A warm female voice greets callers to the main line for the Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida, gently intoning, “You have reached Baptist Medical Center, where your health is our top priority.” The medical center, however, is also home to a branch of Chick-fil-A, the fast-food chain that pioneered the fried chicken sandwich, which remains the mainstay of its menu.
Now, an ongoing ad campaign in 20 U.S. cities by the group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is targeting hospitals, like the Baptist Medical Center, that host Chick-fil-As on their premises, urging them to cut ties.
"Staff, executives of the hospital don't want these fast-food joints in there anymore," said Mark Kennedy, associate general counsel at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a Washington nonprofit. "They want healthier options."
PCRM's ad campaign, which began Jan. 25, has plastered bus stops and billboards with the slogan, “Ask your local hospital to go #FastFoodFree!” It specifically targets areas with hospitals hosting Chick-fil-A branches although hospitals also have signed contracts with McDonald's, Wendy's, Tim Horton's and other food chains. The campaign adds to mounting criticism that hospitals whose mandate is to care for the sick should not do business with companies whose foods are blamed for causing chronic illnesses like heart disease and obesity.
“There is a dilemma that hospitals are now businesses themselves. Where do business-like operations stop?” asked Rosemary Stevens, a scholar and the author of “In Sickness and In Health: American Hospitals in the Twentieth Century.” The presence of fast-food restaurants in hospitals represented a fundamental tension as hospitals evolve from centers of medical care into institutions that also have to provide other services, such as making visitors comfortable, she said.
The American Hospital Association, a not-for-profit headquartered in Chicago that represents hospitals and healthcare networks, said it did not have a formal stance on whether fast-food chains belong in hospitals, Maulik Joshi, the associate executive vice president for the group, said in an emailed comment. “Hospitals may also offer a variety of choices of food options to meet the preferences of their communities,” he added.