Promedica: Link Food and Health
By Tom Peterson
Randy Oostra, President and CEO of ProMedica, Toledo, Ohio, is passionate about the role that a good diet has on health. In the monograph A Case to End U.S. Hunger Using Collaboration to Improve Population Health he calls on healthcare system leaders to “recognize that lacking nutritious food to eat is a dire public health concern” for the more than 17 million (that’s one-in-seven) U.S. households facing hunger. Unfortunately, he says, the healthcare industry typically “responds to challenges by designing new ways to maximize revenue and build gleaming new facilities while failing to address the basic building blocks of overall health.”
Focusing on hunger as a health issue with “strategic purposeful and intentional changes can create an improved model to deliver better public health care.”
Hunger is a problem healthcare providers see every day among patients of all ages in emergency rooms, clinics, offices, and hospital beds. Babies born to malnourished mothers may be underweight, have developmental delays and continue to have health problems throughout life. Children experiencing food insecurity, meaning they live in households that at times are unable to acquire adequate food, are more likely to have behavioral health issues such as anxiety and depression. These children may also be at higher risk for developing chronic health conditions, including anemia and asthma.
Among the elderly, another particularly vulnerable group, malnutrition increases disability and decreases resistance to infection. Both not only harm quality of life, but they extend hospital stays. People who are food insecure often have irregular eating patterns, which can lead to being overweight and obese. Additionally, people facing food insecurity typically consume food with less nutrients, so they have dietary shortfalls linked to the development of hypertension, diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Practice what you preach
E.F. Schumacher said, “An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.” And when it comes to food and health, Promedica practices what it preaches. Partnering with many groups in their region, here are some of the activities they list:
- Food Reclamation: We employ people to safely repackage unserved food from restaurants and other food services in the Toledo area. This food is then distributed by a local food bank to homeless shelters, communal feeding sites and food pantries. In 2014, we reclaimed more than 100,000 pounds of food for distribution to people in need.
- Food Security Screening: When we identify hospital patients who do not have consistent access to food, we send them home at discharge with an emergency food supply and connect them to other community resources for further assistance. This screening program will be in place in all ProMedica hospitals by the end of 2015.
- Food Council: We actively participate in the Northwest Ohio Food Council, working together with other members to impact our food system from grower to end user. Our projects include creating healthy corner stores, converting more food pantries to a free-choice model, and encouraging local food production and purchase.
Promedica has also arranged to sell healthy foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, at affordable prices at the Flower Market Garden Grocer, located in a food desert, or community with little access to quality food.
Going beyond their own region, last year Promedica joined with the Alliance to End Hunger to host a summit, Come to the Table, in Washington D.C. to help legislators and healthcare organizations to see the links between food policy and health. Building on that, they have hosted other summits in Atlanta and Albuquerque.
“It’s time for healthcare leaders nationwide to focus on addressing hunger as a health issue in their communities, as well as working with policy leaders to ensure it becomes and remains a priority,” says Oostra. “Our collective voice is strong.” He offers several starting places:
- Add hunger screening and increased focus on social determinants to Community Health Needs Assessment and develop appropriate interventions.
- Require hunger screening in Medicare value based reimbursement and at all Medicare facilities and include it in community benefit reporting.
- Be diligent in adding new physician slots and requiring them to be based predominantly in primary care, with an emphasis on social determinants training.
- Begin a public healthcare demonstration project in which Medicare and Medicaid payments are fixed for designated communities where the providers adopt a public healthcare focus. Further, assign case managers to all patients and actively address the social determinants of health beginning with hunger.
- Develop Medicaid and Medicare incentives for taking personal responsibility, similar to those being developed in the private sector.
Vegetables photo: USDA