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Pursuing Sustainability with UMHS' Patient Food & Nutrition Services: Aligning Sustainable Practices with Healthcare Delivery

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
April 23, 2013

With 45 thousand inpatient stays and 1.9 million outpatient visits in 2012, the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) manages a vast network of patients in constant flux. The Patient Food and Nutrition Services (PFANS) group provides in-room dining services for these patients and delivers meals and supplements to homebound seniors in the community through its Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels program. PFANS is committed to expanding its existing environmental responsibility initiatives and has the potential to serve as an important case study, providing a sustainability roadmap for UMHS and national patient food services.

The project objectives included:
1. Reducing waste, water and energy footprints
2. Capturing cost savings
3. Designing a strategy that serves as holistic approach to sustainability for UMHS
4. Aligning sustainable practices with future models of U.S. healthcare delivery

The approach to meeting these objectives included a current state assessment through primary research focused on interviews, waste and energy auditing and cost-benefit analysis as well as secondary literature reviews to identify best practices in the industry. Using the findings from these methods and developed criteria for evaluation—environmental, financial, reporting ability and scalability—the report outlines a series of recommendations that respond to the following key findings:

1. Immediate energy savings can be achieved through passive operational changes and additional long-term savings through active behavior changes.
2. Opportunities for reducing water usage would require major investment and PFANS would not directly see these savings. Therefore, PFANS should consider behavior-based reductions in water usage until a time where the case for capital expenditure on new equipment can be made.
3. Further improvements will require PFANS to form partnerships to overcome the challenges of sustainable and local food procurement in a healthcare setting.
4. Implementing an organic waste stream is possible and environmentally preferable.
5. PFANS can better utilize existing waste management infrastructure to increase diversion from landfill.
6. Areas for source reduction can be identified more readily by implementing better food waste tracking procedures.
7. Employee engagement is the lynchpin to successful implementation and to tracking progress against goals.

The project is intended to demonstrate how PFANS can support both sustainability and patient care through its operations and services to position the unit as a sustainability leader within UMHS and in the patient food service management space.

Research Areas
Food Systems and Consumer Products
Employee Engagement, Healthcare, Recycling & Composting, Sustainable Strategy
Publication Type
Master's Thesis
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation
Agins, Jenna, Annie Cronin, Catherine Dyson and Kate Newlin. (2013) “Pursuing Sustainability with UMHS' Patient Food & Nutrition Services: Aligning Sustainable Practices with Healthcare Delivery.” Master's Project, University of Michigan: Ann Arbor 1-119.