April 27, 2012
Volume 56, Issue 17


Gov. Walker Touts Health Care as "Great Asset" in Growing Wisconsin’s Economy

The impact that high quality health care has on the state’s ability to attract and retain employers has been, for the most part, absent in discussions about economic development. But in his address at WHA’s Advocacy Day April 24 before 800 attendees, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said he recognizes the value that good health care brings to employers.

"It is not just a benefit to us as citizens; (health care) is a tremendous asset to our employers, too," Walker said. "When you look at it, there is a whole series of things—taxes, the litigation (environment), and regulations—that factor in for employers. Health care quality is at the top of that list."

"It is your leadership and commitment to our communities’ health which make for a great state and make it a great asset not just for the people of our state but also for the employers," according to Walker.

Walker said his Administration is working with WHA and with hospitals across the state to find ways to reward value and reduce costs. Individuals must also do what they can to improve their own health. In addition to being economic development assets, hospitals bring value to their communities as employers. As the largest employers in the state, the Governor said he knows how critical workforce issues are to the state’s health care systems.

"We want a strong and vibrant health care system, and we want to make sure we are doing everything we can for workforce development to prepare health care professionals not just for today, but for tomorrow," Walker said.

The Governor said he was pleased to see the University of Wisconsin–Madison break ground on a new nursing school and commit to graduating 30 percent more nurses. The Governor said he wants to continue to expand opportunities for employment in health care and be "good partners with our health care partners in the State of Wisconsin."

To Walker, being a good partner also means not passing the buck on state budget shortfalls.

"We want to make sure that when there are changes in the state budget that we don’t pass the burden along to health care providers," Walker said. "People pay a higher cost to make up for that uncompensated care and that becomes a hidden tax on our employers. Our increase in Medicaid funding was the biggest in the history of Wisconsin; in fact, it was the biggest increase in the country. So even in a time of tough budgets, we added more money to Medicaid than any Governor has in the history of the state of Wisconsin, because we understand it is important to fund our priorities," Gov. Walker said. "We knew we either funded Medicaid or we would have fewer people getting coverage in crisis areas, or a hidden tax on employers, or in most cases, a little bit of both."

According to Walker, "To have a healthy state, we have to have healthy health care systems and we are committed to doing that, not just in providing adequate Medicaid reimbursement, but also in passing the Quality Improvement Act that will help ensure that our health care systems can focus on quality and more efficient and effective ways to provide care."

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WHA 2012 Advocacy Day Attracts Nearly 800 Advocates to Madison

Hospital advocates are unstoppable in their support for their community hospitals. Some left their homes in Northern Wisconsin at the crack of dawn to learn more about the political issues that challenge hospitals and to personally meet with their legislators in Madison.

In his welcome remarks, WHA President Steve Brenton said he was impressed by not only the size of the crowd gathered before him, but also by the passion they showed for their hospitals.

"I commend you for taking time to come to Madison to learn more about the issues facing your local hospitals," Brenton said. "Today you have an opportunity to meet with your legislators and start a conversation with them on the important issues that challenge our hospitals as they strive to deliver high value health care in our communities."

Mark Schafer, the state president of the Partners of Wisconsin Hospitals, which represents 12,000 hospital volunteers, led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. He thanked the volunteers for their 1.5 million hours of service and $2.4 million in financial support that they donated to their hospitals.

In her introductory comments, WHA Chair Sandy Anderson said Advocacy Day is the highest priority for the Association.

"Supporters are here to advocate today for small hospitals in rural communities, large hospitals in the inner city and for every hospital in between," Anderson said. "You’ll have an opportunity to educate and converse with your legislators on issues that are important to our ability to continue to deliver high-value health care in every one of our communities."

Pollster says "voters finally followed through on threat to ‘not take it anymore’"

Wisconsin has attracted a lot of attention over the past year from the national press, political pundants and pollsters because of the sharp divide. It is the state to watch, which may not be exactly comforting to those that live here, but Kellyanne Conway, a nationally-known pollster and president of the polling company in Washington DC, finds it fascinating in her line of work.

