After discovering that many of its chronically ill patients lacked access to fresh, nutritious food, Lankenau Medical Center, part of Main Line Health, decided to take matters into its own hands—by creating a community garden that offers free, organic produce to patients in need.
Lankenau serves patients from Montgomery County, where it is based, as well as nearby Philadelphia County. But the patient demographics from the two counties are quite different, according to Chinwe Onyekere, Lankenau's associate administrator. While Montgomery County ranks sixth in the state for public health according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Philadelphia County ranks last.
One factor in Philadelphia County's public health challenges, Onyekere discovered, was that many of its residents, including many of Lankenau's chronically ill patients, lacked access to healthy, nutritious food.
To Onyekere, that wasn't acceptable: "The role of the provider is not only to address health care, but to address social issues," she explained.
So Lankenau partnered with not-for-profit Greener Partners to create a half-acre "wellness garden" next to the medical center's helipad.
The space, which produces 2,600 pounds of food per year, features about two dozen gardens, a green house, and a composting area. Some of the food is used in the hospital's cafeteria or donated to local food banks, but much of it is sent home with patients.
After their appointments, patients can choose from a wide range of vegetables to bring home, and they receive recipe suggestions and nutrition facts about their choices.
"We have some families that are only getting zero to two servings of fresh foods a day, and many of them are also dealing with chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular health," Onyekere said. "The food we grow here over the next year will be used to address chronic disease, underserved populations, and educate future generations about sustainability and the power of nutritious food to strengthen community health."
In addition, the medical center hired a professional farmer to teach community classes at the garden. In the hands-on classes, students learn how fresh food grows, then harvest and prepare food from the garden (Vuocolo, Grid, 2/4; Stahl, CBS Philly, 9/22; George, Philadelphia Business Journal, 4/22).
What providers can do now to address food insecurity
Nearly 15 percent of individuals in the U.S. live in food insecure households. Given the prevalence of the problem and the clear link between hunger, food insecurity, obesity, and other poor health outcomes, providers are uniquely positioned to provide targeted support to patients to address these challenges.
Join Advisory Board experts for a webconference on Wednesday, October 19, where they'll provide actionable insights for hospitals and clinics seeking ways to identify patients in need of supplemental food assistance and provide services as part of the traditional patient care plan.
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