The Tooele County community has much to be grateful for when it comes to local healthcare. Because of Mountain West Medical Center, we have an exceptional 43-bed hospital that provides a broad range of inpatient and outpatient services, and many complex medical procedures that typically aren’t available beyond the Wasatch Front. Since it replaced the county’s 50-year-old hospital in 2002, MWMC has established a benchmark of quality healthcare that is the envy of larger, urban hospitals across Utah and elsewhere.
In another benchmark, our local hospital over the past decade has taken an active leadership role in providing preventative programs that aim to educate and inspire all of us to make healthier lifestyle choices. But a new health initiative by MWMC shows an even deeper commitment to educate and inspire — to do what’s right for the community — despite potential risk to the hospital’s bottom line.
It also reveals a growing effort by health officials and organizations to remedy a worrisome well-being issue in the county.
In a Feb. 12 Transcript-Bulletin story titled, “Hospital revamps patient menu to cut calories and cholesterol,” MWMC officials held nothing back while explaining the problem. Because the majority of the facility’s patients suffer from serious cardiovascular disease or diabetes, the old patient menu — filled with comfort food high in sugar, sodium and cholesterol — was given the heave ho. In its place is a new menu that offers numerous dishes and entrees prepared at healthier standards.
While talking about the difficulty of feeding so many sick patients every day with disease-caused food restrictions, Misty Kay, a registered dietitian at MWMC, summarized well the importance of a new, healthier menu: “It’s a need here, and it’s kind of hypocritical to be a hospital and not provide healthy meals.”
Kay’s words about “need” and “hypocritical” aren’t overblown. They’re refreshingly honest — and not just because food served in most hospitals is notorious for being unpleasant to the eyes and palate.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tooele County is home to the highest rate of adult obesity in the state at 30.7 percent. For comparison, the statewide average is 25 percent. Also, according to the Utah Department of Health, the county’s teen obesity rate is at 10 percent — again, the highest in the state (the average teen obesity rate in Utah is 7.5 percent). Obesity is defined as an excessive amount of body fat; at a minimum, about 20 percent or more over a person’s ideal body weight. The ill effects of obesity are well known and undisputed, such as hypertension, type II diabetes, coronary disease (heart attack) and cancer.
In response to those figures, Tooele County health officials have launched several initiatives as part of a Community Health Improvement Plan to help overweight residents drop the pounds. The latest of these is a new coalition and informational website called Live Fit Tooele County. Both tackle three major problems in local residents’ lives: obesity, diabetes and lack of physical exercise. The website (www.livefittc.org) was launched in early January and is a convenient nutrition and exercise resource.
Although the hospital’s switch to a healthier menu may prompt a few patients to seek healthcare where greasy burgers and fries are still on the menu, MWMC’s actions are a conscionable, responsible and welcomed response — not a knee jerk reaction — to what some may call a local health crisis. Due to the hospital, and other local agencies and organizations efforts to get us to eat less and exercise more, Tooele County may someday pass off the torch as the most obese county in Utah.