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Clinical-Community Linkages—Connecting Food Insecure Patients to Hunger Resources

May 27, 2020

 

“It has been extremely rewarding to provide nutrition education to the patients. They not only are getting emergency food, they are getting support, resources, and a class to help them take charge of their health.”
— Maine SNAP-Ed Nutrition Educator

Maine SNAP-Ed is working with Good Shepherd Food Bank and clinical partners to identify and support food insecure patients in southwestern Maine. SNAP-Ed Nutrition Educators helped expand the use of the evidence-based, 2-question Hunger Vital Signs™ screening tool during medical visits in Androscoggin County. They worked with primary care providers and hospital staff, to ensure patients from households at risk for food insecurity get connected to programs that help reduce hunger. Programs include food pantries, emergency food bags, and SNAP-Ed nutrition education classes.


Using the screening tool helped food insecure patients, especially individuals struggling with chronic illnesses, ensure regular access to nutritious foods. In the first year, close to 5,000 patients were screened and 400 were provided food and resources including:

  • 342 community resource guides
  • 47 emergency food bags, and
  • locally gleaned fresh produce
Hunger vital signs tm food insecurity screening questions example with a background of shelf stable food products

Challenge
Maine has the highest rate of food insecurity in New England and one of the highest rates in the United States. A person or family is considered food insecure when they do not have regular access to nutritious food because of limited funds to buy groceries. In Maine, 16.4% of households are food insecure. This means more than 200,000 Mainers, including 1 in 5 children, are impacted by hunger. Food insecure Mainers are at higher risk for diseases often associated with poor diet such as diabetes and heart disease.

 

mini refrigerator of fresh vegetables and fruit with a sign feel free to distribute to any patient!

Solution
Nutrition Educators partnered with Central Maine Medical Center’s family medicine residency program and Good Shepherd Food Bank to better serve their food-insecure SNAP-Ed population. Educators championed the nationally recognized screening tool, coordinated partner efforts, and helped expand services to food-insecure patients.
In the first year at the clinical site, SNAP-Ed Nutrition Educators:

  • Led Hunger Vital Signs™ trainings for family medicine residents
  • Provided direct education to food-insecure patients
  • Created resource guides to link patients to emergency hunger services
  • Distributed the Maine SNAP-Ed “Eating Better on a Budget” cookbook
  • Installed a refrigerator at the residency program so that locally gleaned produce could be stored and added to the 10-lb, non-perishable food bag
Students from UNE’s Area Health Education Center (AHEC) CUP (Care for the Underserved Pathways) Scholars Program volunteering at a SNAP-Ed nutrition education class
Students from UNE’s Area Health Education Center (AHEC) CUP (Care for the Underserved Pathways) Scholars Program volunteering at a SNAP-Ed nutrition education class.


Sustaining Success
Involving healthcare providers in screening for hunger is an important part of connecting at-risk patients to services. The University of New England (UNE) is working to teach health professional students about hunger and related risk for chronic disease. They are teaching food insecurity trainings, rural health immersions, and providing SNAP-Ed volunteer opportunities. Health profession students are learning to understand and address health disparities and the social factors that affect health in communities they serve.


Clinical-community linkages create systems that enable Maine’s at-risk families to lead healthier lives. Maine SNAP-Ed will continue to build on Androscoggin County’s success.  They will expand to additional practice sites and share lessons learned with nutrition educators and health profession students across Maine. These efforts will link patients to the resources and education needed to reduce the burden of hunger.

For more Success Stories from the Maine SNAP-Ed program or to get in touch with your local Nutrition Educator, please visitwww.mainesnap-ed.org.


Data sources are available upon request by emailingmainesnap-ed@une.edu.