Blog Post

Building a food insecurity program from scratch: 6 tips from Hurley Medical Center

November 27, 2018

    Editor's note: This story was updated on December 6, 2018.

    Food insecurity is often among the first targets for hospitals looking to address the social determinants of health. System leaders and care teams are very familiar with the connection between nutrition and health, which smooths the implementation process. However, that familiarity doesn't mean starting a program from scratch is easy. In fact, there are several potential pitfalls where small mistakes can threaten program viability.

    On-demand webconference: How Hurley Medical Center is bringing food security to Flint, Michigan

    We sat down with Alisa Craig, Administrator of Wellness and Population Health at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan to uncover what Hurley learned when launching its program. Now, after over a year in operation, here are six things Alisa wishes she had known when she first launched Hurley's Food FARMacy:

    1. Staff education provided only one time won't be sufficient to drive home the urgency of addressing food insecurity and cement a new workflow. Plan to host multiple sessions with clinic and inpatient staff to ease the transition to incorporating additional screening and referrals into their care protocols.
    2. Screening for food insecurity isn't an inherent skill, but must be taught to the right staff to unearth the most accurate picture of patient needs. Use staff trained in cultural humility and nonjudgmental language to increase the efficacy of screening given the sensitivities for this social need. Social workers or community health workers are often the best positioned to carry out screening without adding to stigma.

    3. Community partnerships will be essential to your success, and even more effective if you formalize each party's roles. Draft a memorandum of understanding to delineate responsibilities of all parties, hold community partners accountable, and drive program efficacy.

    4. Food safety protocols are required learning—sooner rather than later. Prioritize hiring staff with food service experience to ensure offerings are up to health department and Joint Commission codes. If not, programs run the risk of being shut down.

    5. Unaddressed social co-morbidities can derail your food insecurity efforts. Other social needs, like housing insecurity, will impact the social care you provide. Monitor patients' additional social needs (e.g., lack of electricity) to ensure food offerings are relevant (e.g., food that doesn't require cooking).

    6. Patients won't eat your food if it doesn't taste good, so supply a range of spices. Explain how to use spices in cooking to encourage people to actually eat the food without unhealthy additives (e.g., butter, salt).

    Do you have more questions for Alisa? Join our cohosted webconference How Hurley Medical Center is Bringing Food Security to Flint, Michigan and ask them live. Can't attend? Email Darby Sullivan at to ask your questions for you.

    How Hurley Medical Center is bringing food security to Flint, Michigan

    Learn how Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan developed an effective Food FARMacy program to meet one of the most pressing non-clinical needs in the community.

    Watch the webconference to hear directly from Alisa Craig, Hurley's Administrator of Wellness and Population Health, about lessons learned throughout the process.

    Watch Now

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