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An interview with John Utech, Senior Director of Sustainability and Strategy, Cleveland Clinic; Christina Indiveri, AVP of Environmental Sustainability, Vizient; and Marissa Golison, Director of Sustainability, Compass Group

How can we think differently about food and nutrition services in the hospital environment? Learn more about how Cleveland Clinic and Morrison Healthcare work together to advance population health in the communities and address the environmental impact of their operations.

Watch the full video below or keep scrolling to read. 

This video is part of the Compass One Healthcare x Vizient, Inc Podcast Series.

Q: What’s the current state of hospital food?

John Utech: I think it’s a really exciting time in hospital food. It’s in this amazing time of transformation. And when I say that, what I mean is that people come to hospitals for healing services, and sometimes they’re in their most vulnerable and desperate states. Hospitals have woken up to the fact that food is a huge part of the healing process. When they’re on our property getting food, it’s medicine. It’s part of the healing process. What we adjust is a huge part of how we stay healthy. So, what we serve our patients is vitally important to the success of our work as a healthcare organization. And we really see food as that. It’s a change from just feeding our patients to food as a population health strategy for our organization.

Christina Indiveri: We have five foundational areas that we refer to as our core tenants. These are intrinsic benefits or table stakes, if you will, for all of our provider and their supplier partners. And they represent our social responsibility. John talked about population health and they represent five key strategies to solve some of today’s toughest challenges, whether it’s health equity, population health, climate change even. These are huge, massive undertakings. Our core benefits are five foundational areas that focus on environmental sustainability to improve human and environmental health. Supplier diversity for its correlation to economic benefit and community health. Supply assurance for high, reliable care. Price assurance for affordability. And last but not least, insights and intelligence for informed decision-making and visibility. And these are integrated within everything we do, we do with our partners and our suppliers.

Marissa Golison: This is an extremely exciting time, especially working within the food systems and with amazing partners like Cleveland Clinic to say, how can we think differently about the food that we’re providing, not only to help combat climate change, as we know that the food industry has a major opportunity to be a solution to a lot of the climate challenges that we’re facing. But how do we use food as medicine? How do we help heal not just the planet, but people through food? And I think that the understanding of that intersection is really coming forward to the mainstream and the massive amount of information available to consumers and with our types of partnerships that we’re able to leverage the expertise with the culinary leaders and, the registered dietitians and the wealth of knowledge within Compass one to support populations within the health care environment.

I think that there are so many opportunities for us to do better in terms of the food that we’re providing and also the entire ecosystem around the food and educating people and bringing them along on this journey with us, not only just in the hospital but how can it be, continued on within their home, as we know that diets are going to be incredibly important to sustaining the healing journeys that are happening in the hospitals. The stat that I’ll draw out here is, that we know that 64% of the population now understands that what’s better for them is better for the planet in terms of the food that we consume. And I think that this is an amazing moment for us to build upon in terms of how we can engage the populations in the food that we’re providing.

Q: Why is the sustainability food service policies so important to your success?

John Utech: I’ve been at Cleveland Clinic for ten years. I manage about ten different issues. And since I started, we’ve taken on food as an issue. Why? Because I see it as so profoundly impactful. Actually, it touches on so many aspects of how we, as a healthcare system, think about what keeps a population healthy. So you look at research out of the University of Wisconsin about the social determinants of health. 40% of health outcomes relate to where you’re born, zip code, social factors, and things like that. We have programs that try to impact that. In fact, food is one way that we try to impact that because, frankly, the best health strategy for individuals is to give them a job if they don’t have a job, because economic security is kind of the foundation of health and wealth.

We’ve realized and set goals and are managing them with our partners Compass One and Morrison. We want to source more locally because what that does is keep our own food dollars in the local economy. That does so many good things because it not only keeps a more robust local food economy, more jobs, and taxes. There are ancillary benefits of the money.  You look at different studies and you get different outcomes, but there’s a factor of 2 to 4 times more money kept for money spent locally than spent other ways. So frankly that’s a really important thing that we can do. And when I started that just wasn’t a focus. So working with our food service partner to be able to do that. This is a team sport. Like sustainability, it is all about working together.

We’re here to change Ohio the U.S. and the world, and we do this by working together and talking together. And so really, in tackling food, what we’ve done is in flipping the script, we set some goals and we started to manage them.

