Medical Journal 2018
Medical Journal 2018
By VALERIE TUCKER
Sebasticook Valley Health's primary care providers understand the role that nutrition and wellness play in good health. However, they are also aware that it is hard for patients to focus on their health when they are worried about where their next meal may come from or how they will pay for food. Food insecurity is a challenge throughout Maine, and the Sebasticook Valley region has not been spared.
SVH Family Care knew that many of their patients experienced very low food security at times throughout the year, and the real question was how many and what could be done about it, according to Sherry Tardy, Director of Community Health and Business Development. With the help of a grant from the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, SVH Family Care began screening all patients for food insecurity as is done for depression and fall risks among others.
SVH Family Care began treating food insecurity like a vital sign. Tardy said SVH's family practices in Newport, Pittsfield, and Clinton screened over 11,500 patients for food insecurity in 2017. They asked patients to share whether, in the past year, they worried whether their food would run out before they had money to buy more, and more important, whether that worry had become a reality.”
At least two percent of patients reported they had experienced food insecurity recently. With the help of grant funding the SVH Community Health Team developed and began to provide timely information on food resources, including food pantries and free meals.
"Still, it is hard to have a patient and family in front of you, sharing that they are in need and not being able to respond in kind," said Paul Arsenault, Vice President for Primary Care and Specialty Services. "This led us to explore other possible options."
Through a grant from the Good Shepherd Food Bank and fundraising efforts of SVH employees, SVH Family Care has been able to provide food rescue kits discreetly to those in need. Each kit contains enough food for two people to eat for three days. SVH Family Care provides families with enough food kits to bridge the gap until the next pantry is open. Since this program started, they have provided over 130 Food Rescue Kits to the patients and families.
“In primary care providers must meet their patients where they are, and that means addressing all the social determinants of health, rather than just the physical and mental determinants.” said Arsenault.
SVH continues to screen all patients, because patient’s situations change, and often change fast.
“At all of our SVH primary care locations, we see patients daily who are in need of food,” said Dr. Robert Schlager, VP Senior Physician Executive. “It's very satisfying to know we have food available for them when they are in our clinics.”
Food resource guides and rescue kits are just the first step in this journey.
“Our partnership between Primary Care and Community Health is a commitment to focusing on all social determinants,” said Tardy. “Our food resource guides and food rescue kits are just the first piece of this puzzle.”
With an additional grant funding from Kohl’s Cares, SVH has created community and school gardens, is partnering with local middle and high schools to provide school-based food pantries and a backpack program for students who may need them over school breaks, she said.
“While primary care cannot solve the food insecurity concern for our patients we can be a resource and an ally” said Paul Arsenault. “It is rewarding, as well as heartbreaking, to see a young child excited to receive a food kit.”
The kits only contain the essentials, so it's a humbling reminder of the difficulties of life for many patients, he said. To learn more about the Food Insecurity work at SVH or how to get involved contract Sharon Kimball, Ed.D. at (207) 487-3890, ext. 2736.