Kaiser Permanente launches program targeting food insecurity

LAS VEGAS – Kaiser Permanente is taking aim at food insecurity through its new Food for Life campaign, the healthcare giant announced Monday. 

The program is a comprehensive approach to providing access to healthy food, Kaiser said, and began with a texting campaign that seeks to connect its patients in California with CalFresh, the state’s supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP). 

People eligible for CalFresh are provided with up to $192 each month to put toward groceries. But, the health system noted, California has low SNAP usage, ranking 42nd out of 50 states in participation. 

In the next six months, Kaiser Permanente will reach 600,000 people through the texting campaign and assist those eligible with applying for the CalFresh benefits. It’s an approach that can be easily scaled to reach hundreds of thousands more, the system said in the announcement, which coincided with the HLTH conference. 

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Bernard Tyson, Kaiser Permanente CEO, said in a keynote presentation at HLTH that it’s imperative for the healthcare system to invest in addressing social concerns such as food insecurity. The social determinants of health, he said, are one of what Kaiser views as the “building blocks of the future of health.” 

“We understand that total health is the connection of the whole ecosystem,” Tyson said. 

Kaiser has also invested heavily in housing as part of its work on social health. The system invested in an affordable housing complex in its home base of Oakland, California at the beginning of this year after announcing that it would invest $200 million in projects to address homelessness

The building is located in a neighborhood “on the brink of gentrification” so the purchase can prevent current residents from being priced out of their homes. The health system announced further housing investments at South by Southwest in March. 

The texting campaign is Food for Life’s first step, Kaiser Permanente said, but it’s intending to grow into other efforts to boost access to healthy food. It’s going to launch meal delivery in the near term, and then evaluate both programs to determine the best path to expand them nationwide.