Banner Health plans partnership, overhaul of food

Merger with University of Arizona Health Network in the works.

Published in Healthcare Spotlight

banner health plate

Phoenix-based Banner Health has a lot going on, and Joshua Fels is right in the middle of it.

Fels, the recently appointed director of culinary and nutrition services at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, says the hospital system has two plans in the works to help more people eat healthier and be healthier.

First, is a planned merger with the University of Arizona Health Network, followed closely by an overhaul of the system’s patient and retail menus.

“We’re in the midst of closing a deal that will partner us with the University of Arizona Health Network,” says Fels, who moved to Good Samaritan late last year from Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center in Sun City West, Ariz. “We will become an academic medical center, as we move away from being just a hospital company and more towards being a population health management organization.”

The melding of the two health systems, Fels says, could take Banner from a health organization with 300,000 subscribers to one with more than 2 million. “It will become really important for us to keep people healthy, rather than wait until they are actually admitted as patients,” Fels says. “That tends to be the most expensive way to treat someone.”

Updated Hospital Menus, Retail

Besides merging the health systems, Banner’s 28 hospitals will revamp their menus, a process Fels estimates could take 18 months or more.

“We’re in the process of beefing up our back-of-the-house database with a lot more recipes that meet our healthy definition,” he explains. That includes entrees that contain less than 500 calories, 30 percent or less total fat, 10 percent of less saturated fat and less than 600 milligrams of sodium. Once the recipes are updated, all of Banner’s hospitals will feature the same patient menus.

On the retail side, Fels says they’ve begun working with their vendor partner to “switch out some items for healthier options.”

“In our cafes and bistros, we’ll take it station by station, and change out each one independently to match probably an 80-20 mix of healthier options to comfort foods,” Fels says.

Fels’ department is also working with Banner’s internal design and marketing team to create signage that will be used to promote healthier items. “We’re also discussing having a beefed up database for online searchability,” he adds. “We would use identifying markers so people could preview the items that would be appropriate for their nutritional needs.”

Larger Impact

The planned changes could have a wide impact on the retail side alone.

At Good Samaritan, Banner’s 733-bed flagship hospital, the Banner Bistro and Miss Lulu’s Café combine for $4 million annual revenue, even though the average check is just under $4.

“We push a lot of people through those facilities,” says Fels, about the retail foodservice, which generates $23 million in annual sales, systemwide.

Since each of the facilities is independent in character and design, Fels says coming up with unified structural changes is unlikely without significant capital.

“Whatever we can do to make our stations as similar as possible, we will do,” Fels says. “If we are going to promote health and wellness, we have to provide health and wellness.”

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