Healthcare News & Insights

Improve patient outcomes by fighting hunger: Keys for hospitals

Does your hospital treat hungry patients? Taking steps to improve their access to food may help your hospital’s bottom line, especially in the face of value-based payments.

466715409A recent article in U.S. News and World Report outlines the specifics of how helping hungry patients can benefit hospitals.

The article mentions a recent study from Health Affairs that highlights the importance of proper nutrition in managing patients’ conditions. Data suggested that, for low income patients with diabetes, the likelihood that they’d be admitted to the hospital for hypoglycemia increased by 27% during the last week of the month.

Researchers said this spike in admissions was likely linked to financial issues that affected patient nutrition.  By the end of the month, many low income people don’t have enough money to buy food. And benefits from the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) often run out before the month ends.

Studies like this make it clear that patients who don’t have regular access to nutritious food become sicker, which can increase readmissions and generally lead to poorer health outcomes. Increasingly, hospitals are on the hook for these problems in patients.

With that reality in mind, some hospitals have begun to go out of their way to screen patients for food insecurity, adding questions about hunger to general health screenings that prompt staff to help them with applications for food assistance programs.

Some hospitals have even gone the extra mile to help feed low-income patients. As described in the article, ProMedica hospital system, based in Ohio, keeps emergency stashes of groceries for patients and distributes them at discharge. The health system also took unused food from an area casino and put together 50,000 meals for the hungry.

How hospitals can help hungry patients

Hospitals can make both large and small changes to prevent their patients from going home hungry and jeopardizing their recovery.

Project Bread, a Massachusetts-based organization dedicated to fighting hunger, put together a list of actions hospitals across the country can take to keep patients from going without food.

Here are four of the organization’s suggestions:

  1. Refer patients to resources. Hospitals can help patients apply for federal food assistance programs, such as SNAP or the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program (WIC). Staff may also be able to refer patients to local food service and meal programs.
  2. Get directly involved. Besides screening patients for food insecurity, hospitals can host hunger outreach programs, sponsor nutrition education, and even provide discounts for healthy hospital food.
  3. Connect patients with emergency food sources. For patients who might need access to food immediately, hospitals can provide them with supermarket gift cards or vouchers. Or, they can operate their own on-site food pantry.
  4. Partner with the community. To be even more hands-on in stopping hunger, hospitals can host farmers’ markets, prepare meals for community food programs and donate leftover hospital food to feeding programs.

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