning was to look at what was being purchased.
“I bought low sodium products, healthier products, a lot of baked chips instead of the regular chips,” he said, noting that a big challenge is finding those products at a reasonable price.
“I used to use 80/20 ground beef, but now I purchased a 90/10, so [it’s] a lot more lean, [and] all my deli meats are all considered low sodium,” he said. “I still offer bacon, but I also have turkey bacon and turkey sausage.”
Wasilowski said that there is a concerted effort to reduce sodium levels.
“With our soups today, I took the sodium levels down from 900 to 140,” he said. “I give people the choice. If you want to eat healthy, it’s here and tastes great. It’s your choice whether to pick up that salt shaker.”
He also pointed out that another major challenge has been dealing with the various shortages created by the pandemic.
“The pandemic really cut our volumes in the cafeteria [and] it reduced our volume staff a lot, by over 50 percent,” he said, noting further that the greatest challenge is the supply chain shortage.
“The supply change has really started to take effect on us,” he said. “We don’t know what we are or aren’t going to get when we place our orders every day.”
Wasilowski went on to explain that there are also challenges with buying locally from area farmers. These challenges include supply and delivery.
“We [also] have to make sure that the local suppliers carry the right amount of [liability] insurance in case something happens,” he said. “It’s just a liability to cover the hospital’s best interests.”
Healthy Food in Healthcare Specialist Shelley Chamberlain added that a major change was in where things were positioned in the cafeteria relative to consumers.
“We look at what you’re purchasing, how you position, how you promote and some pricing to engage the customer in purchasing the healthier items,” she said. “For instance, the waters are at eye level, and then there are drinks that don’t have added sugar, then you go down until you get to the regular sodas.”
Wasilowski said that what he likes about the GFHH program is that it has geared Clarion Hospital toward healthier eating habits.
“It doesn’t scare the public into thinking that healthy food doesn’t taste good,” he said, noting that Chamberlain and the GFHH program have provided the hospital with helpful tools to make the change easier.
“It’s really just about changing the perception [of healthy eating],” Chamberlain added.
The BHS Food Institute specializes in healthy eating, meal planning, nutritional education, and food preparation on a budget. To learn more about the food institute, visit www.butlerhealthsystem.org/Services/BHS-Food-Institute.aspx.