STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Executives at Staten Island University Hospital didn't need the mayor to urge them to curb access to junk food for patients, visitors and employees -- they were a few steps ahead of him.
Staten Island University Hospital has begun incorporating healthier snacks into its vending machines, similar to those in the above photo.
The changes, which are still evolving, were initially made only in the vending machines at both the Ocean Breeze and Prince's Bay campuses.
"We moved the water up to eye level so it's the first thing you see and then the sweetened beverages are placed in a lower, less visible spot," said Patricia Ortlieb, SIUH's clinical nutrition manager.
"We've also included some lower fat, lower sodium options," she said, citing things like baked chips, pretzels, graham crackers and fruit snacks.
At first, the changes were made in a small sample area.
"We've actually noticed an increase in our sales of healthier options so we expanded it to all of our outpatient areas where we have enormous traffic," Ms. Ortlieb said.
SIUH was on this bandwagon before Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked private healthcare facilities to voluntarily join his Healthy Hospital Food Initiative.
Some of the suggestions included in the initiative are decreasing the number and portion size of high-calorie beverages and snacks in vending machines, or replacing them with healthier choices that limit salt, calories and fat.
Ms. Ortlieb said clinical managers and operators from every hospital in the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System have formed a working group to develop guidelines based on the city's recommendations.
So, visitors and employees to SIUH's cafeterias will find things like carbonated and non-carbonated beverages without added sugar, low-fat milk and 100 percent juices, high-protein bars and egg whites.
"The belief is we're here in the health care business, we're a hospital so when people come here with their various medical conditions, they would expect to be served healthy food," she said.
"We feel we should be encouraging them to eat right. If the first thing they see when they come in is french fries and hamburgers, what kind of message is that sending?"
Still, she said, hospitals will never be able to eliminate all the sugar and high-calorie food, citing pregnant women and patients -- both young and old -- who may need whole milk or sugar as part of a treatment plan or even just for comfort.
"You'll never see all those options go away, but we want to make sure, for the most part, we're moving toward offering those healthier options at a greater percentage of time," she said.
At Richmond University Medical Center in West Brighton, the dietary department has placed making similar changes on "their planning agenda and will hopefully address [them] in the near future," according to spokeswoman Paula Caputo.