Long Island Jewish Valley Stream hospital has partnered with local organizations in a new program designed to decrease food insecurity for hundreds of patients
Island Harvest Food Bank, LI Cares, God’s Love We Deliver, US Foods and BaldorFood are collaborating with the Northwell Health hospital’s “Food as Health” program, which seeks to improve the health of food-insecure patients who have a diagnosis related to nutrition, such as diabetes, by helping them access the food they need to best treat their disease, officials said.
“This is not just making the patients better, you are also making the communities they come from better,” said Dr. Ram Raju, a Northwell Health doctor who helped create the program.
One in 10 Long Islanders struggle with food insecurity, which means they lack reliable access to affordable, nutritious food, said Randi Shubin Dresner, president of Island Harvest. Food insecurity is related to higher hospital readmission rates and other health complications, Raju said.
Patients who are in the hospital for a nutrition-related disease will now be screened by staff who will ask about their access to food, officials said at a news conference Wednesday at the Valley Stream hospital. If they are food insecure, they will be referred to the nutrition staff at the Food as Health Center built on the hospital’s premises.
Island Harvest dietitians will teach patients to adapt their diet to their illness and direct them to resources in their communities that can help them access food, at no cost to the patient, said Nancy Copperman, vice president of community health for the Northwell Health system.
“The nutritionist really, really takes time out to make sure that what they’re providing for you is working for you,” said Jannell Robertson, 56, of Valley Stream, who was one of the first people to be admitted into the program after spending a year in and out of the hospital for complications related to her diabetes.
Aside from directing Robertson to food resources near her and providing her with two “prescription refills” of produce at the hospital, nutritionists have worked with her to craft recipes for her to cook at home, making her feel more energetic and eager to cook, she said.
“This is about what kind of tools are in the toolbox that can be pulled out by the patient so that they can remain independent and become self sufficient,” Shubin Dresner said.
The type of care given to Robertson is one of three options of food support the program offers. Eligible patients can also opt for a home food delivery that is diet-specific from the LI Cares mobile food pantry, or patients who cannot cook for themselves for health reasons can have home-delivered meals ready for reheating, provided by God’s Love We Deliver, Raju said.
The pilot program had a soft opening two weeks ago, and has since successfully treated 20 patients, Shubin Dresner said. Officials hope to increase that number to 20 patients per day.
Southside Hospital is the next hospital slated to start the program within a few months, and officials hope to expand it to the entire Northwell Health system in time.
“The education I got from this program, money cannot buy,” Robertson said. “Stigma aside, health comes first.”