With the first Tea Party rally in Madison in April 2010 that drew a large crowd, Conway said it was the start of a new type of political activism, with social media as the catalyst.

"It is a rich environment for keeping candidates on their toes," Conway said. Voters are unpredictable, but Conway maintains that polls can be a predictive tool in elections, even as she acknowledged it is an over-abused and often misunderstood tool in modern politics.

The demographics of America are changing, a fact that is reflected in the latest census data. "Both parties need to catch up our country’s demographics," according to Conway.

For example, women are the family health care decision-makers, but when asked their opinion about the Accountable Care Act, they looked beyond the anecdotes and analyzed the cost of health reform. With a $1.7 price tag, and the implications of passage that could threaten access to health care for their own family, women rejected a natural tendency to go with their "heart strings" and instead, chose to follow their "purse strings." In the past, the voting patterns of women were fairly consistent, while men’s voting habits were more unpredictable. However, two years ago, that all changed.

"Women in 2010 voted so differently, they took a chance in uncertain times. Women started to pay attention to debt, and they started doing the math," Conway said. The elections of 2010 were surprising because for the first time, voters followed through on their threat to start over with a clean slate.

"The candidates that respect American’s ability to ‘do the math’ are the ones that will get the job," she added.

Conway said with the exception of 1972, for 50 years Americans have voted for their President based on who is more optimistic and forward looking. Americans tend to gravitate toward people who "make us feel better." But, while the last Presidential election was won by the candidate perceived as being "inspiration," this year, Conway believes the candidate that meets the country’s "aspirations" for the future will win.

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Legislative Leaders Engage in Debate on Medicaid, Health Reform, State Budget
Agree on fact that WI health care value is important factor in economic development

As he started his introduction of one of the most popular sessions at Advocacy Day, the legislative panel, WHA Executive Vice President Eric Borgerding could not help but notice the enthusiasm—and the sheer size—of the crowd before him.

"I look out and I see 800 hospital supporters. Physicians, nurses, administrators and volunteers who took time to drive into Madison to participate in the democratic process; who understand the power of grassroots advocacy," Borgerding said. "And I could not be happier to know that two of our state’s most influential legislative leaders who are sharing the stage with me right now, are seeing you from the same perspective that I am. They can’t help but be impressed."

The two legislators invited to present on this year’s panel are both well-respected leaders in the State Legislature. Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington) is co-chair of the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) is the Assembly minority leader and serves on several joint legislative committees.

The first question from the audience centered on the Medicaid budget: "One in five citizens is covered by the Medicaid program. The Medicaid program faced a massive deficit that was addressed in the state budget. Did you support the way the Medicaid budget was resolved, and if not, what would you have done differently?"

Not surprisingly, the two representatives saw things quite differently. Rep. Vos acknowledged that both parties have faced massive budget deficits, but he contended that there were major differences in how each administration resolved their budget deficit.

"We took a different path (than the previous administration)," according to Vos. "We set priorities and used every bit of revenue that we had and put it into funding health care for the poor, disabled and those that need it more. We made changes in how the Medicaid program operates, but over the long run, we focused on the future and how we could sustain Medicaid."

Barca acknowledged that the Medicaid program expanded under the Doyle administration, but supported that move by saying that expansion led to Wisconsin having the second best access to care in the nation. Without BadgerCare, Barca said, patients do not go without care.

"They go to the ER. That is why we created BadgerCare. It is something that both parties should support…ensure that people have access to health care," according to Barca.

Vos countered, "The highest priority is that the Medicaid Program is funded, so you (providers) can keep doing what you do. The tools we put into place are not always popular, but the tools are working."

As could be expected, Vos and Barca had vastly different views on federal health reform; the fate of that law now is in the hands of the Supreme Court.

"It is a threat to our freedom; it will change our entire society," Vos said. "It is a huge, unfunded mandate on Wisconsin….It is a major reason why we had to pass the budget we did. We have to spend the same on Medicaid as we did in March 2010. You can argue right or wrong, Gov. Doyle had a massive expansion of Madison, funded by one-time stimulus money to keep it in place. If the health reform law stands, all the new money for the foreseeable future will be spent on health care."

