Projects > Sustainability and Equity in the Massachusetts Food System: A Progress Report

Partners HealthCare

Food is medicine in this hospital chain

“We know that food is medicine,” says Mike Kazmierczak, contracts manager, support services at Partners HealthCare. “There is a strong correlation between diet and nutrition and patient health outcomes.” Partners operates 11 hospitals and five other facilities throughout Massachusetts, and many serve local food. Buying local food supports local farms and producers while offering fresh, healthy food to patients, staff, and visitors. “Our philosophy is that our work should have a positive impact on the environment, health, and climate,” says Monica Nakielski, senior program manager, sustainability, Partners HealthCare.

Many Partners hospitals offer CSAs to their employees as well as patients, and make them affordable for low-income patients. Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton has offered a free CSA to food-insecure patients through Hampshire Health, and Faulkner Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital works with ‘farm to family’ CSAs to provide CSAs to low-income families.

Many of the hospitals purchase local and sustainably-caught seafood through Red’s Best. The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital works with Island Grown Initiative to buy local produce. Cooley Dickinson buys produce directly from farmers and purchases local, antibiotic-free beef. At the Nantucket Cottage Hospital, the food-service director partners with a local farmer and creates menus based on the harvest calendar.

One obstacle to implementing this commitment in all of their facilities is distribution; not all of the food distributors they work with offer the local food that Partners would like to serve. Working directly with local farmers has its own set of challenges, including delivery coordination and lack of on-site storage capacity. Increasing the volume of fresh food can require changes to kitchen space and systems. In some instances and at some times of year, food costs can also be higher.

“It’s imperative to take a holistic approach to community health. This includes the environment, the people, and economic development,” says Ingrid Beckles, manager of minority business enterprise, adding that other hospitals and health- care organizations should make similar commitments to local food purchasing. In addition, if other institutions demanded similar local food from food distributors, they would be more likely to offer those foods, and at a better price.

For this reason, Partners HealthCare helped found Green Health Exchange, a purchasing cooperative from which health-care institutions can purchase healthier, safer cleaning supplies and other health-care products as well as healthier food. Monica also suggests that healthcare organizations looking to buy more local food refer to tool kits and examples of language shared by Farm to Institution New England when drafting requests for proposals or contracts.

Food Access, Security and Health - Recommendation 5.1: Support actions by health care providers, hospitals and medical institutions that improve access to, and education about, healthy food, especially to people who are food insecure.