There is an ongoing joke that hospital food is notoriously bad. However, this is no joke. It has become well established in progressive health circles that the mantra “food is medicine” is not just a hippie cry any longer. Many foods are strongly pro-inflammatory and they inhibit healing, and the wrong distribution of fatty acids and sugar can result in an imbalance of good and bad bowel bacteria. The bowel is responsible for managing two-thirds of the body’s inflammatory response so if you have come out of surgery and you’re being poorly fed, statistics show you actually remain in hospital longer, and there are more complications. Considering many seniors who are admitted to hospital are already malnourished, providing them with high sugar processed food only leads to less desirable outcomes.
Even with poor reports, the powers that be have avoided dealing with this front-line health issue. The New Brunswick Health Council and Horizon Health have routinely shown patient satisfaction with food sitting around 25 percent, however, the health minister has routinely said it was a non-starter. I have pressed this issue for three years, typically to be met by refrains of “we aren’t running a restaurant Dr. Klein.” This shows a complete lack of understanding of health issues by those in government. Subsequently, administrators were effectively handcuffed on the matter.
We undertook an independent nutritional analysis of the food of a typical senior who was living in a hospital awaiting a nursing home bed. Due to the processed nature of the meals, we calculated that these live-in seniors were being fed the equivalent of three cans of coke a day worth of sugar, 250 percent more than the recommended daily intake advised by the world health organization. The meals were also devoid of any fresh fruit and vegetables. It is just plain wrong.
I want to thank Clayton Holteen, an undergrad in dietetics at MSVU, and Cassandra Murphy, one of our former staff kinesiologists, who were instrumental in this thorough analysis.
Luckily, once the Department of Health announced that food delivery was going to be changed, it provided staff the opportunity to take a closer look at how we can realistically improve in this area. Many actually relished this chance to “just do things better.” So instead of focusing on potential workforce adjustments, we should be excited for the opportunities to provide proper meals to our seniors, especially those who may live in a hospital setting for up to a full year.
Sodexo is an organization that specializes in many aspects of patient care and comfort including food delivery. Many hospitals have switched to this form of food service management. Typically, these organizations see an average of anywhere between 40 to 75 percent improvement in patient satisfaction scores. Food wastage decreases, and with healthier, more nutritionally balanced meals, length of hospital stays go down.
No one revels in seeing any individual lose their job. However, this is not some kind of evil either. The employees will remain unionized Horizon or Vitalite employees. It is only the management and procurement structure that will change. People have an opportunity here to demand greatness for their families. Sodexo is beholden to meet many benchmarks and if they do not there are established penalties, and the Department of Health has the opportunity to opt out of the contract. The public should make two demands; make these benchmark reports open to scrutiny, and require a certain percentage of locally obtained goods (especially vegetables). We should aim for nothing short of excellence. Remember, this isn’t about budgets, this is about people.
Dr. Erik Klein is a health policy expert, published author, and practicing Chiropractor in Saint John and Hampton. Dr. Erik is the CEO of The Town Chiropractor with clinics across New Brunswick and a former member of the Horizon Health hospital board. He can be reached at 652-5222 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information please go to www.townhealthsolutions.com or search for us on Facebook.