Some hospitals’ answers to improving their patient satisfaction scores might already be in their own backyards.
Or, in the case of Connecticut’s New Milford Hospital: in their rooftop gardens.
With a focus on seasonal, unprocessed food and a classically trained chef at the kitchen’s helm, New Milford’s menu resembles that of a chic, farm-to-table restaurant rather than a typical hospital cafeteria: The vegetable dish will depend on what was picked from its rooftop garden that day, or what it received from the nine local farms from which it regularly sources ingredients. The finished product is a healthful menu (a typical dessert is a chickpea chocolate cake, for instance) that New Milford's patients, staff and community have come to love.
“Often, patients will be discharged, and will ask if they can stay for lunch,” says Chef Kerry Gold.
Dubbed the Plow to Plate program, a former New Milford executive pioneered this focus on local, healthful food in 2006 to prevent diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease from escalating in patients.
“The idea was for the hospital to act as a change agent, where we would set an example by offering patients, employees and the community good food,” says Program Coordinator Susan Twombly. “We provide food that’s not been processed, deep-fried or things of that nature [as a means] of preventive medicine.”
Proof of the program’s success is in the (probably nutritious) pudding: New Milford’s patient satisfaction scores soared from the 30th percentile to the 95th percentile after the program’s onset, and have remained there.
Plow to Plate's benefits don't stop at nutritious food. One arm of the program, called the Senior Suppers initiative, engages the town's senior population with a different kind of preventive medicine: social interaction. About 500 seniors turn up each week at the hospital for a three-course meal that costs only $5. Sometimes an educational speaker will visit after the meal, "adding an extra layer of socialization," Twombly says.
For hospitals that are looking to implement similar programs, Gold says it's important to "do away with the myth that locally farmed food is costly." Not only is it comparable in price, he says, the health benefits pay for themselves.
“It comes down to the fact that good food is medicine," Gold says. "The fresher the food, the better it is. And if patients are getting better nutrition, that helps doctors do their work.”