It took me 3 or 4 years. I think we set our goals in 2017 around a couple of things. One is trying to buy more local food. Second, buy more sustainable food. And by sustainable I mean typically has certifications of organic or sourcing or humane care of animals. There’s all these different things that impact health, not just the direct disease and surgeries that take place in hospitals. But, there’s this broader perspective that our clinicians are starting to include. And that’s why we as an organization are trying to manage towards those same goals.

Q: It’s interesting when you talk about teamwork and also talk about the farmers and their buying in. It’s a really is a team effort, isn’t it?

Christina Indiveri: It takes a village, as we all know. As John so eloquently said, there are so many incredible opportunities within food, whether it’s local sourcing to partnering up with diverse suppliers so they have a living wage for their families, in addition to job creation and money going into the local economy. It’s also reduction of carbon emissions to fight climate change. We know that’s a top trend these days. It’s a meat reduction. It’s even sustainable choices, so switching from a conventional product to one that is organic or antibiotic-free, and even food service. We know that unfortunately there are chemicals of concern in some of our plates, utensils, and cups that leach out and are associated with adverse health outcomes. Many incredible opportunities.

The key is the multiplier effect. One decision to partner with a local, diverse supplier, can lead to healthier food that’s more nutritious, traveling, job creation, local wage, and carbon emissions reduction. And your patients and staff are healthier because they’re getting that nutritious fuel. There are so many incredible wins and I am excited to be able to expand on some of these great best practices this morning.

Marissa Golison: I’d love to add to two points that you both brought up here. The first is the ten different things that you’re managing on a daily basis and the collaboration that goes into solving some of the world’s most existential challenges, and, the role that Compass plays in supporting organizations like the Cleveland Clinic.

We do food. We know food. Being able to really own what you’re responsible for and bringing that expertise to the table and saying: here are the things that we’re able to track on behalf of Cleveland Clinic; here are the things that we can really push the envelope on; here are the things that we can really drive if we’re able to do it in partnership with you. I think that emphasis on the partnership with you is so critical because so much of what defines what we’re able to accomplish within an organization comes down to who’s leading it from the client side, and what are the priorities that your organization has set, because there’s so many competing issues going on within a healthcare system every single day. So, it’s making sure that it continues to stay relevant. And being part of those conversations every single day.

John Utech: When I started this ten years ago. I knew change was possible, but sometimes things go better than I expected. And, you know, when honestly, when I joined the clinic, this was not my area of expertise. I’ve learned so much, but having the ability to do this is impossible without the support of my own leadership and management team. So, I talked to them for a couple of years and they agreed. This makes sense and aligns with how Cleveland Clinic thinks about taking care of its community and its patients. While we kind of have these different services that try to impact things in different ways, we have another commitment which is measuring carbon emissions from meat. We’ve reduced the carbon footprint of the meat served at our main campus by 41% in five years. Our food scores are still great. We’ve been able to manage it. Sometimes the issue of carbon can be discouraging. We can get down by saying we need to go 80% or 50% by the end of the decade.

Here we are at 41% in five years. We couldn’t do this without Vizient who gives us the data to manage it. In hospitals, people like me are few. So, we need people like Vizient to talk to vendors, make it clear our social environmental needs, get us data, and lobby in the Vizient contracts for getting environmental clauses. And they’ve been doing a tremendous job. The change, frankly, in that world in the last six years is incredible. It’s sort of night and day in terms of my ability to manage.

Christina Indiveri: I think of your carbon emissions figure, which is truly astounding. You don’t hear that every day. People are talking about the world on fire. We’re never going to get there. And to hear figures like 41% within five years is truly incredible. We believe, honestly, that Vizient is in a unique position in the industry. We are a convener. Our vision and mission is to convene providers, and suppliers to create close-looped, robust processes for data sharing and analytics. Because we know so many of our providers are setting baselines, tracking goals and sustainability is huge. And then you drill into food and even that is massive with meat and chemicals and beverages and so much more.

Marissa Golison: It’s all about making it easier, more accessible. so that the average operator or average business has the tools to be able to tackle this on their own. These types of partnerships are showing that it’s possible. I think is incredibly important.

Q: What is the future of sustainability when it comes to what you do? Where do you see it going?

Christina Indiveri: The future looks bright no matter what. It looks bright because there has never been so much energy and momentum around this. People are leaning in like never before and we are seeing so many innovative collaborations with providers, suppliers, GPOs, NGOs and so many more players who say we all want the same things.

