May 13, 2013

SF Bay Area PSR wowed its audiences at this year’s CleanMed conference April 24-26 in Boston. Jointly hosted by Health Care Without Harm and Practice Green Health, CleanMed connected and educated more than 900 health care professionals, food service employees, and hospital suppliers from across the nation on sustainability strategies in health care. Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) showcased the successful work of hospital champions nationwide who are working to build sustainable food service operations in health care and investments in a healthier food system.

The Food Matters Preconference trained more than 50 physicians, nurses, nurse-midwives, dietitians and other allied health professionals. Participants heard from a panel of experts on the industrial food system’s impact on health and its link to chronic disease. Chapter President Dr. Robert Gould was one of the six faculty on the panel, all of whom were doctors or nurses who work above and beyond clinical duties to engage in innovative work in their facilities, such as organizing Green Teams and adopting sustainable food policies. Co-Executive Director Lucia Sayre, who co-facilitated the training, said that it was a unique opportunity for clinicians to better understand the operations of health care food services, as the audience was a mix of clinicians and hospital food service administrators and managers. Training attendees are now equipped to provide guidance to patients and families and advocate for healthy food in their communities and in the broader policy arena.

Dr. Gould moderated a panel entitled “Physician Engagement and the Role of the Physician”  in which two emergency physicians and two anesthesiologists talked about changes they are making in their institutions to reduce waste, recycle anesthetic gases, and to organize and participate in Green Teams as a prime mechanism to engage busy health professionals. They used specific examples from their own experiences to give advice about how to utilize such hospital-based work as a springboard to deepen the commitment of physicians to advocate for policies protective of environmental and public health in their own professional societies and society at large.

Senior Program Associate Dr. Sapna Thottathil moderated a panel on the Healthier Food Challenge of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI). HHI is a national sustainability agenda for the health care sector, and over 200 hospitals nationwide are currently participating in the Healthier Food Challenge. This panel discussed ways in which hospitals can measure their progress towards Challenge goals, including achieving 20 percent reduction in meat and poultry purchases, increasing healthy beverage purchases, and procuring more local and sustainable foods. One of the panelists included Dan Henroid, Director of Nutrition & Food Services at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.

Bill McKibben gave the keynote address at the General Session to a packed audience. Ms. Sayre said that Mr. McKibben was a refreshing voice for advocacy related to climate change and public health, and that it was powerful to hear his grassroots perspective in an audience made up primarily of health care executives. Mr. McKibben saluted the critical work undertaken by HHI to reduce the environmental “footprint” of healthcare institutions and thus provide a model for the society-wide transformations needed to begin to address the threats posed by Global Warming. However, Mr. McKibben underscored that so much more effort in this direction is needed  to prevent and mitigate the worst possible health outcomes while systematically planning for appropriate adaptation responses to protect vulnerable populations from the impacts of heat waves, flooding, malnutrition and disease.  Dr. Gould and Ms. Sayre spoke with Mr. McKibben about coordinating efforts of 350.org and PSR chapters around the country.

Dr. Don Berwick, former Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, delivered the talk at the Closing Session. Both he and Mr. McKibben acknowledged the pioneering efforts of CleanMed and its major achievement in bringing together concerns related to climate change, chemicals policy, and food policy within health care institutions at a time when these issues are deadlocked in the legislative environment in Washington, D.C. They pointed to how sustainability work in hospitals is having a significant impact because health systems are such large players in the demand side of the energy equation. Dr. Berwick has long been concerned with the triad of personal health, population health and cost savings related to American medical care. At the conference, he commented that, while he had previously been able to see where all these issue fit together, the type of work reported on at CleanMed was a real eye-opener. He pointed to health systems serving as models in improving health care outcomes and patient safety through attention to climate change prevention, mitigation and adaptation consistent with the major themes of the conference.

To announce the winners of the 2012 Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) Awards, the HFHC team held a celebration dinner to recognize California awardees: Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital for First Place: Food-Climate-Health Connection Award; Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center for Second Place: Food-Climate-Health Connection Award; Jack Henderson, Associate Director of Operations, Nutrition and Food Services, UCSF Medical Center for Second Place: Exemplary Food Service Professional Award. Read more details on these winners.

CleanMed is an important conference for much of the work SF Bay Area is engaged in, and staff and Steering Committee were pleased with the chapter’s success in training, education and networking at this year’s event.