Hospital Handbook: Stories from the Field
UMass Memorial Health Care is bridging the hunger health connection by offering one-stop application assistance for health insurance and SNAP to thousands of uninsured and underinsured children, families, and adults, including seniors on Medicare. Health insurance enrollment counselors screen patients for SNAP and WIC eligibility in busy emergency rooms, at patients’ bedsides on inpatient units, in outpatient clinics, on a telephone help line, and through a community outreach program. By taking five minutes to explain the program and answer a few more questions on the Virtual Gateway, UMass Memorial counselors now help patients apply for nutrition assistance programs along with health insurance.
Boston Medical Center has a Preventive Food Pantry located within the hospital that provides groceries to more than 6,500 low-income patients and their family members each month, helping to offset hunger in the Boston area where almost half of all low-income households lack adequate amounts of food. Doctors write “prescriptions” for food to address medical problems, such as low-salt items for high blood pressure, but also when they discover a family simply doesn’t have enough to eat. Patients can get a bag of prescribed food several times per month.
Massachusetts General Hospital launched Food for Families in 2007, a study conducted by Ronald Kleinman, M.D., chief of MGH pediatrics, with funding from Project Bread. Food for Families identifies families in MGH health centers experiencing hunger or who are at risk for hunger through a single validated screening question. Once identified, patients and their families are referred to a hunger outreach worker who provides a one-time $30 supermarket voucher and helps them apply for SNAP/food stamp benefits as well as other federal nutrition programs, including WIC, school meals, and summer food, for which they might be eligible.
Baystate Medical Center provides vital hunger prevention services through two Springfield health centers by screening pediatric patients for hunger during routine medical visits. Medical staff prescribe food vouchers to provide immediate relief in the form of groceries from a local supermarket and they also connect these families with long-term solutions such as the federal nutrition programs.
North Adams Regional Hospital has developed garden programs as a way of tackling poor nutrition and hunger in its community. A school program teaches children how to grow organic food and donates its harvest to a local meals program. Its seniors program pairs elders from the Council on Aging with students in an intergenerational effort to get fresh produce into the hands of senior citizens. Another program brings organic raised-bed gardens into subsidized neighborhoods, and a garden right on the hospital’s campus helps employees understand the value and beauty of growing food.