Retired Northern Health official: Managers should have to eat the same food served in hospitals

Former chief medical health officer says hospitals are relying too much on “corporate food”

David Bowering’s breakfast offering when he was a patient at Mills Memorial Hospital last year. (David Bowering photo)

A retired senior Northern Health Authority official is convinced hospital food would be different if top managers ate the same food that’s served in their facilities.

“Rather than health system executives feeding themselves the best catered food available at their meetings while they talk about ‘quality patient-centred care,’ it should be a legal requirement that all of their snacks and catered lunches come directly from the local hospital exactly as it is fed to patients,” wrote former chief medical health officer David Bowering in a social media post.

He says reliance on what he termed “corporate food” continues to increase and that healthy, fresh food is increasingly “becoming a distant memory.”

“The better the hospital food gets, the better their own publicly-funded free lunches will taste. It’s called feedback,” Bowering says of what health executives could be eating.

Adding to his comments in a subsequent interview, Bowering says Northern Health, like other large organizations, is increasingly relying on large food-providing corporations because of cost.

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“What we’re seeing is more and more decisions being made by people who are more distant now from the consequences,” he said.

“They are also increasingly risk-averse,” he says of large organizations such as Northern Health preferring mass-produced processed-food.

Locally-sourced food through local growers and suppliers throughout the region, however, would add to food freshness, quality and healthier options, Bowering adds.

He does acknowledge the challenges of providing food through the wide variety of Northern Health’s facilities located across a large swath of the province.

However, he says it’s not impossible – on Haida Gwaii, Northern Health patients are offered fresh-caught fish.

“What’s needed is a long-term vision,” says Bowering of an effort to marry local food with that provided by large corporations.

In response, Northern Health’s Eryn Collins says that when the authority’s executives do meet in its various facilities, their food is catered directly from the kitchens at those facilities.

“So they are eating what’s on the menu,” she says.

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Collins describes health care facility food services as complex and challenging in that patient meals can depend upon individual dietary requirements tied to their individual medical conditions.

“At Mills Memorial Hospital [in Terrace], for instance, meals are prepared from scratch in their kitchens,” says Collins.

“There are a variety of items prepared for each meal,” she says in adding Northern Health does use food that’s been frozen.

And while Northern Health does strive to meet a provincially-mandated target that 30 per cent of the food prepared is sourced locally, Collins says the definition of ‘local’ can be interpreted as food from within B.C.

“We do have challenges due to the size of the region,” she notes.

Still, most recent reports indicate Northern Health’s food is now 19 per cent local, up from a previous level of 16 per cent.

“We continue to look at ways to improve within the challenges and constraints we have,” says Collins.

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