Hospital Provides Patients With Organic Produce From its Own Farm
Ironically, hospital food has long been recognized as being some of the least healthy food and actually contributes to many of the ailments that people end up in the hospital for. One hospital has figured out the obvious and done something about it.
Lankenau Medical Center was doing a survey some five years ago to look at how best to care for its local clients. After learning it was situated next to the unhealthiest county in Pennsylvania, instead of planning to adjust staffing or treatment capabilities in the traditional way, it did something radical.
It built a half-acre organic farm on its property so it could provide fresh produce for its patients.
What brought the hospital to this point was a study of the latest findings of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation about health in various counties in Pennsylvania. The medical center itself is located in Montgomery County, one of the healthiest counties in the state. However, it also happens to be right next to Philadelphia County, a source of many of its patients and the least healthy of all the counties in Pennsylvania.
Philadelphia itself, with a population of over 1.5 million people, has the distinction of being one of the largest cities in the country and also one of its unhealthiest. A survey seven years ago showed obesity as a rampant problem in the area, with 32% of adults and 25% of children affected. The county had very high rates of cardiovascular disease and hypertension, and 13% of the city’s adult population had diabetes.
In looking at the problem, Lankenau Medical Center realized it could have gone the traditional way of helping out, by developing strong staffing and practices tied to obesity and its consequences. Instead, it made the decision to work on the prevention of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
That meant getting its patients to eat healthier as a major part of its “treatment” program. The best way, the center decided, was not to send patients to the supermarket but to help them find healthy food right at the hospital – at its own farm.
For the farm itself, the center called on Greener Partners, a non-profit focusing on local food solutions in the state, to create, build, operate and maintain what eventually became known as Deaver Wellness Farm. It went into operation in 2015.
Part of the solution was education about the value of healthy food as part of a healthy life regimen. The farm’s produce is used to help with that in several ways. One way is through educational demonstrations in the cafeteria. The hospital also sets up the equivalent of “pop-up stores” (at no cost to patients) located in the internal medicine areas, the OB-GYN practice facilities and hospital waiting rooms.
In each location, medical assistants bring in fresh food such as kale, broccoli, tomatoes, eggplant and more instead of the usual option of prescribing pills after examinations. Recipes are provided, as are food preparation demonstrations for all.
In the 3+ years since the program started, the hospital has provided over 4,000 pounds of organic food to its patients at no charge to them. It has also added classes to guide its patients on the whole concept of healthy eating.
To keep things moving in the right direction when patients are no longer in the hospital, the center also provides coupons called Philly Food Bucks for willing patients to use out in the community. The Philly Food Bucks are provided with the support of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and The Food Trust.
Up next for the Lankenau Medical Center is to survey patients to see how the farm – and the program as a whole – is making a difference for them in the long term. The center is also reaching out to donate some of its food to local food banks and other community partners who may help spread the word about the benefits of healthy food to others.
The North America Procurement Council will be actively seeking to provide AMERO grants for similar projects in other communities. To apply for an AMERO grant, please visit Amerogrants.com.