4 Strategies to Bring Population Health to Your Food and Nutrition Services Program

It is not enough to care for patients inside our establishments. We need to think bigger these days, for the good of the patient, the community and our organization. This is where population health comes in. It’s been a buzzword for a long time, but as an industry, we have an opportunity to bring this concept to life. Skilled nursing and long-term care facilities can learn from other sectors of the health care industry to fully integrate population health programs into their food and nutrition services.

Population health initiatives are an important factor in caring for an entire community, but they can also have a tangible impact on the finances of a long-term care or skilled nursing facility by controlling costs. , improving outcomes and increasing patient satisfaction scores. Here are four key points for success in integrating population health into food and nutrition services.

1. Invest in a sustainable supply chain.

Where our food comes from is important. It is important from the point of view of freshness and taste. It is important from a health point of view. And that’s certainly important from a sustainability perspective, which has recently come into focus during COVID when our supply chains have been strained.

Food travels an average of 2,500 km to get from the farm to your plate. This leaves a significant carbon footprint. In total, food production is responsible for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not sustainable.

We need to create a cleaner, greener supply chain. This journey begins with the sustainability of logistics, product sourcing and packaging. By buying locally, long-term care facilities can source produce picked and eaten at the peak of its ripeness, which means it is more nutrient dense and, therefore, more nutritious. This leads to a sustainable supply model as well as a successful business infrastructure in the community. In addition, diversifying suppliers by number of sources and social origins has proven to be an effective approach to promote sustainability.

A sustainable supply chain is more than just an environmental initiative or a way to promote goodwill in the community. It’s a smart business decision. It’s about taking care of the population as a whole and creating channels to get the essential resources you need to heal patients.

2. Rethink menus.

Creating healthier populations from a food and nutrition service perspective begins with our first point of contact: patient meals. We need to create healthy options that promote well-being. That means no antibiotics or growth hormones, while encouraging fresh produce and low-fat protein. All of this must be done while retaining delicious flavors. Creating menus can be the first step in a population health strategy.

One area where I see significant growth is in plant-based diets. Studies have shown the benefits of a diet high in plant-based foods, including lower abdominal fat, cholesterol, blood sugar and BMI, compared to study participants consuming a diet primarily of animal protein. . And 58% of consumers say they want to increase their consumption of vegetable proteins.

Rethinking our menus and taking special care in crafting fitness-focused dishes can lead to immediate and long-term improvements in patient well-being. It’s about showing them healthier options outside of their current diet. The patient dinner is the first opportunity to start this conversation.

3. Think beyond the four walls of your establishment.

We have the opportunity to impact community well-being long after a patient’s stay. It means thinking beyond the four walls of the facility and getting the facts about nutrition and its impact on community well-being. The first step is to change patient perceptions about healthy eating, which can have a ripple effect on other members of the household.

Trying to cook healthy foods can be daunting. Facilities have the opportunity to teach the community about the benefits of healthy eating and how to practice it. Setting up a teaching kitchen with your on-site dieticians or culinary staff can give home cooks confidence and enable them to live healthier lives. Some hospitals have embraced this in the digital space with instructional cooking videos that are featured on social media or local news.

Even armed with the right information, there are obstacles to a healthy lifestyle. Too often, underserved communities lack access to the nutritious foods that are essential for establishing long-term healthy habits. A programmatic approach to settlement can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to come entirely out of your already thin margins. For example, I’ve seen facilities invest in mobile grocery stores supported by grants and community fundraisers. These grocery stores on wheels bring fresh ingredients to areas that otherwise wouldn’t have access to them, helping to eliminate food deserts.

4. Create programs to reduce waste.

Food waste is everywhere in the United States, with approximately 40% of the food produced ultimately going to waste. Healthcare leaders are uniquely positioned to have a measurable impact on the industry and the community. Controlling food waste makes you a better steward of your resources and helps you run your business sustainably.

While we can’t completely eliminate food waste, we can minimize it and turn waste into community benefit. Many hospitals partner with local organizations to donate excess food. They have set up composting sites to make better use of existing waste and reuse it in gardens that supply products to patients. Also, being aware of the ingredients and how they are prepared has an impact on waste. I love seeing facilities take a “root to stem” strategy to use all of their ingredients instead of throwing away large portions of usable product.

New technological features can be used to help reduce waste. With improved analytics, we can better track and record food waste types, quantities, and end destinations (e.g. donation, composting, landfill). With this data, facilities receive valuable insights to create new strategies to tackle food waste at the source. Some have been able to reduce their food waste by up to 50% by using technology to make better, more informed decisions.

Food and nutrition services can bring a new, healthier perspective to the community because it takes more than just a clinical approach to care for a population. The Food Services team plays an important role in supporting and assisting long-term care facilities and skilled nursing facilities to establish and expand population health programs that have many long-lasting and far-reaching benefits. scale for patients and communities.

Lisa Roberson, RDN, LD, is National Director of Wellness and Sustainability at Morrison Healthcare. She is a Registered Dietitian with over 20 years of nutrition leadership experience.

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