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Yakima Memorial promoting healthy habits by joining national initiative

By Molly Rosbach / Yakima Herald-Republic

Things will soon look a little different around Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital.

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New guidelines for patient meals, different options in the hospital’s popular cafeteria, and everywhere, a small green logo labeling which choices are the healthy ones. “Healthy choices, healthy Yakima,” it reads.

“We really need to provide employees, the community, patients’ families, people that visit the hospital, the opportunity to really have access to healthier options, to make the healthy option the easy option, and really to provide them the support they need to make those changes in their life,” said Bertha Lopez, community education director at the hospital.

On Tuesday, Memorial administrators and employees signed a pledge to take part in the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, a voluntary national movement aimed at improving sustainability, nutrition, financial responsibility and safety in hospitals.

For now, Memorial has signed on to three of the six possible challenges: engaged leadership, healthier food and leaner energy. So far, Memorial is the only participating hospital in Yakima County.

In Washington state, 43 hospitals are participating, according to the Healthier Hospitals Initiative website. Only Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Harborview Medical Center and Grays Harbor Community Hospital have committed to all six challenges, which include less waste, safer chemicals and smarter purchasing.

Memorial’s participation helps align its culture with that of Virginia Mason, with whom it is currently pursuing a formal affiliation. Hospital CEO Russ Myers said Virginia Mason is “really a pace-setter” when it comes to leaner energy and sustainability.

While Memorial is far from the first to sign on, Myers says the hospital now gets the benefit of others’ experience.

“I think we’ve seen some really cool things going on in Seattle and in other organizations that we’re going to learn from,” he said.

Myers said the hospital picked the healthy foods challenge in part because Memorial had already started down that path. The cafeteria uses locally grown produce when possible, and its salad bar with fresh vegetables is a favorite among visitors.

“One of the key elements in this is to make sure you have the infrastructure to be able to do what you say you’re going to do,” Myers said.

The hospital is partnering with Coca-Cola to change certain options in vending machines. Dietician Katie Wolff said they’re not taking away all the options, but will work to educate people about choosing water or natural fruit juice over soda.

That goes for hospital employees and patients’ families or other hospital visitors.

“There’s going to be people that, regardless of what education we do. Regardless of the campaigns or options offered, they’re not going to make the healthy choice,” Lopez said.

But there will be another group of people who, as they learn more, will go for the healthier alternatives on their own, she said. “Which is really our goal — to empower people to make healthy choices, not dictate what those choices are.”

Convenience is a big issue, Lopez and Wolff said. The hospital is a stressful place for patients, families and for staff, so when people need a snack, they don’t necessarily take time to think through which vending option is healthiest.

The new circular green logo will appear on menu items indicating quickly which choices have been vetted by hospital nutritionists. That way, the healthy choice is also the easy choice. Cafeteria portion sizes may change, as well, and there will be some reduction in meat procurement, Lopez said.

On the patient side, soda is no longer offered on patient menus, Wolff said. The hospital also has been working on using fresh instead of frozen vegetables in patient meals.

Memorial is much more preliminary in its efforts at reducing energy consumption, Vice President Jim Aberle said. Right now, a consultant is working to establish the hospital’s baseline energy usage, which paves the way for reducing greenhouse gases from energy consumption by 3 percent.

“This is a journey that we’re just starting with signing this,” Wolff said. “We are looking at everything differently now.”


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