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Health system earns bronze level for nutrition

Butler Memorial Hospital executive chef Chad Mealy demonstrates using a QR Code reader to see health menu items and nutritional information on items in the cafeteria.

It took Butler Health System just eight months to earn a medal from Good Food, Healthy Hospitals as a result of the health system's overall focus on healthy eating education.

Shelley Chamberlain, a Healthy Food in Healthcare specialist who is serving as a consultant for the Good Food, Healthy Hospitals program, said BHS met all the standards to earn the bronze level with the program.

“They are doing a fantastic job with providing good food to staff, visitors and the community as well as constant innovation,” Chamberlain said. “They are a wonderful partner.”

BHS is the first health system in Western Pennsylvania to join Good Food, Healthy Hospitals, which is a Philadelphia-based program.Several healthy eating programs have been instituted in the health system.Today, healthy and flavorful food choices permeate every single area in the health system.The Food Institute is the newest program, in which doctors refer patients to learn how to prepare healthy, flavorful meals for their families.The Food Institute provides education on nutrition before sharing healthy recipes with clients as well as all the fresh ingredients to prepare them.Each client sees a food liaison once per month for six months.Cutting boards, kitchen knives, can openers and other tools also are provided to clients, so they can prepare the healthy recipes instead of subsisting on a diet of frozen or processed foods.

Dr. Kathy Selvaggi, BHS's chief community health officer, said Food Institute clients are not told they should never eat any of the more decadent foods they enjoy.Rather, they are given options and educated that good food can come from healthy ingredients.“People don't realize you can eat healthy, and it tastes good,” Selvaggi said. “To change how people look at food, you can't just give them the healthy ingredients, we have to teach them how to use them.”Since its inception in April in the former restaurant off Butler Memorial Hosptial's Brady Street entrance, the Food Institute has worked with close to 300 clients.All were referred by BHS cardiologists, endocrinologists and personal care physicians.Because the Butler Transit Authority limits the number of bags allowed on The Bus, the hospital will transport Food Institute clients to and from their appointments if necessary.

Bob Peterson, director of food and nutrition at BHS, said the health system also offers healthy food programs for employees, patients and the community.He said employees have punch cards that are punched by the cashier at the hospital cafeteria each time they buy a healthy food or drink. The 10th item is free.The Nutritricks program allows employees or visitors to scan a QR code on their phone to view the cafeteria's menu.The app allows a deeper dive into menu items to check nutrition content, price and other information.Chad Mealy, executive chef at BHS, said prior to the coronavirus pandemic, all items on the cafeteria's salad bar were marked “green,” “yellow” or “red” regarding health content.

The green items had the fewest calories and ingredients like sugar, fat and sodium, while the red items contained the highest amount of those ingredients.Mealy and the health system's menu committee found that in time, many red items were passed over by diners.“As they educated themselves, they realized, 'It's more beneficial for me to grab the green items,'” Mealy said.The program was expanded to grab-and-go items, so nurses and other employees could easily pick up a healthy snack or quick meal instead of a candy bar.In the kitchen, Mealy said all chicken used for patient meals is antibiotic free and beef is grass-fed.Partnerships with five local farms allow the hospital to use local ingredients as much as possible.Deep-fried selections are fried in bran oil, which contains healthy omega fats and zero trans fats.“That's how you don't get rid of fryers,” Mealy said. “We've been using bran oil for five years.”Soups at the hospital, which are prepared by longtime dietary department employee Mike Watterson, are all prepared using half-sodium stocks from scratch and fresh ingredients.Mealy hopes the employee Farm Market, which boasted 20 vendors and was offered once per month, will return after the pandemic abates sufficiently.“It was very popular with the employees,” he said.Even the selections in the vending machine are carefully chosen, so as to offer healthy selections to employees and visitors.In addition, chocolate bars and other less-than-healthy choices have purposely been located away from the register to prevent impulse buying and healthy foods have been placed where they are the most accessible.Peterson and Selvaggi said the participation of the entire dietary department as well as funding by the hospital have made the healthy-eating programs possible.Peterson is thrilled to receive the bronze from the Good Food, Healthy Hospitals program.“We will get silver and gold,” Peterson said. “We won't stop.”

Butler Memorial Hospital executive chef Chad Mealy demonstrates using a Q.R. code reader to see health menu items and nutritional information on items in the cafeteria. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 10/11/21
Dr. Kathy Selvaggi of Butler Memorial Hospital and Shelley Chamberlain from Good Food, Healthy Hospitals. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 10/11/21
Bob Peterson, Butler Health director of food and nutrition, and Chad Mealy, Executive Chef. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle 10/11/21
Brenda Krause, Butler Memorial Hospital deli display cook, flips grilled chicken filets in the hospital cafeteria Monday. Krause is among members of the staff who help determine healthy menu options. Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle