Top health bosses should eat hospital food, retired exec says

Burns Lake hospital aims to cook from scratch, official says

David Bowering’s breakfast offering when he was a patient at Mills Memorial Hospital last year. (David Bowering photo)

A retired senior Northern Health Authority official is convinced hospital food would be different if top managers ate the same food that’s served in their facilities.

“Rather than health system executives feeding themselves the best catered food available at their meetings while they talk about ‘quality patient-centred care,’ it should be a legal requirement that all of their snacks and catered lunches come directly from the local hospital exactly as it is fed to patients,” wrote former chief medical health officer David Bowering in a Facebook post in June.

His post was accompanied by a photo of a meal he had at Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace in 2018. Bowering worked for Northern Health in Prince George and later in Terrace.

He says reliance on what he termed “corporate food” continues to increase and that healthy, fresh food is increasingly “becoming a distant memory.”

“The better the hospital food gets, the better their own publicly-funded free lunches will taste. It’s called feedback,” Bowering says of what health executives could be eating.

Adding to his comments in a subsequent interview, Bowering says Northern Health, like other large organizations, is increasingly relying on large food-providing corporations because of cost.

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“What we’re seeing is more and more decisions being made by people who are more distant now from the consequences,” he said.

“They are also increasingly risk-averse,” he says of large organizations such as Northern Health preferring mass-produced processed-food.

Locally-sourced food through local growers and suppliers throughout the region, however, would add to food freshness, quality and healthier options, Bowering adds.

He does acknowledge the challenges of providing food through the wide variety of Northern Health’s facilities located across a large swath of the province.

However, he says it’s not impossible – on Haida Gwaii, Northern Health patients are offered fresh-caught fish.

“What’s needed is a long-term vision,” says Bowering of an effort to marry local food with that provided by large corporations.

In response, Northern Health’s Eryn Collins says that when the authority’s executives do meet in its various facilities, their food is catered directly from the kitchens at those facilities.

“So they are eating what’s on the menu,” she says.

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The situation Bowering described is quite different in Burns Lake, as Marie Hunter, Interim Health Services Administrator explained to Lakes District News.

When executives meet in Burns Lake at the Lakes District Hospital they eat cafeteria food, she said.

Almost all their meals are catered from the cafeteria. Unless it’s a special function or if it’s not in the capacity for the cooks we might order out,” she said.

Collins describes health care facility food services as complex and challenging in that patient meals can depend upon individual dietary requirements tied to their individual medical conditions. Northern Health does use food that’s been frozen, Collins acknowledged.

Most meals in the Burns Lake hospital have been cooked from scratch for the last two or three years, Hunter said.

“There was controversy over ‘rethermed’ food, like airplane food. We did taste testing with the residents. So the cooks and dietician started to build recipes and it’s becoming more common. Seasonal menus are made and the ethnicity of a community is considered as well,” she said, giving as an example culturally-specific food items sometimes served to First Nations residents at The Pines.

Dietician Jean Baker has been working at the Burns Lake hospital since January and collaborates with the kitchen staff to make nutritious meals.

“I work with the cooks daily. All meals are trialed with staff and residents.”

While Northern Health does strive to meet a provincially-mandated target that 30 per cent of the food prepared is sourced locally, Collins says the definition of ‘local’ can be interpreted as food from within B.C.

“We do have challenges due to the size of the region,” she notes.

Baker added that the emphasis on local food doesn’t yet extend to sourcing food items from the Bulkley-Nechako region.

Still, Northern Health’s food was 19 per cent local in 2017-2018, up from a previous level of 16 per cent.

“This past year, items such as juice, eggs, diced beef and squash helped increase regional expenditures on local food. We continue to look at ways to improve within the challenges and constraints we have,” says Collins.

READ MORE: Radiology improvements boost regional patient care

– with files from Blair McBride

 

(Image pexels.com)

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