Employees fight food insecurity head-on

Date: 11/18/2020

Inland-Hospital-food-donationNorthern Light Health has prioritized food insecurity in its Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) for years. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the need and affected individuals, families, and communities in many ways. One of the key problem areas is an increase in food insecurity for vulnerable populations due to the economic damage caused by the efforts to lessen the virus’ spread.
As has become our brand, Northern Light Health organizations all over the state have risen to the occasion, continuing or even increasing efforts to address food insecurity for fellow employees, patients, and the community at large.
Our newest member organization, Northern Light Mayo Hospital, has worked under the Partners in Community Health Grant (PICH) to embed food insecurity screening into their electronic medical record in all five of their primary care settings. The screening has since been added to the inpatient setting, Emergency Department, oncology center, and diabetes program to ensure that more patients at all touchpoints receive the “screen and intervene” approach.
For patients identified as at risk for food insecurity, Mayo offers a food resource guide that lists all area resources. It works closely with community partners at the Dover-Foxcroft Area Food Cupboard and the Piscataquis Regional Food Center, and local farms such as Ripley Farm (through Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Farm to Pantry program).
 “In rural Piscataquis County, we recognize food insecurity as a great concern and have worked hard over the last several years to develop a program that meets the needs of our vulnerable population,” says Hillary Starbird, community outreach supervisor, Northern Light Mayo Hospital. “We are proud to have food insecurity as one of our Community Health Improvement strategies and continue to work toward ensuring no one in our county is hungry.”
Like other Northern Light Health hospitals, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center screens patients at specific food insecurity locations during their medical appointments, including primary and specialty care offices.
Additionally, an onsite garden at the Northern Light Health Center on Union Street in Bangor provides fresh produce to patients in need. Some practices offer food bags to patients with enough shelf-ready food for two or three days.
“As a healthcare leader in our state, we have a responsibility to identify factors to health that extends beyond our walls, and do what we can to break down barriers for our patients and their families,” says Rand O’Leary, MSA, FACHE, senior vice president, Northern Light Health and president, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. “No one should wake up each day wondering where their next meal will come from, and we are proud to help the people we serve live a healthier life through our Neighbors Feeding Neighbors program.” Learn more about the Neighbors Feeding Neighbors at northernlighthealth.org/emmcfood.
One example of employees stepping up and going above and beyond is the Masked Heroes Food Drive held in May at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. For a week, employees donated 975 pounds of food items to feed patients and fellow employees faced with food insecurity. Volunteers from the Eastern Maine Medical Center Auxiliary sorted and packaged the donations for distribution.

Also, employees made a financial contribution to the effort through the Northern Light Foundation website. Hundreds of people stepped forward to give an astounding $1,935 to help purchase additional items.

Recently, Northern Light Inland Hospital announced a $5,000 donation to the hospital from Joanne Booth and her employer, Sodexo, to support their Food is Medicine program. The grant is part of Sodexo’s “Heroes of Everyday Life” program that honors staff for their outstanding community efforts in fighting hunger. Booth is an Oakland resident and a senior manager with Sodexo’s Health Care division. Sodexo is an international food services and facilities company.
Inland’s Food is Medicine program helps patients at their physician practices and the hospital. Providers and staff screen patients for food insecurity and patients who have immediate needs are offered emergency food bags on the spot. Inland leaders say that a patient can’t recover from illness or live their healthiest possible life if they aren’t getting the proper nutrition. The program also provides transportation funds for Inland patients who cannot get to a foodbank on their own.
“Sodexo’s support of our mission to improve the health of the people and communities we serve is a great community partnership,” says Terri Vieira, president of Inland Hospital. “We are very grateful to Sodexo and Joanne Booth, who has been a champion for food stability efforts in the area. Together, we are making a difference.”
As the pandemic closed schools, daycares, and businesses last spring, Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital and Healthy SV gave families with children an extra hand to get through tough times and stay as healthy as possible. With the help of a grant from Kohl’s, 250 backpacks were filled with nutritious food and distributed to students for safe pick up in local school districts. 
In addition, SVH partnered with the Good Shepherd Food Bank to bring the Food Mobile to Pittsfield in September and October. The “pantry on wheels” delivers free, high-quality, nutritious food to communities across Maine.
At Northern Light Primary Care Blue Hill, the practice participated in the Mainers Feeding Mainers program. A local farm, King Hill Farm, dropped off fresh produce each week for patients (and even employees) to take home. This initiative provided access to fresh, healthy ingredients to those in the community who may be at-risk for food insecurity or otherwise may not have the opportunity to enjoy fresh local food.
Northern Light Pediatric Care in Ellsworth and Northern Light Primary Care in Blue Hill join with Good Shepherd Food Bank to provide shelf-stable food to families in need. In addition to supplying families who identify as at-risk for food insecurity with community contacts and resources, our staff can provide a few days’ worth of food to help bridge the gap in securing additional support.
The team at Northern Light Acadia Hospital focuses on patient needs, including food security. Tucked in a hallway of Acadia’s Medication Management Unit, shelves are filled with food and personal-care items for patients to take what they need for themselves or their family. This effort started nearly two years ago and is kept stocked by donations, department fundraising, and passionate staff.
These are just a few examples of the incredible work being done by employees and organizations across Northern Light Health as we continue to serve the communities we serve.