While Barca countered, "Last session, we had this big expansion of health care, as if that is a bad thing that we are second in the nation (based on coverage). That has been a dream of this country forever; fiscally it is important, and medically it is important."

Borgerding then approached the issue of the value that health care brings to a community: "High quality, good outcomes and value are hallmarks of the Wisconsin health care delivery system. However, a discussion of the value that health care brings to a community in terms of its role in attracting new business has largely been absent in the business nomenclature and competitiveness themes in Wisconsin. What do you see as the role health care plays in Wisconsin to attract employers to the state and grow jobs?"

Barca said health care quality is an important factor to the overall quality of life that companies consider when they are siting a factory.

"It is important, and we should tout it more aggressively, and as a member of the Wisconsin Economic Development Board, I will make sure that we analyze it more carefully," he said. "It is one of the factors that businesses consider and it is important."

Vos concurred with Barca that good health care is something that is taken for granted in Wisconsin.

"We live in a place where our health care is truly superior. You do a wonderful job, from the doctors in health care to the administrators to the volunteers," Vos said. "It is something that we should play up more. We need high quality care, but we need to make sure that it is affordable."

With economic development comes the workforce issue. Ensuring an adequate supply and well-trained health care workforce is available to hospitals is a major emphasis at WHA. Lately, however, hospitals are seeing a "skills gap" similar to that being reported by other Wisconsin industries. Borgerding asked the legislators what Wisconsin is doing to address this growing problem.

Barca said the skills gap is a serious problem, one that will only be solved through public-private partnerships involving the technical colleges and industry. Unlike other industries, though, the health care workforce is a blend of positions ranging from a two-year technical school degree to four-plus years of education. Both legislators were enthusiastic about strategies that would get people back to work in Wisconsin.

"We need to reform the way we work and reestablish the ‘Wisconsin’ work ethic," according to Vos.

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President’s Column: A Tale of Two States — Fiscal Sustainability vs. Fiscal Catastrophe

Speaking to nearly 800 hospital executives, volunteers and governing board members in Madison this week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker contrasted his commitment to Medicaid to that of his counterpart in Illinois, noting that his administration "added more money to Medicaid than any governor in the history of the state."

The Governor was correct; if anything his critique of Illinois was understated. Illinois Governor Quinn last week proposed a Medicaid budget that:

The proposal also does little to address the astounding fact that hospitals and clinics often wait 200+ days to be paid by the Medicaid program.

Illinois Hospital Association President Maryjane Wurth says that the cuts will result in "reduce(d) jobs" and "hospitals will be forced to eliminate medical services." In fact, a report released this week by IHA and other groups predicts that the proposals will result in 25,000 lost jobs for the state’s already beleaguered economy.

Contrast this to Wisconsin, where Governor Walker and a majority of lawmakers made the difficult and controversial choice of committing every dollar of new revenue this budget cycle to protecting health care for Wisconsin’s most fragile patients and the providers who serve them. This indeed is a stark contrast between a decision that moves Wisconsin’s health care programs to an era of sustainability as opposed to the devastating alternative found across our southern border.

Steve Brenton,
President

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CMS Releases FY 2013 Inpatient PPS Proposed Rule
Would add to the Massachusetts windfall, continue coding cuts, and make key changes to quality reporting

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on Tuesday, April 24, issued its hospital inpatient prospective payment system (PPS) proposed rule for fiscal year (FY) 2013.

Although the rule overall proposes national increases to hospital payments of $966 million—an average of 0.9 percent when compared to FY 2012—it’s important to note that CMS did not factor in the expected across-the-board budget cuts of 2 percent expected to begin next January.

"WHA is deeply concerned with the proposed level of payment for FY 2013, and the misguided policies that are continued in this year’s proposed rule," said WHA President Steve Brenton. "Hospitals continue to struggle to make important investments to ensure quality care for all patients. We disagree with any further reductions to a system in which hospitals already are paid less than the cost of providing vital services."

