Better Together: Spiritual Care, PFANS team up to meet the needs of patients

September 17, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,
The Spiritual Care team working on the new menus.

Michigan Medicine strives to honor the religious and spiritual practices of patients and families who receive care from the organization’s experts. That’s especially true in the inpatient setting, where some religious traditions require adherence to strict dietary requirements and other needs. 

For example, those who follow Kosher or Halal diets have very specific guidelines as to what foods they can eat. 

Rabbi Sara Adler, a chaplain with the Department of Spiritual Care, often meets patients who follow Kosher diets. Her recent meeting with local rabbis and an encounter with an Orthodox Jewish patient’s family member highlighted the fact that while the organization had some dining options available to them, it could do even better.

Religious traditions

Halal is an Arabic word that loosely translates to “permissible or lawful” in English. It typically refers to food items and meats that are prepared in ways prescribed by Muslim law, which includes ritual slaughter of animals and other specific requirements. Alcohol and other intoxicating substances are not permitted in a Halal diet.

Similarly, the word “Kosher” means “fit” or “proper” in Jewish dietary law.  Jewish sacred text outlines what animals may or may not be permitted to eat. In addition, dairy items and meat items are prohibited from being combined or prepared together. This requires rabbinic supervision to ensure that foods are prepared in accordance to Jewish law.

“There are a variety of Kosher certification symbols that are in use on products throughout the world.  But not all Kosher certifications are equal in the eyes of various religious communities,” said Adler.

So with the support of her wider team in Spiritual Care and the encouragement of Director of Social Work and Spiritual Care Joshua Brewster, Adler reached out to Patient Food and Nutrition Services (PFANS), who welcomed a meeting to discuss the issue and find ways to better meet the needs of patients and families.

Chaplain and Imam Kamau Ayubbi also joined the meeting to advocate for the needs of Muslim patients.

A group effort

The timing of the endeavor coincided with the arrival of a new cohort of chaplain residents with Michigan Medicine’s Clinical Pastoral Education program.  

One of the residents, Rabbi Benyamin Vineburg, is a part of Greater Detroit’s Orthodox Jewish community and has prior experience with rabbinic Kosher supervision. When Adler shared with Vineburg that there was a need to give greater attention to Kosher food availability for patients and families at Michigan Medicine, he embraced the opportunity to share his expertise and partner with PFANS to create a strictly Kosher menu that is now available to patients upon request.

Working with Michigan Medicine dietetic interns and food service managers, Vineburg spent hours sorting through products and identifying those that met high Kosher standards. The new menu includes a cheese omelet, beef brisket, spaghetti and stuffed cabbage.

And to create a more robust Halal menu for Muslim patients, Ayubbi collaborated with Randa Abdallah, a registered dietitian nutritionist and food service manager for PFANS.

That new menu is available on the PFANS internal website.

“This takes out a lot of guess work on the behalf of the patient to determine what food may or may not be permissible to order and eat from the menu,” said Kit Werner, director of PFANS. “By having all certified Kosher items listed in one place on a menu and halal items all listed together on their own menu, it allows patients and family members to better able to make choices about their food.”

Showing they care

For those involved in the effort, the hours of work and research are more than worth it.

“Food is often seen as an expression of love and a way of caring for each other in many cultures,” said Adler. “We hope that when patients see that we provide food that honors their religious traditions, they will feel more cared for during the challenging and often stressful time of a hospitalization. Making it easier to honor and practice one’s religious tradition is an important way in which we can help create a positive patient experience.”

The Kosher and Halal menus are available for download by staff for patients and families from PFANS’ website at