Macon hospital’s move reflects fast-food opposition

A fast-food outlet at a Macon medical center is closing, the second such action at a Georgia hospital in the past three years.

This week, Navicent Health announced that a McDonald’s restaurant inside its major Macon hospital is closing. The decision follows a complaint by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed with the Macon-Bibb County Health Department.

The group said it still plans to post billboards this week near the Medical Center, Navicent Health, urging the hospital to close the McDonald’s. The current lease with the outlet ends June 11.

A similar billboard campaign preceded the closing of a McDonald’s restaurant on the Grady Memorial Hospital campus three years ago. Grady, though, said Wednesday that the McDonald’s outlet itself made the decision to close, and that the Atlanta hospital didn’t have any input in that move.

The Physicians Committee, which includes 12,000 doctors, said there are 13 states that have hospitals with contracts with McDonald’s, Wendy’s or Chick-fil-A.

In Georgia, Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, Piedmont Fayette Hospital in Fayetteville, and University Hospital in Augusta have Chick-fil-A stores, the group says, while Augusta University Medical Center/Children’s Hospital of Georgia in Augusta and Northside Hospital in Atlanta have McDonald’s.

Media representatives with McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A did not respond to requests by GHN to comment Wednesday.

Two hospitals in Georgia with McDonald’s restaurants currently at their facilities told GHN that the outlets help give families a choice of foods.

Navicent released a statement this week announcing the McDonald’s closing, adding that the Macon-based organization “is considering using the area to provide new health care resources for the local community.’’

The statement added that Navicent “has been proud to partner with McDonald’s franchise owners Bruce and Bridgett Freeman and their team, who have provided impeccable service to our staff, patients and the immediate community.’’

Bruce Freeman ‘’continues to be an active and invaluable member’’ of Navicent Health’s President’s Leadership Council, a group of business leaders who advise the system leadership on community advocacy and business matters, the statement said.

An official with the Physicians Committee said the group “is very pleased’’ with the Navicent decision.

Susan Levin, director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee, said Georgia has high rates of diet-related diseases such as diabetes.

Fast food can contribute to diabetes, as well as obesity and heart disease, the group said.

It cited a 2012 study in the journal Circulation, which found that people who consumed fast food even once a week increase their risk of dying from coronary heart disease by 20 percent. The risk increased by 50 percent for people who ate fast food two to three times each week.

Having a fast-food restaurant in a hospital “changes a visitor’s perception of fast food, [implying] that it’s OK,’’ Levin told GHN on Wednesday.

“The hospital is probably the ultimate learning experience for patients,’’ Levin said. Having a fast-food restaurant there, she said, “teaches the wrong thing.’’

“Plant-based’’ food options can help people prevent and reverse disease, the Physicians Committee said. 

Nowadays, most fast-food restaurants offer such options, including salads and fruits, though the bulk of their business is in foods high in fats and carbohydrates.

In its campaign against hospital fast food, the Physicians Committee targets facilities that have a restaurant lease close to its renewal date. The billboards at Grady in 2016 encouraged board members not to renew the fast-food restaurant’s lease, which reportedly was then up for renewal.

The Physicians Committee said the Medical Center, Navicent Health has a “percentage rent” agreement with the fast-food chain, meaning that the more food is sold, the more money the hospital makes, the group said.

Northside Hospital said it has offered “McDonald’s dining options for a number of years, and we will continue to do so. We have many food choices, which is important to our families and visitors when they are with us.”

And Children’s Hospital of Georgia in Augusta said its McDonald’s “is not intended to be a potential revenue stream for the hospital, but simply one of several convenient places where families, staff, and guests may choose to eat on our campus. McDonald’s healthy menu items include salads, oatmeal, yogurt, and fruit. Additional eateries on campus are Subway, the hospital cafeteria, and a Chick-fil-A booth, which also offer healthy options.’’

The hospital, part of Augusta Health, said that part of its care environment “is to allow patients and families to have a voice in their health care delivery.’’

When the hospital was being built in the late 1990s, the hospital’s family advisory group asked it to include a McDonald’s, in addition to other special amenities, the hospital said.

“All patients are under the care of a physician, and food for our patients is prepared and delivered by the hospital’s food service team, according to each patient’s specific dietary needs,’’ the Children’s Hospital of Georgia statement said.