Health care institutions have an opportunity to influence broad food system impacts for their patients, staff, and communities – but to realize this potential it is important to first set the foundation.
Establishing progressive goals – based on a thorough assessment of current activities and designed with leadership, staff, and community input – will set your facility on the road to success. By underpinning those plans with a policy framework, you can ensure the vision continues through staffing and administrative changes.
Hospital staff in food service and other departments strategic to addressing community food needs are integral to the successful implementation of new strategies – invest in their learning and support their engagement to realize that potential. Robust community collaboration can reveal opportunities for designing programs with multiple layers of positive impact – from addressing food needs to creating economic opportunities – while improving the institution’s reputation.
Health care institutions and professionals can bring their expertise and experience to the public policy table to address the systemic barriers creating a food system that prioritizes profit and efficiency over public health, racial equity, and sustainability.
Below are a few validated initiatives related to policy development, planning, and community engagement and collaboration that hospitals can use to set themselves up for success.
Establish goals and policies aligned with your institution’s priorities to guide successful implementation and garner leadership support and resources.
- Establish baselines and set progressive goals and priorities for your values that include a process to evaluate and report on established goals. Begin with high-impact opportunities.
- Develop and implement policy(ies) that reflect your organization’s mission and values, that will ensure the durability of your goals and priorities. Work with clinicians and other food service staff at your facility to advocate for local, sustainable, and equitable food purchasing policies.
- Establish procurement guidelines. For example, you can commit to purchasing only meat raised without the use of antibiotics for disease prevention or other routine purposes, or commit to buying a certain percentage of the hospital’s food from local producers of color.
- Secure leadership support and resources for implementation. In order for food service operators to increase local, sustainable, and equitable food purchasing and implement your plans, it is important to get leadership buy-in and support for strategies to help you accomplish your goals such as increasing food budgets.
Nearly all of the Environmental Excellence Top 25 Award winning hospitals include local and sustainable food purchasing and other environmental stewardship goals in their contracts or their request for proposals with food vendors.
Invest in your staff to create a team with the competencies and enthusiasm to support new programs and practices.
- Train procurement staff, food service contractors, and/or food service management companies on researching and purchasing of qualifying food products, including how best to address barriers to entry for smaller and diverse suppliers.
- Support staff to dedicate time to engage the community (including local food suppliers and food system advocates) in informing purchasing decisions and processes. Encouraging staff to visit local farms and food businesses and forge purchasing relationships with local producers helps build regional food systems and can have a positive impact on community job growth and wealth building.
- Conduct, or participate in, regular racial equity training for food service staff. Actively working to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace can have significant impacts on staff productivity and employee retention.
Build collaborative community partnerships to gather insights and ensure your efforts address community needs and opportunities.
- Establish a coalition of inclusive allies/community advisory councils to support policy implementation and ensure there are mechanisms for community representation in decision-making. This case study provides an example of a relationship between a hospital and a community-based initiative that led to their collaboration on a food access assessment effort, including the development of an action plan that featured shared community-owned goals to address food access in their community.
- Develop community accountability measures in institutional procurement.
- Create a process for community engagement around institutional policy – from planning, implementation, and reporting, that prioritizes racial equity and supplier transparency – and accountability to needs of those most impacted (including frontline communities, food service workers, and producers of color).
Cooley Dickinson Health Care
A long-standing relationship between Cooley Dickinson Health Care and Healthy Hampshire, a community-based initiative, led to their collaboration on a food access assessment effort. The innovative engagement approach for the Food Access Advisory Committee, designed by Healthy Hampshire and supported by Cooley Dickinson, ensured community residents affected by food access issues could actively participate in the committee. The process led to development of an action plan, featuring “shared, community-owned goals to address food access in their community.”
Share and communicate with external stakeholders to facilitate engagement and transparency.
- Share your values, procurement goals, purchasing criteria, and values-aligned vendors and suppliers. Be sure to also share your story with the communities you serve.
- Share purchasing data, assessment(s), purchasing targets, and/or implementation plans in a publicly accessible location with community members.
Influence broader systems change through local and national food policy engagement.
- Get involved with your local food policy council to bring your institution’s expertise, perspective, and influence to solve food issues in your community.
- Engage at the state and federal level to influence food policy. Beyond the hospital, health professionals can influence elected officials and support sustainable food policies through sign-on letters, providing testimonials, and participating in legislative visits.
Lehigh Valley Health Network
Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) helped the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council develop a food system map and online hub, which uses the Community Commons tool to map food assets (food pantries, soup kitchens, and community gardens) in the region. LVHN pays mapping fees, acts as the account administrator, and provides technical assistance. The food mapping has been used by the local Environmental Protection Agency and United Way as a way to track historical data trends. The council hopes the tool will spark further research on food issues and community needs in the area.