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Providing Healthy Produce, Staples Helps Improve Health

February 01, 2024

For the 13.5 million U.S. households experiencing food insecurity, putting a healthy meal on the table is not as easy as it sounds.

Food insecurity – a state caused by the cost and access to healthy food options – can lead to a range of health issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Nutritional intake is actually one of three lifestyle situations impacting cardiovascular disease, a leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association.

To address food insecurity and promote healthy eating in the community, Hartford HealthCare teams adopted several tactics, from hospital farmers markets to food bank donations to Produce RX healthy cooking demonstrations.

Research backs the work – including a UMass Chan Medical School study of 4,000 food-insecure participants in 12 states – showing improved weight, blood sugar levels and blood pressure through programs giving patients prescription vouchers to exchange for produce at stores or farmers markets.

Food4Health whips up positive outcomes

Hartford Hospital has recorded positive health impacts from Food4Health, a medically tailored shopping program that opened in May 2022. Colleagues help patients prescribed to visit the clinic, reviewing health concerns, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and making food recommendations.

Twice a month, patients with Food4Health prescriptions can pick up fresh vegetables and healthy options like whole grain cereals, brown rice and dairy for themselves and their families. HHC opened a satellite at the Institute of Living and, in December 2023, a second clinic at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital.

That, according to Egils Bogdanovics, MD, medical director of the Charlotte Hungerford Diabetes Center, can help address diabetes, a chronic illness expected to affect one in three children born today, due to obesity and insulin resistance rates.

“Issues with access to healthy foods is one of the reasons we are seeing an increase in type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Bogdanovics says. “The Food4Health program allows providers to write prescriptions so patients can get fresh produce and food.”

Dave Juros, contractor for Food4Health, says Hartford patients have experienced weight loss and lower blood pressure, blood sugar and A1C levels. The program, he says, tracks participants, who follow health conditions with their primary care providers, for up to one year.

Food4Health helps address food insecurity and expand access to healthy food options, recipes and meal planning. It also helps reduce stress about finding such foods.

Growing greens on the roof

Produce for patients also started coming from a hydroponic rooftop garden Hartford Hospital opened last year with partner Levo International. Teams harvested about 1,000 pounds of produce, including lettuce, tomatoes and beans, was harvested in the first season, distributing it to patients through Food4Health.

Garden expansions are envisioned for the future, Juros said.


HHC food insecurity efforts

Hartford Hospital

  • Food4Health Clinic
  • Farm stand. Twice monthly farmer’s markets are organized with garden partner Levo International in the Medical Office Building lobby.
  • Vouchers. Women’s Health and Neighborhood Health programs provide produce vouchers.

Charlotte Hungerford Hospital

  • Food4Health Clinic. Provides produce for patients given prescriptions.
  • Produce RX. Community Health Team registered dietitians partner with food pantries, F.I.S.H. and Winsted Salvation Army on this collaborative program. Produce and healthy recipes are provided for 16 weeks to low-income families with or at risk of developing diet-related health conditions.
  • Local food bank support. CHH picks up food every two weeks for the Friendly Hands Food Bank, which serves more than 5,000 families.

Behavioral Health Network

  • IOL Food4Health Clinic. This helps behavioral health clients.
  • Natchaug Food Pantry. Open twice a month by appointment for clients. The 2023 Thanksgiving food drive provided turkeys and sides to 130 families.

St. Vincent’s Medical Center

  • Mobile food distribution. Offered bi-weekly through Connecticut Foodshare, this served 4,790 people from October 2022 to September 2023. The team also gave away 1,000 pairs of socks, COVID tests and other health resources.
  • Farm stand. Offered on Tuesdays from June through November, the program, in its 10th year, accepts SNAP/EBT, senior and WIC checks, and Bridgeport Bucks. Anyone interested can also have a standard wellness check for A1C and blood pressure, or talk to community health workers about resources.

MidState Medical Center, The Hospital of Central Connecticut

  • Food pantry. The behavioral health team hosts Cedar Pantry, a resource to patients experiencing food insecurity.
  • Educational resources. The hospitals partner with local YMCAs and health department, on education programs and screenings that address diabetes, heart health and cancer, and participate in community farmer’s markets.

Backus and Windham hospitals

  • RX for Health. The program provides vouchers for free fresh fruits and vegetables redeemable at area farmers markets and grocery stores, and recipes for available produce. Individual nutrition counseling is offered as needed. Last August and September, more than $400 in vouchers were redeemed.
  • United Services food demonstration. The region’s community health dietitian offers a monthly series of cooking demonstrations on such topics as healthy snacks, healthy BBQ options and even holiday favorites.
  • Food pantry. In December 2023, Backus opened a food pantry for patients being discharged who need food assistance.
  • Support of Covenant Soup Kitchen. Windham colleagues have run food drives to support Covenant Soup Kitchen/Food Pantry in Willimantic. Leadership in June also presented Covenant with $5,708 in funds pledged for completed employee engagement surveys.