Healthcare News & Insights

Hospitals work to stop food insecurity in patients

The saying “you are what you eat” is true in many ways. More hospitals are getting on board with helping patients access nutritious foods in hopes that it’ll improve their outcomes after discharge. 

ThinkstockPhotos-491065901In the past, patients’ eating habits and access to food were seen as factors completely outside of a hospital’s control. But this view is shrinking in popularity. Facilities are taking a more active role with improving patients’ nutrition.

An article from U.S. News & World Report discusses the motivation behind this trend.

According to data from Feeding America, a nonprofit network of food banks, 48 million Americans are living in food-insecure households. That means many adults and children don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

And in 2014, food insecurity and hunger created over $160 billion in healthcare costs.

Unpredictable access to food contributes to several health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, osteoporosis and high blood pressure. Food insecurity can either cause an illness directly or make it harder to fully recover from an unrelated condition.

Getting involved

Hospitals are more responsible than ever for keeping patients healthy. The U.S. News & World Report article mentions the new regulations the IRS recently finalized for nonprofit hospitals that wish to maintain their tax-exempt status under the Affordable Care Act.

One of those requirements is that facilities create a community assessment of social issues that affect patients’ health, including lack of proper nutrition. IRS is encouraging facilities to use that information to help patients access resources to improve their overall well-being.

Because food insecurity is such a huge issue affecting people in all types of areas, hospitals are stepping up to the plate, working with various community partners to make sure patients are eating well.

At one facility, Boston Medical Center, all doctors in the emergency department screen patients for food insecurity. If patients say they don’t have enough food to eat at home, the provider will write them a “food prescription,” which is sent to the hospital’s food pantry through its electronic health records (EHR) system.

A registered dietetic technician, Latchman Hiralall, then provides patients with enough food, including meat and produce, to feed them and their families for several days.

Boston Medical Center partners with a local food bank to give patients the food. Patients can visit the food pantry twice a month as long as they’re receiving care from the hospital’s providers.

The facility hopes to cut down on problems such as unnecessary ED visits from patients. As Hiralall said in the article, “a hungry child will have more [ED] visits than a healthy child.”

Ways to help

Your hospital could improve outcomes for patients if it started looking into opportunities to partner with local community organizations to fight food insecurity in your patient mix.

There are several approaches your hospital can take, including ones that aren’t traditional. Example: ProMedica Hospital System worked with casinos to take food they weren’t using and distribute it to hungry people in the area.

Unconventional alliances like these will help hospitals provide better services to patients across the continuum of care – and improve their outcomes even after discharge.

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