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Nursing Homes Eat Local, Save Money

Reisterstown, Md. — A recent lunch at FutureCare Cherrywood, a nursing home in Reisterstown, Md., was Salisbury steaks served with green beans, mashed potatoes and rice pudding.

The ground beef used in the steaks was from farmer Shane Hughes of Liberty Delight Farm, located just four miles from the nursing home. Bread was only offered to those residents who asked for it, in an effort to cut food waste and save money for organic and local food.

Many of the residents were in wheelchairs and dealing with respiratory issues, but they are taking part in a new statewide initiative at Maryland health care facilities that encourages patients to eat more sustainably.

FutureCare Cherrywood is one of nine Maryland health care facilities that is regularly purchasing and serving local, sustainable beef and poultry to its patients, while reducing its food budget.

These hospitals and nursing homes are all part of the Chesapeake Food Leadership Council, a group made up of representatives from hospitals and food service professionals from across the state.

The council works to connect health care professionals so they can start sustainable environmental programs at health facilities across the state, said Louise Mitchell, the sustainable foods program manager for Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment. “One of the most powerful ways you can make change in the environment’s health is to work with health care providers. They are huge companies and reach everyone . they have a huge impact on people and the environment,” Mitchell said.

Sustainability programs have been implemented at multiple nursing homes and hospitals throughout the state, said Mitchell, and the number of council participants continues to grow each year.

At FutureCare Cherrywood, one initiative spiraled into lasting benefits that have improved multiple aspects of the residents’ lives.

Margie Ginsberg, a registered dietician at FutureCare Cherrywood, became active with the Chesapeake Food Leadership Council in early 2010, when she began a campaign at the nursing home to recycle more. This included reminders to use the labeled recycling bins, turn off lights and reduce food waste in the dining halls.

In March, Ginsberg moved to the kitchen, where most of the food was processed and expensive. She worked with Sandy Stallings, the new food service director, to begin buying all local produce, cut costs and offer healthier alternatives on the menus. “It wasn’t an option for us to continue serving the status quo,” said Joselyn King, another registered dietician on staff who is involved in planning the meals. The costs went down as the kitchen began making everything from scratch, Stallings said. So did the complaints.

“When I first came here, the complaints were astronomical. Now, there are no complaints, just suggestions. The residents know oysters are in season now, and we are trying to find them some local oysters,” she said.

Each week, local produce was sold out front of the home, and residents were able to shop for foods not always available in the dining hall, like strawberries and watermelon. Choosing what foods to buy each week gave the residents independence and flexibility, traits not often associated with nursing homes. “It has been huge for (the residents) to have something to look forward to, it gives them something in their permanent residence that they can enjoy and count on,” Bosley said.

The residents didn’t have to wait for the market to find fresh produce. Annette Fleishell, the performance improvement supervisor at Cherrywood, began a garden club on the patio next to the nursing home, in clear view of the McDonald’s across the street.

She helped to design garden beds at wheelchair-accessible height, and brought residents, who named themselves the “Deep Roots,” outside to plant seedlings and, eventually pick the food. “I liked the flowers, potting them in the spring. ... I liked the broccoli. We loved the cucumbers, but not the collard greens, I ate too many,” said Martha Ayers, 70, of Baltimore. She has been living in Cherrywood for more than two years, and used to be a secretary at a bank downtown, she said.

But the residents agreed the best part of the club was the food.

“People pick a nursing home for the type of care, the convenience and location, not for the food. But we like to think we are breaking the stereotype of institutionalized food,” said Marla Bosley, the director of admissions and marketing at FutureCare Cherrywood.