Looking for a nice meal in Aspen? Try the hospital

Some hospitals are offering new dining options that are appealing enough to draw diners who have no affiliation with the hospital. But while move can be good for hospitals' bottom lines, it poses unexpected ethical questions, Christine Ro writes for Food52.

Fine dining at the hospital

Castle Creek Cafe, located at Aspen Valley Hospital, is one such restaurant, Ro writes. According to Ro, far from "institutional slop" that's commonly associated with hospital dining, Castle Creek's offerings have included herbed farro pilaf, corn soufflé, and panko-crusted cod. And the "cafe makes a point of welcoming community members with no hospital affiliation," she writes.

As Mary Howser (a pseudonym), a former patient at the hospital, called the café "the best kept secret in Aspen." Nowadays, she and her husband are among the café's many regulars—a crowd that includes police officers and other city workers.

Castle Creek isn't the only hospital that's bucking the dining stereotype. The offerings at Banner Health's facilities include Mongolian grill, sushi, hummus bars, and wood-fired pizza. The menu at Manna restaurant, located in Castle Rock Adventist Hospital, includes maple-glazed duck confit and Thai cabbage steak.

And there's another selling point for hospital restaurants, Ro writes: Restaurants like Manna "shine" because they can offer high-quality food at more affordable prices than conventional restaurants because the restaurants are partly subsidized by the hospital—and they make large volumes of food. Manna, for instance, sells the duck confit at $9 per serving.

And needless to say, hospitals are more attentive to dietary specifications, Ro writes.

An ethical dilemma

At the same time, "enthusiasm for hospital dining is not without its issues," Ro writes. "Having the choice to enter a medical facility for non-essential reasons is a privilege—one that doesn't extend to chronically or terminally ill patients."

Further, Ro points to the "ethical issue" that hospitals face in choosing whether to prioritize nutrition or income. Hospitals are tasked with promoting health, Ro writes, but at the same time, hospitals also must be fiscally responsible.

Miriah Smith, executive chef at Banner Desert Medical Center and Cardon Children's Medical Center, said patient focus will always be prioritized over hospital restaurants. But she also acknowledged that "revenue generated within our retail segments is critical to offset operating expenses generated by the [medical] department" (Ro, Food52, 4/4).

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