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A Focus on Nutrition as Medicine Despite Staff Reductions at Hendricks Regional Health

Cost containment initiatives at 160-bed Hendricks Regional Health in Danville, Ind., forced Martha Rardin, MSM, RD, CD, FAND, director, Nutrition and Dietetics, to make a tough decision. "We had to make staff reductions so I voluntarily reduced the cook-to-order station's operation from daily to about once a week so we wouldn't have to cut back on patient services," she says.

Cook-to-order-in-actionPatty Bruning uses induction cookery to prepare a made-to-order vegetable dish. Photo courtesy of Hendrix Regional Health Nutrition and DieteticsHowever, Rardin isn't backing away from increasing an emphasis on healthy menu options. In fact, over the past 18 months she and the staff have increased the amount of fresh ingredients in retail menu items, which is helping keep retail dining participation high at the Copper Grill.

"What is gaining steam is interest in nutrition as medicine," Rardin says. "Our customers are taking a holistic look at their health and watching what they eat at each meal. The tide is turning toward positive results coming from people's efforts to be healthier. For example, we're seeing obesity trends begin to go down. I feel we have an obligation to present healthy foods for patients to recover from illness or surgery and for retail customers to help improve their nutritional well-being so they can work and live well."

Equipment in Use

In the back of the house, culinary staff use two full-size combi ovens to cook vegetables, poultry and meats. "We're using these ovens all day long," Rardin says. "For the vegetables, they first put the combi oven setting on intense and then switch to dry mode to finish off the vegetables and allow the roasted vegetables to caramelize a little." Staff also use the tilt skillet and occasionally convection ovens to prepare the vegetables.

In response to customers' interests, Rardin and her staff offer roasted broccoli, asparagus, carrots and other vegetables every day. "Getting fresh asparagus in December and January is expensive, but we want to offer customers' favorites all year long if possible," she says. "Offering these vegetables and other foods low in calories, sodium and fiber tells them we want them to make choices to be healthy." Roasted vegetables bring in higher sales than other varieties offered, she says.

Electronic menu boards in the servery list calories, sodium and fiber. Emblems identify menu items low in sodium and high in fiber. Culinary staff provide customers with recipes so they can make the menu items at home.

Getting the word out about healthy dining receives concerted attention. A dietitian in the hospital's wellness department appears on an Indianapolis news program once a month, which adds support to the effort to stay fit. Food and nutrition staff also offer cooking demonstrations for seniors at a local YMCA. Rardin also writes about food as medicine in a blog for a local newspaper.

Another way Hendrix dietitians encourage people to eat healthfully is through telemedicine. "Soon we'll reach into a rural community about 40 miles away through telemedicine," Rardin says. "We're continuing to see doctors, dietitians and other healthcare professionals communicating with people who need advice and medical support via telecommunication and information technology at a distance. This will help countless people manage their health."