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Business, staffs work to make hospital food a little better

Kimmi Campagna knows hospital food has a bad reputation, and she's on a mission to change it.

"Truly, traditional institutional cooking has been based on limiting and removing things," said Campagna, director of partnership development for Cura Hospitality, a member of Eat'n Park Hospitality Group that specializes in health care dining.

"I want people to leave the hospital and say, 'That was the best food I ever had.' I believe we're really close to that."

This month, Heritage Valley Health System, with locations in Beaver and Sewickley, announced a partnership with Cura intended to improve dining experiences for patients, guests and staff.

Staff at other local hospitals are trying to change the way people think about hospital food.

This is the third year that Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland will use produce from its garden in meals. In summers past, the garden yielded squash, onions, cabbage, beets, carrots, greens, basil, tomatoes and more.

"We grow them, pick them, then use them within a day or two so it's as fresh as possible," said Anna Ardine, clinical nutrition manager with the hospital's food services provider, Sodexo Inc.

Jeremy Fields, 28, of Farmington, Fayette County, said the ham and cheese sandwich with clam chowder he had Friday at the Garden View Cafe at Magee was OK. He said he typically thinks of hospital meals as pretty bad.

"There's normally not enough variety," he said.

Last year, Jefferson Regional Medical Center began a partnership with Sodexo to provide more healthy and fresh options, said Janet Cipullo, vice president of professional services.

"We recognize that reputation is out there," Cipullo said. "We're trying to eradicate that perception by providing the tastiest, healthiest food we can, given the fact that they may be on a special diet. We're getting away from prepackaged entries to more homemade options while remaining within what the doctors ordered."

Cura's focus is on providing low-sodium, whole-grain foods rather than prepackaged meals, Campagna said. The company has a buy-local program called FarmSource that features relationships with more than 100 farms and food producers throughout Western Pennsylvania.

They include Harvest Valley Farms in Valencia and Dawson's Orchard in Enon Valley. Cura menus include no trans fat. Many choices are prepared from scratch.

At Magee, patients can call for room service between 5:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., ordering from a menu that includes icons denoting items low in fat, salt and carbohydrates.

"We do a lot of obstetrics. When we teach the women to eat correctly, it trickles down to the rest of the family," Ardine said.

In addition to patients, hospitals are striving to improve the choices available for staff and visitors. With the partnership, retail cafes at Heritage Valley's Beaver and Sewickley campuses will offer selections such as fresh dough pizza; sandwiches, wraps and subs on freshly baked breads and rolls; and cooked-to-order foods from the grill.

Cafeterias at Jefferson Regional Medical Center offer grab-and-go options such as yogurt parfaits, celery and carrot sticks with peanut butter, baked chips and a variety of juices. Fresh fruits were moved closer to the register to entice people to choose them instead of junk food.

Nutrition information is posted for items such as hot sandwiches and prepared salads, so people know what they're getting.

"We moved away from prepackaged items to homemade items. For example, we serve meatloaf that tastes similar to what you get at home," Cipullo said. "It's not so institutional."

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