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HEALTH: How local hospitals care for gluten-free patients

Angela Wetzel
LIVING AGAINST THE GRAIN
Free Press Health Columnist
Roasted pork cutlet with pineapple, olive oil
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

When you go to the hospital for care, whether emergency or scheduled, you want to know that you are safe from viruses, infections or, in my case, cross-contamination in the kitchen.

Is that really such a big deal, you may be asking? Yes, it is and a few of us from Gluten Free Grand Valley started chatting about the facilities at the local hospitals, wondering if they had a separate kitchen for gluten-free. Since my dad will at some point have to have a procedure done, I decided to call around on his behalf to find out which hospital would be able to keep him safe from gluten cross-contamination. I was a little shocked at what I found.

I first chatted with Josh at Family Health West. He told me that there was not a separate kitchen, but that they make sure to clean and sterilize before prepping any foods that needed to be gluten-free. Also, they do have pre-made items that they special order in for those that eat gluten-free.

Then I played phone tag with both St. Mary’s Hospital and Community Hospital. Carl Stevens from Community Hospital left me a voicemail and said that while they don’t have a separate kitchen, they do have a gluten-free menu and do carry gluten-free items. Katherine Kilbourne from St. Mary’s Hospital also left me a voicemail stating that they don’t have a gluten-free kitchen or a special area for gluten-free prep, but they do train their cooks in the importance of not cross-contaminating items for gluten-free patients. They also maintain an inventory of gluten-free products.

While carrying gluten-free products is nice, the cross-contamination issue is what bothers me. Just the smallest amount of gluten can wreak havoc on a Celiac’s system which can weaken the system and slow healing. In the case of someone with a wheat allergy, it can send them into anaphylactic shock and cause issues with healing. Anything that could slow the healing process by creating more issues and can be prevented should be. I’m actually shocked that none of the hospitals, especially the recently built Family Health West, have a separate area for gluten-free prep.

I would hope that this is taken seriously and, when Community Hospital builds their new facility I see a gluten-free prep area. I want to know that when I go to a hospital my body is safe, and my healing will not be hindered.

Angela Wetzel has celiac disease and is president of Gluten Free Grand Valley, a support group for those with celiac disease and wheat allergies. Contact her at glutenfreegrandvalley@gmail.com or visit Gluten Free Grand Valley on Facebook.


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