NPR logo Booze-Friendly Hospitals Aim To Ease Patient Woes

Health Inc.

Booze-Friendly Hospitals Aim To Ease Patient Woes

A glass of wine with your hospital meal? iStockphoto.com hide caption

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As the Hospital Food blog can clearly attest, American hospital menus feature some of the most unappetizing options available in institutional dining.

How to brighten up a dismal plate of boiled carrots and chicken tetrazzini? A glass of wine just might do the trick.

That's the thinking behind a new policy at an Indiana hospital, which is betting than a little booze might help perk up a patient's stay.

Parkview Ortho Hospital in Fort Wayne allows patients or family members to bring alcohol into the hospital if doctors have approved it. As first reported in The Journal Gazette, the hospital also indulges patients' fancies by serving steak dinners as a final meal before being discharged.

Though most hospitals are dry, the Parkview Ortho isn't the only one where patients may be able to wrangle a tipple. Shots learned from the Association for Healthcare Foodservice that the Henry County Medical Center in Paris, TN. and "many other healthcare facilities" stock beer, wine and even liquor to dispense to patients with their physician's blessing.

Aside from making a meal go down easier, sometimes it's even necessary to prescribe alcohol to keep the patient out of delirium tremens, a.k.a. severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome, says Denisa Cate, AHF president and director of food and nutrition services at the medical center. "We keep a 'beer log' detailing what comes in and goes out of our department," Cate says.

The American Hospital Association doesn't track alcohol acquiescence among its members, but spokeswoman Elizabeth Lietz says the AHA defers to physicians' own clinical expertise.

But the new practice strikes some as odd, if not risky and hard to regulate. Susan Levin is the director of nutrition education at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group that has studied hospital food and recommended ways to promote health through hospital foodservice. She calls hospitals' booze-friendly policies "mind-boggling."

"The hospital just isn’t the right environment for a crutch put you at ease," says Levin. "Of all the places, hospitals should be educating patients about healthy dietary habits."

Levin is also concerned that patients approved to drink alcohol could endanger their neighbors who haven't been cleared to raise a glass of bubbly.

"When you consider amount of medications people are on in hospitals — it's a dangerous system to begin with before you even start mixing alcohol into the cocktail," Levis notes.

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