For many hospital patients, food is one of the only things to look forward to during their stay amid all the nurses and doctors poking and prodding, according to one health care professional.
That’s why it’s important that the food is more than just a mass-produced, nutritionally questionable meal on a tray, said Mark Branovan, the director of hospitality services at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, Minn.
On Friday, Branovan shared his passion for quality food made with quality, locally grown ingredients and served in hospital cafeterias and patient rooms with a crowd of like-minded Montana food producers and health care professionals at the Healthy Farms, Healthy People conference at the National Center for Appropriate Technology. The conference was funded by a grant from the National Network of Public Health Institutes.
More and more frequently, hospitals focusing on improving patient meals are turning to local food co-ops and agriculturists for a hand. In Montana, several hospitals network with local agriculturists to put together healthful, personalized meals for patients on the mend.
Seth Bostick, the executive chef at Kalispell Regional Health Center, works for Thomas Cuisine Management, a food service company with the use of local, environmentally friendly ingredients as a cornerstone. Bostick said the company asked, and in Kalispell he’s changed the meal production model completely. Now, food is healthier and organic when possible, with no genetically modified grains and a revamped menu for patients.
Bostick said it’s more work than contracting with one food vendor. It takes more phone calls to coordinate orders when working with local co-ops and food producers, he said, but as long as you have a good cell phone connection, it’s as simple as organizing the orders.
Educating people about nutrition is a tough job, Bostick said during the panel discussion, but everyone at the conference chose the field they did because they love it.
“You’re up against a very tall mountain,” Bostick said. “That’s the mountain you signed up for.”
Ten years ago, Branovan said, the components of an average hospital lunch may have included a plain baked chicken breast, dehydrated mashed potatoes, frozen green beans, and gravy from a can. Today at St. Luke’s, however, patients can choose from the room-service menu items including grilled wild Alaskan salmon, local bison, strip steaks, and four or five different types of salads – and not one of them the typical bland iceberg lettuce kind. It is a more expensive service, he said, but the emphasis has shifted to good-tasting, healthier food. The focus is not on whether the hospital saves money or loses money, he said.
But Branovan said when organic bananas got to be pricier than the alternative, the hospital switched back rather than increasing the price of bananas for the customers.
“It’s not all or nothing, and it’s not all forever,” Branovan said.
The health care professionals had an opportunity to network with food producers like Wally Congdon, owner of Dell-based Big Sky Natural Beef, who spoke in the afternoon. He said the conference was a good way to see other people’s successes and failures, and help improve the lot of local food sources.
“If you want to fix problems, this is the way to do it,” Congdon said.
Congdon explained the complex relationships between many local food producers and other organizations, which is different than the relationships with non-local providers.
“This is rural Montana at its best,” Congdon said.
Reporter Piper Haugan: 496-5572, piper.haugan@ mtstandard.com or Twitter.com/Piper_Haugan.