Continuation of Massachusetts Windfall

The CMS proposal fails to mitigate the policies that resulted in Massachusetts being able to manipulate the rural floor provisions and reap higher Medicare reimbursements for its hospitals at the expense of other hospitals in the nation. (See August 5, 2011 and November 4, 2011 Valued Voice articles.) As a result, Massachusetts will continue for a second year to receive a significant windfall. In the proposal’s preamble, CMS estimates that Massachusetts will receive about a 5.5 percent increase in inpatient PPS payments—over $182 million in FY 2013—due to the application of the rural floor. By contrast, Wisconsin hospitals would receive a reduction of $4.6 million after application of the rural floor policy. WHA will continue to strongly advocate for changes that will prevent such "boondoggles" to continue.

Continued Coding Cuts

The nation’s PPS hospitals face a third year of Medicare payment reductions due to a formula-driven adjustment to eliminate the alleged effect of coding changes associated with the new DRG system implemented a few years ago. Although the rule proposes to restore a one-time cut of 2.9 percent made in 2012, it also cuts payments by 2.7 percent to eliminate what CMS claims is the effect of documentation and coding changes the agency says do not reflect real changes in case-mix. AHA’s Rich Umbdenstock expressed disappointment with these coding cuts, stating "CMS continues to use outdated data and a flawed methodology to put into place these cuts. Their actions show a lack of understanding over the reality that hospitals care for patients with complicated medical needs, and payments to hospitals for these services are already below the cost of providing care."

Changes to Quality Reporting

The proposed rule makes several changes to various quality reporting programs. Key changes would include:

Other payment proposals

CMS proposes a number of other changes to hospital payments. Based on WHA’s initial review of the rule, these include:

What’s Next?

Watch for a more detailed analysis in the coming weeks. Comments on the proposed rule are due June 25. The final rule is expected to be published by August 1, and the policies and payment rates will take effect October 1.

The proposed rule is available at: www.cms.gov/Medicare/Medicare-Fee-for-Service-Payment/AcuteInpatientPPS/FY-2013-IPPS-Proposed-Rule-Home-Page.html.

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Nearly 450 Hospital Supporters Share Key Advocacy Messages with Legislators
Top Issues: Health care value, cuts to hospitals, physician shortage

It was a perfectly beautiful day for the short walk from Monona Terrace and the Wisconsin State Capitol. But, before the more than 450 hospital supporters gathered for WHA’s Advocacy Day headed off to visit their legislators, WHA Executive Vice President Eric Borgerding briefed the group on key advocacy messages.

"The purpose of our message today is to look ahead to the start of the 2013 legislative session. We want legislators to be aware of our issues so when votes start being cast, you have already started the discussion, started it today," Borgerding said. "So now is the perfect time to tell your story and describe how decisions being made in Washington and Madison impact you, your patients, and your communities."

The three top issues and the messages Borgerding asked the group to share with their legislators included:

Hospitals/Hospital Systems focus on health care value: Quality, cost and community commitment

"Health care value is an attribute in this state—it can be a competitive advantage for Wisconsin. We should not just be discussing it among ourselves. We need to talk about the quality and value of health care provided in Wisconsin when we pitch to potential new employers who could bring well-paying jobs with health insurance to our communities," Borgerding said.

Cuts in Washington Impact Hospitals in Wisconsin

"The cuts in Washington are translating to real impacts in Wisconsin. Ask your legislators to support your hospitals by writing to members of Wisconsin’s Congressional Delegation and urge them to consider the impact that these cuts will have on your community," Borgerding urged. A sample letter for Wisconsin legislators to send to members of Congress was available for hospital advocates to leave behind in legislative offices.

Wisconsin is facing a physician shortage, and 100 new doctors per year are needed to meet demand

"All stakeholders have a role to play, hospitals, medical schools, and legislators," according to Borgerding. "Today we are asking legislators, our partners and stakeholders in the Capitol to give us the tools we need to bring and keep more physicians right here in Wisconsin."

WHA’s physician-related Advocacy Day priorities were:

Borgerding concluded his remarks by thanking attendees for their support.

"I can tell you from our perspective, as your staff, it is great to see you here, to see so many of you from hospitals and health systems across the state participating in advocacy, and speaking with one loud voice."

