The AHA Aims to Create a ‘Culture of Health’ in Hospitals

Giving a sick child a cup of vanilla ice cream. That, I get. But greasy hamburger and french fry joints lining the walls of hospital cafeterias? That’s where they lost me. And apparently, others are beginning to see the irony in this set up, too. Including the American Hospital Association (AHA) itself.

In 2009, John Bluford – CEO of Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri – and fellow members of the AHA, announced a call to action that was a bold push for hospital to be leaders in ‘creating a culture of health’ among its communities. And one of those ‘pushes’ included ousting fast food restaurants from their cafeterias, including McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.

According to the full report, one of the top motivators for hospitals to improve their image, as well as their health and wellness program is to be an example of health to their community. Because after all, if anyone should be promoting health, shouldn’t it be them?

The AHA views hospitals and their employees as key players in their communities because of their leadership and mission, saying, “It is paramount for hospital and health system employees to lead the way and serve as role models for healthy living and fitness for their communities.”

Research for the report included surveying 876 hospitals nationwide about their health and wellness programs, and results showed that while there was a variety of programs offered, they lacked in the areas of health risk assessments, 24-hour nursing hotlines, and personal health coaching – areas the AHA feel hospitals should excel in. Further evidence showed that employee participation levels in such wellness programs were relatively low.

To give legs to their call to action, the AHA made seven recommendations to the field, including serving as a role model for health in the community, creating a culture of healthy living, focusing on sustainability, and providing a variety of program offerings to promote the health status of its employees.

As listed in the report, one of the specific ways to implement the changes will be for all hospitals to have ‘smoke-free campuses and offer healthy food options. “Hospitals are also encouraged to go a step further and…only offer healthy food options in all hospitals cafeterias and vending machines.”

But aren’t most hospitals today laiden with less than healthy food options? Evidence of this comes from the statistic that of the several thousand McDonald’s in the U.S., 27 of them are in hospitals. The number may be small, but isn’t that 27 too many for the ‘health elite’? But removing them isn’t just as easy as pulling the plug. Several of the hospitals, including Bluford’s hospital in Kansas City, have signed 20+ year contracts with McDonald’s and other fast food giants, which means they aren’t going anywhere soon; even if the AHA asks really, really politely.

But as the contracts eventually expire, the hospitals claim they’ll use the space to make room for healthier options for their patients and employees. And if this and most of the other changes suggested in the report are successfully made, it’s likely that we’ll start seeing this ‘culture of health’ in hospitals the AHA is talking about. And we’re all for that.

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