Providers address hunger to improve patient population health

More hospitals and healthcare providers are treating food insecurity--insufficient resources to get enough food--as a health issue, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Food insecurity affected nearly one in six American households in 2011, according to the article.

In Ohio, where more than 2 million residents are food insecure, the Toledo-based ProMedica non-profit hospital system reclaimed tens of thousands of pounds of unused food from a local casino, repurposing it for more than 50,000 meals for the hungry. The system also screens for food-insecure patients at its northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan facilities, helping high-risk patients sign up for food stamps or providing them with groceries upon discharge, according to the article.

"There is nothing more fundamental to population health than food and other social determinants of health," ProMedica president and CEO Randy Oostra said in the article.

Post-healthcare reform, providers are increasingly focused on delivering care that keeps patients healthy in the long term. That's why organizations like ProMedica are zeroing in on environmental factors--data show that environment and behavior are responsible for nearly three-quarters of health outcomes, the article states, whereas actual medical care only accounts for 10 percent.

Another recent study found low-income diabetic patients had higher rates of admission for hypoglycemia at the end of the month than the beginning, a disparity the researchers attributed to food stamp allotments running out. It also affected admissions for conditions such as congestive heart failure, the researchers said. "These are the absolute things you want to avoid" as healthcare moves toward a value-based system, Oostra told U.S. News.

Other systems are establishing their own procedures to identify food-insecure patients, according to U.S. News. Since 2008 Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has conducted screenings and helped patients who are flagged apply for food stamps, according to the article. At two of its primary care clinics in Chelsea and Revere, Mass. General has also established food pantries and a tutorial on cooking healthy meals.

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