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Zipperer Receives WHA Health Advocate Award

Senator Rich Zipperer (R-Pewaukee) received WHA’s Health Care Advocate of the Year Award April 24 at WHA’s Advocacy Day in Madison. WHA presents the award annually to an individual who demonstrates outstanding efforts on behalf of Wisconsin hospitals and a strong commitment to health care policy.

As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Zipperer was a driving force in the passage of the Quality Improvement Act (also known as the QIA), one of WHA’s top priorities for several legislative sessions.

Hospitals and health care providers for years had been working on updating Wisconsin’s antiquated peer review laws. Providers had been reluctant to measure and share best practices because of their concern that the very activity intended to improve care could be used against the provider in a lawsuit. With the protections included in the QIA, providers exchange information and have discussions that can lead to improvements in the quality and safety of health care.

"This is a huge honor to receive an award from a group of health care professionals," Zipperer said. "As an attorney, I think it is important to recognize that the original goals of the tort system were to ensure quality. The peer review process is a good example of this. As health care professionals you understand the importance of peer review, so you can assess where you are as a professional, collect data, apply measurement and have your quality efforts reviewed by your peers. Prior Wisconsin tort law was (a disincentive to) that process."

"Senator Zipperer’s leadership was a crucial component to the passage of the QIA," said Paul Merline, WHA’s vice president, government affairs, who presented the award to Zipperer. "It was his in-depth understanding of the issue that allowed him to be among those clearly articulating its importance to other legislators. He understood how the QIA encourages a greater level of collaborative learning and sharing among health care providers and how that collaboration drives health care improvement."

Zipperer was joined in the Advocacy Day audience by representatives of several of his district hospitals, including: Aurora Health Care and Aurora Medical Center in Hartford; ProHealth Care, Waukesha; Rehabilitation Hospital of Wisconsin, Waukesha; and Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, Brookfield.

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St. Joseph’s Hospital (Chippewa Falls) Receives WHA 2012 Advocacy All-Star Award

St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls received the 2012 Advocacy All-Star Award at WHA’s Advocacy Day April 24. In front of 750 hospital peers, President Joan Coffman accepted the award on behalf of the hospital. The award is given to one hospital that exemplifies dedication to grassroots advocacy.

"Fighting for what is right and good and advocating by speaking out for those who can’t is second nature to St. Joseph’s Hospital," said Coffman.

In the past year, St. Joseph’s hosted multiple legislators, including two "shadow day" opportunities with CEO Coffman. Shadow days are when elected officials shadow a hospital CEO to see all that it takes to run a hospital in today’s health care environment. Coffman hosted state Reps. Larson and Bernier.

"In support of their mission, St. Joseph’s Hospital continues to demonstrate a culture of grassroots advocacy on behalf of the hospital, its patients and community," said WHA Vice President, External Relations & Member Advocacy Jenny Boese in presenting Coffman with the 2012 Advocacy All-Star Award. "St. Joseph’s serves as a great model for others."

The hospital has some 80 individuals who participate in WHA’s grassroots program, HEAT, and regularly has over 45 individuals who attend Advocacy Day each year, including participating in the afternoon’s legislative visits. They also believe being present in Washington, DC to meet personally with their Members of Congress is important.

"The value of grassroots health care advocacy is guided by our principles as we continue to strengthen health care in our communities…It is an opportunity to make a difference in the present and the future as we work together to help shape the quality of life in our communities," Coffman said. "Thank you again to all who made this extraordinary award possible for St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls."

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Health Care Administrative Professionals Conference, May 18

WHA’s annual Health Care Administrative Professionals Conference is designed to help health care administrative professionals in their day-to-day responsibilities and to motivate them to stay focused, dedicated, and disciplined. This year’s conference will be held May 18 at Glacier Canyon Lodge at the Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells.

The agenda will focus on helping executive assistants, administrative assistants, business office managers, and other hospital support staff increase their value by accomplishing more with contributions that make a difference to their organizations.

