Hays Medical Center had 1,000 reasons to celebrate Wednesday afternoon.
The hospital was one of two chosen for the Healthy Kansas Hospitals Centers of Excellence Award, with a $1,000 check presented during a ceremony in the recently renovated dining area.
The Rock Garden Cafe, opened in March, brings healthier food options to patients and hospital staff. Fried foods have been replaced with nutritious items like fresh-made hummus, baklava and grilled salmon. A larger portion of the hospital’s food budget is dedicated to purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables and offering more beverage items such as fruit-infused water as an option to sugary soft drinks.
The hospital joined the Healthy Kansas Hospitals initiative at its inception in 2014 and was one of 27 to follow through on changes, said Melissa Hungerford, CEO of the Kansas Hospital Education and Research Foundation, which created the initiative.
Clara Barton Hospital in Great Bend also received the award.
Part of the driving force in the changes was the hiring of John Fitzthum as executive chef, said Dr. John Jeter, HaysMed president and CEO.
“There’s a big topic in the chef world of knowing where your food comes from and what are the ingredients,” Fitzthum said. “In industrial cooking, things come prepared for you, and when things come prepared for you, they’re not as fresh.”
He has agreements to purchase fruits and vegetables with Bethesda Place, a privately owned 45-acre farm west of Hays that houses and employs men with mental disabilities.
“I’ve been in conversation with a Kansas beef supplier, so we are constantly improving our local sourcing,” Fitzthum said.
The chef acknowledged an increase in costs — approximately 12 percent — since he started at the hospital in October 2014, but only part of that is due to the extra labor of chopping fruits and vegetables, roasting meats and baking bread every day. Food prices in general have increased, he said.
Another part of the hospital’s success in the initiative was the cooperation between food services and the hospital’s Center for Health Improvement, Jeter said.
“What a great marriage of the components that make us healthy related to diet, related to exercise, related to other lifestyle factors,” Jeter said.
“I would say we’re way ahead of the curve when it comes to the national movement toward population health.”
The hospital added two indoor walking trails for staff and visitors, conducts 15-minute workouts classes for staff and offers free cooking classes open to the public.
“I think that’s how health care is changing, just combining some departments that you never would have thought would fit together,” said Stephanie Howie, fitness director at the health center.