We want to ensure that our communities are safe and healthy and we can look at social determinants of health and we can improve patient satisfaction. Food is incredibly emotional. It makes people feel great, so the future’s bright, the opportunities are endless. And it’s because of amazing leadership from John and Marissa who are leaning in and are saying, what else is needed? What can we do? How can we work together and collaborate to push this forward and advance sustainability performance improvement?

Marissa Golison: We have so much that we’re doing from a supplier engagement perspective, operational efficiencies and just running our businesses better and more sustainably. But I think the big one for me is what we’ve been talking about—consumer and guest engagement and bringing them along this journey with us, because they are arguably one of the most important stakeholders in this conversation. You’re not able to have success in a taco shop if people aren’t buying the tacos. And so the really exciting thing for me in terms of where we’re going in the future is how we’re going to engage the guests in this journey with us and educate them and empower them.

There’s so much doom and gloom around messaging in regards to climate change because it’s a really daunting topic, but there’s so much positivity that we can bring through food and making delicious culinary experiences. I have the opportunity of working with amazing chefs every day and being able to show what we can do.

It’s not just the black bean burger anymore in terms of how we talk about plant-forward and that we’re not trying to remove meat all in all, but thinking about how can we actually just increase the amount of plants on our plate and really celebrate the local and the seasonality of the food that we’re eating. I just think that the mainstream understanding of the food system is growing so much right now, and it makes me extremely excited because for so long people have been so far removed from the food that they’re eating. And I think it does a disservice from a culinary perspective, and it does a disservice to understanding the health and sustainability of the food that we’re eating.

Q: Where would you say is a good place to start with sustainability efforts in hospitals?

John Utech: There’s a growing number of sources of great information on how to get involved in sustainability and health care. Even if you just go to Compass Group’s website, they have an amazing report and a great story. Vizient does as well. They report what they’re doing. There’s a group called Practice Greenhealth that is great at trying to package up all the things you can do in healthcare. That process gives you kind of a roadmap of where to get started and how and most importantly a network of people to talk to because doing this work varies. Every hospital is a network of people and they have different ways of understanding. So, find ways this kind of find the key leverage points in your system. That’s really what Vizient is doing in terms of green purchasing, in terms of trying to provide new members with the tools to manage the way that they do green purchasing. So, I’d say that if you want to really get into the topic. Vizient has both tools at the corporate level for understanding how companies are, and what their companies are doing, but also on the individual product level.

Christina Indiveri: I would say now is the time to start. There is no better time to lean into this than now. I know many providers and even suppliers say it’s overwhelming. It’s so broad. We don’t know where to begin, but Vizient provides best practices and case studies. Compass has so many incredible articles, blogs, and case studies as well.

What’s important is to start somewhere. You don’t have to tackle carbon, meat, and beverages all at once. Every single small step helps. Every single step and every change is still adding to the big picture. And it’s still advancing sustainability, and performance improvement. It’s elevating the cause. Our providers are stepping up as champions. So, so many great resources. And I’ll just end with, reach out. There are so many tools available. We use data and analytics as a foundational component, whether it’s dashboards or optimized insights or catalog or, environmental preferred designate in portfolios. We can always get creative and we’re always willing to lean in. But now is the time to really get started and act.

Marissa Golison: I think it’s really figuring out what’s important to you as an organization. What’s important to your local community? What are the issues that are going to be most material to the people coming into your hospital every day? And how do you want to tackle that? I think just finding the right partners who are willing and ready to be on this journey with you. Journey is the most overused word in the in the world of sustainability, but for good reason, because this is going to be a journey and understanding that the power of scale and those small changes really do add up.

About Vizient, Inc.
Vizient, Inc., the nation’s largest provider-driven healthcare performance improvement company, serves more than 60% of the nation’s acute care providers, which includes 97% of the nation’s academic medical centers, and more than 25% of the non-acute care market. Vizient provides expertise, analytics and advisory services, as well as a contract portfolio that represents more than $130 billion in annual purchasing volume. Vizient’s solutions and services improve the delivery of high-value care by aligning cost, quality and market performance. Headquartered in Irving, Texas, Vizient has offices throughout the United States. Learn more at www.vizientinc.com.

Cleveland Clinic was at the forefront of modern medicine when its founders opened it as a multi-specialty group practice in 1921. In its first century, Cleveland Clinic has introduced many medical firsts, opened facilities around the world and is proud to be ranked among the top hospitals in the country. Now, 100 years later, the vision of the founders remains Cleveland Clinic’s mission: caring for life, researching for health, and educating those who serve. Learn more here.

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