December 2, 2011

By Emily Galpern

What have been the highlights of your work at SF Bay Area PSR?

I’ve been with SF Bay Area PSR for 5½ years and have enjoyed immensely working with the “Healthy Food in Health Care” Campaign.  I was brought on as the northern California coordinator of that work.  One of most gratifying experiences has been to see this campaign grow and evolve and to see how much Lucia and I have provided leadership both locally and nationally. When I first took this job, we had a lot of explaining to do about why a health care facility should engage around food; now they come to us! Or, if we approach them, it’s for much more higher-level discussions; the foundation has been set, both by us and because there has been an explosion of media coverage and education around food issues in this country.

Lucia and I have tried to seed a lot of interesting projects in the SF Bay Area and to bring it to our colleagues in other parts of country. We partner with hospitals, who then pilot these projects, and we get to see the projects grow. The “Balanced Menus Challenge” is a perfect example of what one small organization can do locally that gets picked up by a broader range of allied interests: it can really change the discussion and amplify the work in a powerful way.

How do you see the role of physicians in this work?

I think that the connection between food and health outcomes is still tenuous for a lot of people working in the health care sector. There’s a tremendous amount of work to be done to connect the operational home for food service with the clinical side of a health care institution. This disjuncture is slowly being bridged at health care facilities.

Clinicians have a powerful role to play in that integration. PSR’s “Food Matters” is a perfect illustration of how clinicians can impact health care facilities’ approach to food. Clinicians, including doctors, nurses and dieticians, have a lot of power in a health care institution. When doctors want something, the administration pays attention, whereas, unfortunately, Food Services Directors won’t necessarily be heard. Clinicians can be advocates at their respective institutions and make reform toward sustainability a much easier path. They also have a broader role to play as food systems advocates in the way they interact with their own patients around food issues and the way they engage with their communities.  Kaiser Permanente’s Dr. Preston Maring is a perfect example of how a doctor can contribute to a hospital’s approach to food.

Food Matters provides the opportunity for physicians to speak in an informed way on food in the public policy arena and to media. I’d love to see dozens of doctors speaking on these issues.  PSR has incredible power to help realize this vision because they have an extensive network nationally, due to their regional members and contacts. I have a lot of faith that as Food Matters takes off, there’s going to be a great opportunity for PSR to assert itself.

What are your hopes for the organization?

I would love to see PSR’s capacity to mobilize the clinical community grow and expand and for them to own this subset of advocacy. With health care reform on the horizon, and prevention at core of that reform, we’re going to see a radical shift in the health care sector, and food will hopefully be at the center. PSR is really well positioned to assert itself as a leader.

Do you have any last words to share?

I’ve really appreciated working with everyone who I have met at and through SF Bay Area PSR. Their commitment and dedication is impressive. They’ve been at it for a long time, and they don’t lose that spark, the fire in their commitment, which I find amazing. I’ve deeply appreciated the supportive environment that PSR offers for its employees, especially for parents of young children. It stands out to me as being fairly unique. I am grateful for a positive experience, and I look forward to working with the SF PSR team again one way or another the future.

Appreciations from SF Bay Area PSR Board and Staff

Dr. Bob Gould, SF Bay Area PSR President says, “Lena has done such exceptional work with PSR, and I really appreciate the major accomplishments she’s left for us to build on. Her work in partnership with Lucia Sayre on “Healthy Food in Health Care” has been groundbreaking, both on its own obvious merits as well as how it fits into our climate change efforts to reduce hospitals’ environmental footprints. I want to underscore that the results of Lena’s work have not just accrued to the SF Bay Area chapter of PSR, but have been groundbreaking for our organization nationwide. I wish Lena the absolute best in all of her endeavors.”

SF Bay Area PSR Co-Director Lucia Sayre says, “Lena has been a pleasure to work with over the past 5 ½ half years. She is a passionate, smart, and creative organizer who cares deeply about the health of our food systems. During her years at SF Bay Area PSR, Lena led several collaborative efforts in our food work, such as the “Balanced Menus Challenge” and the “Hospital Leadership Team,” that have emerged as models for the national “Healthy Food in Health Care” campaign. She also helped to cultivate many important relationships with key partners and organizations throughout the state of California and nationally that will benefit our sustainable food in health care work for years to come. We will miss her at SF Bay Area PSR and wish her well in her next adventure.”