With a renewed focus on the healing power of good food, hospitals and healthcare centers across the country are devoting more and more resources to making sure all people, in and out of the hospital, get the food they need to get and stay healthy.
And it goes beyond simple well-balanced meals. A new study published in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition suggests that one in three patients are eating just half of the food they are served, which in turn increases the risk for death. The obvious conclusion: More attention needs to be paid to nutrition. And doctors, dietitians and foodservice directors alike are doing some pretty creative things to ensure patients get the nutrition they need to avoid complications, recover and avoid a return trip to the hospital.
Click through to see five out-of-the-box solutions to the problem of food insecurity from healthcare operations across the country.
1. Fred Weisman Americares Free Clinic of Bridgeport, Conn.
The Connecticut Food Bank teamed up with the Fred Weisman Americares Free Clinic of Bridgeport for its Mobile Pantry truck with 10,000 pounds of fresh, healthy food, according to News 12 Connecticut. The food bank will park the truck at the clinic location every month. In addition to the fresh food, patients can also receive free medical care inside the clinic.
The fresh food should help prevent diabetics from ending up in the hospital, Alan Feldman of the food bank told News 12: "If we can provide healthy food for them and keep them from getting into a diabetic crisis and keep them out of the hospital, that just makes more sense."
2. SSM Health DePaul Hospital, St. Louis
During prenatal appointments at the OB Care Center at SSM Health DePaul Hospital in St. Louis, women are screened for food insecurity. Those that qualify can take advantage of Fresh Rx: Nourishing Healthy Starts from Operation Food Search. They will receive weekly portions of local protein, dairy, grain and produce for their whole household from Fair Shares CCSA and its network of 80 local farmers, according to an article in the St. Louis American.
Mothers also receive one-on-one nutrition consultations with a dietitian, in-home and online nutrition and cooking tutorials from a chef, and culinary skills and nutrition classes. There's even an interactive grocery store tour where participants learn how to shop smarter.
"It is just really convenient for the simple fact that they come to your door. You don't have to do so much and it's not much of a hassle," Manausha Russ, a participant in the program, told the newspaper. "Also, they'll put recipes in the bag. They help you meal-plan and the prep. They'll have it all in the bag written up for you."
3. Equitas Health, Columbus, Ohio
Equitas Health, an organization that focuses much of its care on the LGBTQ community, will now provide groceries in the King-Lincoln neighborhood of Columbus. The market, tucked inside Equitas Health's on-site medical and pharmacy center, is designed to bring healthy, affordable food to the neighborhood which is considered a food desert. The market, which is set to open in March, will sell dairy, produce, canned and boxed food items.
4. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) opened a new food pharmacy for patients and their families Jan. 23. The Healthy Weight Food Pharmacy is the first pediatric hospital-based food bank and education center in West Philadelphia, according to an article in The Daily Pennsylvanian.
The pharmacy, funded in part by a $174,000 grant from Giant Food Stores, provides healthy food and educational outreach for patients at CHOP who have indicated they face food insecurity. Eligible families then receive a free three-day supply of healthy perishable and nonperishable goods. They will remain eligible to receive additional food if necessary in the future.
The pharmacy has provided almost 2,000 pounds of food to approximately 100 patients and their families since its unofficial opening in September, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Citywide, 21% of residents are food insecure.
5. The Eat Real Food Mobile Market in the Lehigh Valley, Pa.
The Eat Real Food Mobile Market, a trailer pulled by a truck that sells local, farm-fresh food as well as nonperishables, is a combined initiative of the Two Rivers Health & Wellness Foundation and the Kellyn Foundation, which is based in Tatamy, Pa.
The aim of both organizations is to connect the healthy lifestyles education that Kellyn provides children in the classroom to their families and friends in the community, according to the foundation’s website. The Mobile Market also provides healthy food to seniors in local housing facilities and to residents in neighborhoods without easy access to a grocery store—12 sites in all.
It drives between the sites each week from June through October, according to an article by WFMZ, and accepts SNAP benefits, WIC and other senior benefit programs.