CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Most people wouldn't think of hospital food as tasty. Charleston Area Medical Center wants to change that with its "great-living menu" healthy food options.
Working with the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, CAMC is offering patients and workers healthier eating options. Using local produce, the hospital aims to reduce sodium- and fat-laden foods with savory substitutes, and stimulate the local economy.
"When you look at the health risks of our patient population and what we need to do for our patients, there's a lot of motivation to make foods healthier," said Brenda Grant, CAMC's chief strategy officer. "A lot of our patient population is cardiac, and when anyone comes in with a cardiac condition, the first thing they do is put them on a low-fat, no-sodium or low-sodium diet."
Expanding the hospital's great-living menu through a food "value-chain" system developed from a meeting between the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Meeting participants focused on ways to energize rural Appalachian economies. The idea was to create local wealth from already existing entities.
According to Grant and Becky Ceperley, who is president of the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, CAMC will be one of the first hospitals in the nation to implement a value-chain food system incorporating local growers and a hospital system.
"It's wonderful to think that we could do it right here in Charleston," said Ceperley. "To think that we are leading the nation in some innovative ways to enhance communities is phenomenal."
The project has gained momentum from last October, Ceperley added. Since approaching CAMC to participate, hospital officials, local growers, Foundation members and West Virginia Department of Agricultural officials have held several meetings.
"It creates local jobs. It keeps the money here, rather than going online and ordering from California," Ceperley said. "Not only is there demand for this product from CAMC but there could be demand from other states."
The hospital started by replacing salts for flavoring with herbs. That's change some of the food-making processes, Grant said. Some foods that were prepared the same day they were served now need to be prepared a day in advance.
"We want [healthier food options] as part of our whole package addressing patients' needs," Grant said. "When you are healing, eating is important. So we want to make sure the meals have good taste and good quality."
Already, CAMC has reduced sodium levels by 40 percent and fat levels by 35 percent, said Mike Marrara, head of food and nutrition at CAMC. The hospital started by adding herbs, instead of salt, for flavoring.
"It's a lot of the comfort food people eat, just made healthier," Marrara said. "We're trying to change the way people think about healthy options and make them readily available."
The biggest challenge has been finding growers certified to sell to hospitals. The hospital may purchase produce only from USDA-GAP-certified growers.
Jean Smith, director of marketing and development for the Department of Agricultural, said the GAP-certification process ensures safe handling of produce.
The one-day course covers everything from potential water-source threats. like microbiological hazards. to how to handle and store produce. Smith said the program is relatively new to West Virginia.
"It's exactly what needs to happen," Smith said of the program. "This is just another way for the Department of Agriculture to ensure our food supply is safe."
The department uses farm-bill funds to reduce the course's cost for interested West Virginians.
Additionally, once growers are USDA-GAP certified, they would be able to sell their product outside West Virginia, creating new business opportunities.
"It's just the right thing for our local economy and our patients to try and get the most nutritious food as possible," Marrara said.
Reach Caitlin Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5113.