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Northern Light Inland Hospital Adopts a Unique Approach to Improving Access to Healthy Food

Date: 09/13/2019

Nearly one in six households in Kennebec County lacks enough food to maintain healthy, active lifestyles for all household members. Nutritious food is available, yet many families can’t access the food because they don’t have transportation to a food bank. Northern Light Inland Hospital is responding to the problem with an innovative solution to ensure access to food banks for patients who do not have dependable transportation.

The new transportation initiative, funded by a John T. Gorman Foundation grant, builds on an existing partnership between Northern Light Inland Hospital and Good Shepherd Food Bank to provide emergency food bags to families in need at Inland’s primary and specialty care practices, emergency department, inpatient units, and other care sites.

Inland Hospital providers and staff routinely screen patients for food insecurity, and patients who have immediate needs are offered emergency food bags on the spot. If transportation to the food bank is also found to be an issue, the provider can refer the patient for transportation assistance. The hospital explored many different solutions to the problem and found that arranging a taxi ride would help the largest number of food insecure patients get access to the food they need.

“One of the biggest struggles is getting people to the food, and food to the people,” says Bridgette Gemelli, community health navigator, Northern Light Inland Hospital. “Some people can walk to the food bank but can only carry so much back to their homes.”

In her role as community health navigator, Bridgette considers each person’s unique needs and helps them find solutions to a range of issues that affect quality of life. Her work often includes providing education about and connections with resources available in the community, and strategies to help patients overcome barriers.

“You can’t recover from illness or live your healthiest possible life if you aren’t getting the proper nutrition,” says Crystal Richard, director, women’s health at Northern Light Inland Hospital. “In order to improve overall health and wellness, we need to get to the root of the problem, which is sometimes transportation.”

Inland Hospital’s approach to addressing food insecurity for its patients may serve as a model for other hospitals to follow. The initiative, funded through spring 2020, augments Inland’s ongoing work with several community organizations to address the most significant problems that affect health for the people of Kennebec County.

For more information, please contact Bridgette Gemelli, community health navigator, at bgemelli@northernlight.org or 207.861.6091.