A block of hotel rooms has been reserved for the evening of May 17 at the Glacier Canyon Lodge, at a group rate of $99. To make a reservation, call 1-800-867-9453 by Thursday, May 3.

Please pass this information on to the valued administrative support service professionals in departments throughout your organization and encourage them to attend. A full agenda and online registration are available at: http://events.SignUp4.com/HC-Administrative12.

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National Rural Health Association Honors RWHC’s Tim Size

Tim Size, executive director of the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, was recognized by the National Rural Health Association at their recent conference. Size received the "President’s Award" April 19 from current NRHA President Lance Keiler from Ballinger Memorial Hospital, Ballinger, TX. The President’s Award is given to a rural health professional, "for being a leader and mentor, and for a career dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for all rural Americans."

In an emotional speech, Keiler discussed the importance of Size’s work, and noted that while his focus was Wisconsin, "Tim has most definitely had a positive impact for rural across America."

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Roadmaps to Health $25,000 Prizes Available to Communities in 2013
Notices of intent to apply due May 31

Is your community working together to improve health? If so, consider applying for the Roadmaps to Health Prize. The prize is intended to honor successful efforts and to inspire and stimulate similar activities in communities across the country. Up to six Roadmaps to Health Prize winning communities will be honored in early 2013, and each will receive a no-strings-attached $25,000 cash prize.

The Prize is part of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (www.countyhealthrankings.org/#app/), led by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI), that creates solutions that make it easier for people to be healthy, focusing on specific factors that we know affect health, such as education and income. Communities throughout the Unites States will apply for the prize.

"Hospitals have been integral partners in community health improvement activities throughout Wisconsin. I encourage them to engage with other key stakeholders to submit applications for the Roadmaps to Health Prize," said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy director of the County Health Roadmaps at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. "In addition to possibly winning the prize, it will also provide a great opportunity to celebrate your accomplishments and create even more energy for your work."

For more information about the prize, how to apply, deadlines, FAQs and a video to get you inspired, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org/roadmaps/prize. Email questions to Kirstin Siemering, Roadmaps to Health Prize Manager, at RoadmapsPrize@match.wisc.edu.

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Wisconsin Hospitals Community Benefits: Adequate and Appropriate Nutrition

Nutrition counseling is an important aspect of the service that hospitals provide within their communities. Whether it is offering classes that focus on weight loss or promoting better health, or nutrition education for people who are diabetic, Wisconsin hospitals offer hundreds of free classes that stress the importance of a nutritional, well-balanced diet on overall health. Hospital employees also help deliver Meals on Wheels and they organize and participate in food drives to benefit local food pantries.

What’s on my plate?

This past year, Aurora Medical Center Grafton (AMCG) received an invitation to participate in the Partners in Education program at Grafton Elementary School. The Partnership in Education program is a collaboration between local hospital and business leaders to teach students about potential career opportunities. Local hospital and business leaders are asked to visit the class for 30 minutes each month.

AMCG partnered with Mrs. Gaulke’s third grade class. Dietitian Haley Nolan was a guest speaker for the month of January 2012 and presented the topic of nutrition. Haley immediately engaged the class with the "Pass the Peanut" game. Students were asked to share their name and favorite food with the class when they received the paper peanut. Pizza was the most popular food choice.

Next, Haley explained the new nutritional guidelines set by the United States Department of Agriculture established on June 2, 2011, which have replaced the old food pyramid. The new guideline is called "MyPlate." MyPlate is an easy-to-understand visual of the five food groups to help consumers adopt healthy eating habits by learning how to build a healthy plate with fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.

Haley provided a visual diagram of a plate with pictures of each of the five food groups that represented the building blocks for a healthy diet. She asked each student to place pictures from the five food groups in the correct section of their paper plate and then share it with the class.

"It was great to see their enthusiasm and how proud the students were upon completing their plates correctly," Haley stated. "Students were eager to show their food selections and explain how their plates represented each of the new five food groups guidelines."

