How Sharp HealthCare is tackling California’s food insecurity problem

California feeds the nation. Our Golden State produces a majority of America’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts. But despite that fact, 5 million of our fellow Californians don’t know where their next meal will come from.

San Diego’s Sharp Grossmont Hospital has developed a data-driven and community-based solution for its food-insecure patients.

One in six San Diegans is food insecure, which means they are unable to get enough nutritious food to lead a healthy and active lifestyle. This problem affects children, the elderly, military families, the homeless and many other community members — and often these individuals face additional challenges beyond just getting enough to eat.

Sharp Grossmont Hospital wanted to address this need in their highly vulnerable patients, so they proposed a question: What if they simply asked patients if they had food at home, and then provided nutritious resources for those in need?

The Sharp Grossmont Care Transitions Intervention, or “CTI” team, assembled a creative mix of solutions, bringing in partner organizations like Feeding San Diego and 2-1-1 San Diego and assembling a team of health coaches. Today, their program provides food to food insecure patients immediately — and then proactively connects those individuals to local resources to ensure they have enough to eat on a long-term basis.

The goal of the CTI program is for every patient to have their food needs assessed and addressed. As health coach Regina Maple-Carley put it, “We have resources everywhere. No one should go hungry.”

One cornerstone of the CTI program is the understanding that food isn’t a luxury, it’s an essential part of staying healthy. In short, food is medicine. That’s why the program provides medically tailored food bags appropriate for diabetic, cardiac, and renal patients.

The CTI health coaches are an integral part of this system. After patients leave the hospital, these dedicated health professionals follow up with a home visit, and among other things, they ensure patients have food in their cupboards. They travel with shelf-stable goods, just in case.

Christa Panigall, a medical social worker at Sharp Grossmont Hospital and CTI coach, has even cooked meals for her patients in their own homes. During one home visit, she saw that her elderly patient had no means to cook for himself — but his health was critical, and she knew she needed to do something. “I ended up making this gentleman vegetable soup, and it really helped him. Without this care, he would have been readmitted into the hospital the same day.”

Going Beyond Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is often just the tip of the iceberg; if people can’t afford enough to eat, they may not be able to afford housing, transportation, utilities or medicine. Sharp Grossmont Hospital is one hospital that is working in their community to proactively connect people to 211 San Diego to address other critical challenges, getting them back on their feet, and keeping them out of the hospital.

Today, Sharp’s approach is delivering results: The hospital readmission rates of those who’ve completed the program have dropped below 10%. Even better, 92% of patients report higher self-sufficiency, meaning they feel better equipped to maintain their health outside of the hospital and in the community.

If you have a loved one or know of a person in your community who struggles with food insecurity, here are some resources that can help

Interested in helping to provide resources to those struggling with food insecurity in your local community? Contact the California Association of Food Banks to see how you can help out.

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