Hurley Food FARMacy Natural Approach to Wellness – Addressing Food Insecurity

An apple a day keeps the doctors away, right? But for hundreds of
communities across the country, especially in low-income and rural neighborhoods, access to nutritious and affordable food is out of reach. Finding that fresh apple isn’t so easy, and it is becoming a major contributor to health disparities.

Instead of fresh foods, areas most faced with restricted availability are often flooded with convenience stores and fast food restaurants full of inexpensive high-fat, high-sugar, processed foods with very limited healthy options. Rural residents often find it difficult to locate a supermarket within
a mile of their home, frequently traveling more than 10 miles to reach a grocery store. Without access to healthy foods, a nutritious diet and good health are out of reach.

A healthful diet is jam-packed with a variety of fruits and vegetables of many colors, whole grains, and starches, good fats, and lean protein. Food is medicine, and there is a long list of reasons why it is important to adopt a healthy eating plan, including weight loss, reduced cancer risk, diabetes management, heart health, stroke prevention, and improved memory. Opening its doors in the fall of 2017, the Hurley Food FARMacy aims to increase access to healthy food for patients who have insufficient or irregular access to nutritious food while providing specific community resources to assist patients long-term. Through the support of partnerships with local food banks and foundations, Hurley’s Food FARMacy has served 1,342 referred patients and 3,969 household members as of December. “We work closely with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan,” explains Alisa Craig, Administrator of Wellness and Population Health at Hurley Medical Center. “We purchase the majority of our food through them via monthly orders and weekly scratch-and-dent shopping at their warehouse.”

Fresh produce is also purchased through the Flint Fresh Food Hub and the Women in Agriculture Farm at Ascension Genesys Health Park. Access to the Food FARMacy is immediate once a patient screens positive for food insecurity. Patients and family members are given six visits to the pantry where they can select a wide variety of medically tailored foods that are aligned with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s My Plate nutritional guidelines. “We do our best to make sure everyone who enters our doors feels welcomed and cared for,” says Craig. “Our team takes the time to show each patient around and to ‘shop’ all of the food groups based on their chronic condition.”

With so many people in our area identified as food insecure—some clinics reach three times the national average—the Hurley team works diligently to teach patients the very basics of healthy eating on a budget and how to prepare these foods without stripping out essential nutrients and without the added fat. “We prepare weekly slow cooker recipes and provide the
exact ingredients for patients to sample and then replicate at home,” explains Craig. Additionally, the Food FARMacy has a registered dietitian on hand to work with each patient to tailor recipes to meet their health needs. For example, those with hypertension or congestive heart failure should focus on low-sodium foods, whereas those with diabetes should choose a balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Patients are also provided with additional resources and programs within our community to address the
proper management of their disease and encourage long-term sustainability of healthy habits.
With the rising need to address food insecurity across our nation, it didn’t take long for the work of our state’s only Food FARMacy to gain national attention. Craig, along with Hurley’s CEO Melany Gavulic were asked by America’s Essential Hospitals to speak at a Congressional Briefing in July 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The focus was to address hunger as a health issue. At the briefing, the duo shared ways the Food FARMacy has successfully worked with community partners to improve access to an affordable, healthy food system within our population. Hospitals and health systems are redefining themselves to improve the health of their communities in a way that goes beyond simply treating disease. By screening for food insecurity and providing health programs to create a healthier environment, Hurley’s Food FARMacy is helping to place that vital apple well within each patient’s reach.

Publisher Note: Recently Hurley Medical Center expanded the Hurley Wellness Services, including the Food FARMacy to a new location in Burton, Michigan. Check out Kudos summer magazine Volume 5.2 to find out more. Exciting Things Are Happening!

By Wendi Fournier

Kudos Magazine 5.1