Aurora Medical Center in Grafton


La Crosse area students are actually cheering for vegetables

Gundersen Lutheran Health System’s mission focuses on improving the health of the communities we serve. With childhood obesity rates soaring, Gundersen Lutheran joined forces with La Crosse County Farm2School, a collaboration between public school districts in La Crosse County and the La Crosse County Health Department (funded through a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant received in 2010 from the Centers for Disease Control) to combat this issue.

The program teaches elementary school children where their food comes from; how their food choices affect their bodies, the environment and their communities; and delicious ways to prepare the foods.

Since the program’s inception, Gundersen Lutheran executive chef Thomas Sacksteder, has led the hands-on food demonstrations at seven schools in La Crosse County (three additional schools will be added in 2012).

In 2011, Chef Thomas reached more than 3,000 students and educators, offering 20,000 samples of locally grown foods. The schools have, in turn, prepared the recipes written by Chef Thomas and offered them as part of their school lunch menus. Remarkably, children have responded positively to new recipes that use vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, parsnips and rutabagas. When kids at this age learn first-hand that locally grown fruits and vegetables can be delicious, in addition to being good for them, they will be more likely to make smart food choices for their entire life.

This program has not only resulted in an increase in the number of fruits and vegetables students are eating from the school lunch menus, but it also supports the local economy. The county and school district have worked together to purchase local produce. This type of cooperative purchasing enables the districts to include local fruits and vegetables on their menus as part of the National School Lunch Program. In addition, Farm2School minimizes school district staff labor in delivering minimally-processed local produce at competitive prizes.

Gundersen Lutheran Health System is based in La Crosse. To watch Chef Thomas and the students in action, visit www.laxf2s.org.

Gundersen Lutheran Health System, La Crosse


Cafeteria offers healthier food choices

As a medical facility, Appleton Medical Center has to lead by example.

While the health of a community is important, so is the health inside the facility. And one of the best places to start is with the food that those in the hospital consume.

"We decided we had to do something within our organization," said Jan Peiffer, registered dietitian and manager of dining and patient room services. "We can’t wait for everybody else to get on board. Since we’re health care, we have to take the lead."

Numbers are growing in rates of obesity, heart attacks, cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and other health issues. But a lot can be controlled by the individual, said Peiffer. "We have control over 70 percent of what happens to us," she said.

And a lot can start with healthy eating choices.

The hospital recently opened a newly revamped cafeteria that offers healthier eating choices like fresh, whole foods, whole grains, hormone-free meats, local dairy and more.

"We went with more natural, less processing," said Peiffer. "Even when we bring in our produce, we bring it in whole."

The food is labeled green for a "good" food and yellow and red for "stop and think" before picking. The cooking staff has also been re-trained to properly prepare foods made with fresh, whole ingredients.

Executive Chef Larry London wants to "get back to a basic approach to food, the way our grandmothers and mothers used to cook."

There are no fryers and items are sautéed, baked, poached and roasted, while herbs and spices are used. Three stations in the cafeteria have been upgraded. A larger salad bar includes a featured salad station. Another station offers Panini sandwiches and whole grain pizza by the slice. A third station offers daily custom cuisine like fajitas and sizzling salmon Caesar salad.

"I keep going back to the basic approach," said Chef London, adding "God gives us beautiful ingredients and it’s our job to take them and prepare them simply."

Appleton Medical Center


Heart healthy cooking

Each year more Americans die from heart disease than from any other cause. While this is scary news, it doesn’t mean that heart disease can’t be prevented or treated. Adopting healthy eating habits is one of the many things a person can do to help reduce his or her risk of developing or dying from the disease.

Every fall and spring, Memorial Health Center offers free Heart Healthy Cooking educational sessions for the public in an effort to help people take better care of their hearts. At these sessions, Odessa Syryczuk, RD/CDE, Memorial Health Center registered dietitian, explains how to make smart food choices from every food group, read nutrition labels to identify heart healthy foods, and set achievable health goals. A free heart healthy lunch is also served to those attending, proving that heart healthy meals don’t need to be boring or bland.

Memorial Health Center, Medford


Submit community benefit stories to Mary Kay Grasmick, editor, at mgrasmick@wha.org.

Read more about hospitals connecting with their communities at www.WiServePoint.org.

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