Today — as the Medical University of South Carolina officially becomes tobacco-free throughout the campus — the school also will be honored for its efforts to promote healthy eating and wellness on it campus.

The South Carolina Hospital Association and N.C. Prevention Partners will recognize MUSC with a "Gold Apple Hospitals" Award for providing the highest standard of excellence for the healthy food environments offered to employees, patients and visitors. The award, which is part of the Working Well initiative, is funded by The Duke Endowment. The initiative is based on NC Prevention Partners’ success in developing infrastructure for effective worksite wellness programs in North Carolina. and is managed by the S.C. Hospital Association.

The award will be presented at noon in front of MUSC's library, located at 171 Ashley Avenue.

Ironically, the award comes one day after the MUSC Wellness Center alerted members of an annual rate increase.

In an emailed Feb. 29 memo from Wellness Center Director Bobby Shaw, he announced the rates will go from $500 to $540, or $45 per month, for individuals effective April 1. Couples will pay $70 per month, up from $62.50. Shaw also noted the addition of an enrollment fee for new members effective today. The memo reminded members of an array of improvements, including new flooring in the main exercise studio and resurfacing the pool deck, basketball court and rooftop track, and that the center had not had a rate increase in 11 years.

"We hope you will continue to enjoy the Wellness Center along with all the new amenities and programs added over the past several years," said Shaw in the memo. "We look forward to continuing to help you attain your health and fitness goals. We appreciate your trust and loyalty."

As for the Golden Apple award, MUSC Well Program Coordinator Dr. Susan Johnson said it is important recognition that MUSC sets access to healthy food as a priority.

“As a center of excellence and Gold Apple recipient, we are held accountable for not only meeting the highest standards set forth by the Working Well project, but also sharing our successes and experiences with others,” said Johnson.

The award coincides with MUSC officially going tobacco-free, also an initiative Johnson has undertaken since taking the wellness coordinator job in September 2010.

"I couldn't be happier (about going tobacco-free)," said Johnson. "It has not been easy for us as you can imagine and not everyone is supportive, but I do believe that it is the right thing to do as a medical center and medical university. I believe that it is our responsibility to lead by example in all areas of health - not just treatment but prevention through healthy lifestyles."

Johnson added that within the last few weeks, more than 20 MUSC employees have signed up for our free smoking cessation program.

"For me this is huge. These are potentially lives saved - and that is what this is all about, saving lives and giving folks the tools to live better lives. We certainly have a lot to celebrate this week."

In getting the Golden Apple award, Johnson said MUSC addressed several aspects of how it provides, prices and markets healthy food options, as recommended by NC Prevention Partners.

MUSC worked with its food management company, Sodexo, to provide healthy options at every station and to post nutrition information for all items in the cafeteria.Fresh, local produce is available through weekly farmers markets held on campus as well as delivery service of locally sourced food and produce through Community Supported Agriculture programs.

Healthy vending machines serving only all-natural, organic and preservative-free items have been installed in several buildings on campus and existing vending machines feature a “traffic lite” system to identify healthy choices. A 5 cent surcharge has been added to unhealthy items, with proceeds benefiting the MUSC Heart Health pediatric weight management program, part of the Boeing Center for Children’s Wellness.

MUSC President Ray Greenberg said MUSC appreciates the recognition and looks forward to the expansion of wellness and health promotion beyond the campus.

“As a leader in health education in South Carolina, we feel a responsibility to create an environment in which people can learn about and pursue healthy eating.”