Northwell Health, Island Harvest Food Bank, and other community organizations and food suppliers today announced the launch of the Food as Health program, the first hospital-based initiative in New York State to comprehensively address food insecurity among patients. The program, a partnership that also includes Long Island Cares Inc.—The Harry Chapin Food Bank, God’s Love We Deliver, US Foods and Baldor, is unique in addressing the full range of factors that can lead to food insecurity, including affordability issues, a lack of nutritional awareness, transportation/mobility problems, and difficulty in preparing meals.
“Northwell launched Food as Health because if you don’t have enough food to eat, or if all you have is fast food, the best medical care in the world can’t keep you healthy,” said Ram Raju, MD, the health system’s senior vice president and community health investment officer. “As a wellness organization, we believe the only way to make a substantial and lasting difference in the health of the people in our community is by tackling some of the nonclinical factors that are holding them back.”
The program is being piloted at Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Valley Stream, where one in five patients are food insecure, meaning that they do not have reliable access to adequate amounts of affordable, nutritious food. Patients at LIJ Valley Stream with a diagnosis impacted by nutrition are screened and those who are identified as food insecure receive a nutrition consultation and navigation to community food resources by an Island Harvest registered dietician, either in the hospital’s Food as Health Center or in their hospital room.
At discharge these patients are given a two-day supply of fresh produce and non-perishable food (provided by Baldor Foods and US Foods) and a “prescription” for two refills. If patients have transportation or mobility issues, LI Cares will deliver emergency food supplies to their homes.
“Island Harvest Food Bank is honored to be working with Northwell Health in launching Food as Health, a first-time partnership addressing the comprehensive needs of patients who are food insecure,” said Randi Shubin Dresner, president & CEO of Island Harvest Food Bank. “We look forward to a long and successful partnership to ensure that the message of access to nutritious food along, along with good medical care, remains an essential part of ensuring a healthy community.”
Finally, if patients are unable to cook for themselves, God’s Love We Deliver will supply medically tailored meals appropriate for their health condition. To ensure healthy food will be affordable on an ongoing basis, all patients in the program, if eligible, will be provided assistance with enrolling in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by the Island Harvest Food Banks’ dietician and other trained staff and volunteers.
“We are delighted by the feedback we’re getting from our patients, who say this will make a tremendous difference in their lives,” said Stephen Bello, Valley Stream’s executive director. “We’re also tracking the effect of the program on things like readmission rates and will use that data to refine our efforts.”
Research shows that 1.3 million people throughout the New York metropolitan area are food insecure, which increases the risk of chronic disease, lengthens hospital stays, raises the likelihood that readmission will be needed and inflates health care costs. In Nassau Country, it’s estimated that 85,940 people are food insecure, compared to 95,540 in Suffolk County and 84,970 in Westchester County. The problem is even more prevalent in New York City: Brooklyn (515,420), Queens (298,250), Manhattan (243,570) and Staten Island (43,380).
Starting this fall, the Food as Health program will be rolled out to other Northwell Health hospitals. It is part of a broader effort by the health system to support healthy nutrition for its employees, patients and its communities by providing access to food that tastes good, is wholesome and supports the environment. Some of the initiatives that support this emphasis on nutrition include:
- Purchasing locally grown produce and supporting farmers markets;
- Applying practices from the hospitality industry to ensure delicious hospital meals created from whole, fresh foods; and
- Engaging the community in healthy cooking workshops in hospital-based teaching kitchens.