Cultivating Leaders: The Healthy Food in Health Care Ambassador Program

by John Stoddard

It’s the people who are implementing food systems changes at healthcare facilities who often have the most sway and wherewithal to make a difference; not only at their own facilities but also in their communities and within the broader healthy food in health care sector. 

Launched in January 2016, the New England Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) Ambassador Program utilizes the perspective and experience of healthcare representatives to propel existing efforts in New England and take them to the next level by rewarding and cultivating health care leaders, and creating opportunities for peer learning.

Seven Ambassadors were chosen based on their commitment to a healthy and sustainable food system. Ambassadors were charged with developing a plan for their facility and/or state that met the goals of eliminating the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in animal agriculture and/or building a sustainable New England Food System. 

Ambassadors have each been paired with mentors from their states who are experts in food systems and health care purchasing. They will work throughout the year to enact their plans under the guidance of HFHC staff and their mentors. All seven Ambassadors submitted exciting and impactful plans that are certain to contribute to improving our food system.

The 2016 Healthy Food in Health Care Ambassador Program (team and staff).

Natasha Yandow, Vermont Medicaid
Natasha Yandow is Team Lead for Third Party Liability for Vermont Medicaid and is pursuing a MBA in Sustainable Food Systems. She is interested this work because she believes that our food system can be improved for the health of people and the planet. As an ambassador, Yandow will support the Vermont Healthy Food in Health Care Workgroup in developing content for two projects. First, she will contribute educational and procurement instruction for hospital culinary trainings on how to use local and sustainable ingredients. Second, Yandow will assist in developing marketing resources for workgroup members to use for sharing their work in their facilities and in their communities. 

Kate Saunders, UMass Memorial Medical Center
Greater Massachusetts 
Kate Saunders, Clinical Nutrition Manager at UMass, is passionate about the role of food in preventative care. She works closely with both the retail and patient services manager in an effort to create innovative and exciting ways to feature healthy offerings throughout the hospital's food service program. Saunders will build off her facility’s commitment to the Massachusetts Hospital Association’s Antibiotic Stewardship Initiative to reduce the procurement of meat raised with non-therapeutic antibiotics. Saunders will work throughout 2016 on an education and procurement campaign in her facility focused on antibiotic use in agriculture and its connection to antibiotic-resistant infections. 

Cristina Indiveri, Yale New Haven Hospital
Connecticut and Rhode Island
In her role as Support Services Administrator at YNHH, Cristina Indiveri has been successful working with their vendor, Morrison Healthcare, to increase offerings local and sustainable foods, healthier beverages and meat alternatives. YNHH received a Circle of Excellence Award from Practice Greenhealth for this work. As an ambassador, Indiveri’s goal is to share health care’s contribution to building a sustainable food system. First she will develop a presentation for the Food Solutions New England Summit in June on the concept of Environmental Nutrition, and how it informs her facility’s food purchasing. Additionally, Indiveri aims to inspire other Connecticut and Rhode Island hospitals to engage in this work by holding a gathering of hospitals in November that will provide practical strategies for health care to support sustainability in the food system.

Leo LaRosa, consultant for Boston Medical Center
Boston Area
Leo LaRosa is passionate about local and sustainable seafood, and successfully implemented programs at Boston Medical Center and Massachusetts Eye and Ear which source local, fresh seafood from the Gloucester fishing community. As an ambassador LaRosa will focus his efforts on increasing awareness of sustainable seafood and assisting additional Boston area facilities in their procurement of sustainable seafood. LaRosa will collect baseline information from a select number of facilities and work directly with them to shift product offerings. 

Kurt Roessler, Huggins Hospital
New Hampshire
Kurt Roessler, Director of Food and Nutrition at Huggins, has worked in food service for over 20 years and has experience purchasing from broadline distributors and direct from farms. His expertise in healthcare purchasing has enabled him to increase his facility’s offerings of local and sustainable foods while staying in budget. Roessler’s ambassador plan is a multi-pronged approach to increase the ease with which local foods can be purchased by facilities. This includes working with distributors to increase transparency about product sources by labeling local products in the ordering system. In addition to working on the distribution end, Roessler is developing a presentation for administrators that will emphasize why this procurement change is important, with the goal of presenting at the NH Hospital Association Annual Meeting in the fall.

Bill Flagg, Cary Medical Center
Northern Maine 
Bill Flagg, Director of Community Relations and Development at the Cary Medical Center, recognizes the role health care has in contributing to a sustainable food system. Health care is the largest employer in Maine, and Flagg believes that its purchasing power and the role of health professionals as authorities on public health can be utilized for change. As an ambassador, he will focus efforts on increasing the market for local foods through his facility’s procurement and through a community supported agriculture (CSA) program for employees. Simultaneously he will reduce the amount of meat offered to customers through initiatives such as Meatless Monday. Finally, in order to ensure that his efforts serve the greater healthcare community in Maine, Flagg will develop a local foods directory that will be shared with facilities in his region.

Conrad Olin, Maine General Medical Center
Southern Maine
Conrad Olin, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Maine General, has worked for several years to increase his facility’s purchases of local and sustainable foods. He has implemented innovative purchasing and menuing strategies that have allowed for greater flexibility and more access to foods from local and sustainable sources. Olin is utilizing his Ambassador year as an opportunity to institutionalize procurement practices by developing a policy for his facility to ensure the practices continue even if staff changes. In addition to creating a policy change, he will continue to increase procurement of local and sustainable foods and facilitate the increased purchase of local foods by other Maine facilities through information sharing. 

We are inspired by the creativity and dedication of all of our ambassadors and are looking forward to a productive 2016! After this first year, the 2016 Ambassadors will have the opportunity to serve as mentors to the 2017 cohort of ambassadors, should the program continue, hence spreading the knowledge and cultivating more healthcare leaders working towards a sustainable local food system.

John Stoddard is the New England Program Coordinator of Health Care Without Harm's Healthy Food in Health Care program