US hospital feed patients with greenhouse, teaches Kenya

A hospital in US has built a one of its kind greenhouse in the hospital precincts as it seeks to improve patients' diet and reduce food expenses, offering big lessons to Kenyan hospitals that are struggling to feed their patients on limited food budget.

Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in Michigan state has sunk in some Sh85million in the building of the organic greenhouse, the first of its kind to be built by a health institution globally, with the greenhouse expected to save the hospital over Sh1.7million in food related expenses annually.

Featuring a self-sustaining design with solar, geothermal and wind power, the 1,500 square-foot greenhouse has been built with an attached education center as well which seeks to train visitors and patients on the the need to grow, prepare and eat healthy foods since “nutrition determines the health of all of us and if we can take care of what we eat we can greatly cut the number of patients in this hospital” according to Jeffrey Jacobs, the hospital's interim director of wellness.

Instead of soil, the plants are grown with this sophisticated, water-based technique in a bid to create a cleaner environment within the greenhouse, which is ideal for patients. Dozens of of vegetables and herbs like five types of kale, 23 kinds of tomatoes, five varieties of basil, eggplants, squash, hot and sweet peppers, fresh herbs, microgreens and even strawberry plants are some of the crops that are thriving in the hospital's greenhouse.

And as more hospitals in US and across the world toy with the idea of replicating the greenhouse model, the roaring success of the Michigan hospital could come as a much needed lesson to government hospitals in Kenya struggling with food shortage and ballooning food budget that they cant keep up with.

Already there has been alarming reports patients in these hospitals are going for two days without food as suppliers boycott deliveries due to the huge debt the hospitals owe them. Although data on the specific amount owed to the suppliers is hard to come by, virtually all the public hospitals in the country, including the largest referral hospital Kenyatta National Hospital have delayed paying their food suppliers creating a food shortage at the expense of patients. “I supply beans and vegetables to KNH.

This is the fifth month I havent received a penny from them, as they keep telling me that there are delays in processing payments. I am in business and I cant keep making losses so I have stopped supplies to the hospital,”says Winfred Owino who has supplied to the hospital for the last ten years. In Kocholya District Hospital Teso, patients go for upto two whole days without meals as the hospital administration struggles with a heavy food budget coupled with mounting debt to suppliers. “We are now being told to be bringing food to our patients and we wonder why we should be doing that when the hospital charges us to take care of our patients,”lamented Milka Mwandazo whose 10 year daughter Silvia has been admitted in the hospital for the last two weeks with anaemia, caused by lack of iron in the blood. Ironically, the foods that are supposed to get her get better like leafy vegetables, liver and fruits are a luxury in the hospital with the staple diet being soup and Ugali.

The situation is no different in Mathare's mental hospital where hygiene and lack of food have been identified as the biggest problems bedeviling the hospital. Food shortage in Kenyan hospital has become such a big issue that a 2011 report by Kenya Human Rights Commission identified it as a ticking time bomb that could cripple the health sector.

The report dubbed Silenced minds: The systemic Neglect of the Mental Health Systems in Kenya urged government to prioritize food availability in hospitals if it wanted to ever address wellness of patients in mental hospitals and other public health institutions. “This is phenomenal, there are huge swathes of land in virtually all public hospitals that are not cultivated. I am imagining the difference it would make if we are to borrow the Michigan hospital model. Food shortage should especially in hospitals should not be happening at this time and age,” said Walter Ndegwa a senior health officer at the Thika General Hospital.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter