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.

Sharp HealthCare in San Diego is developing a data-driven and community-based solution.

One in seven San Diegans is food insecure, which means they sometimes or constantly can’t get enough nutritious food to lead a healthy and active lifestyle. This problem often affects children, the elderly, or the homeless — and these vulnerable communities face additional challenges beyond just getting enough to eat.

The Sharp Community Benefits team wanted to create a solution, so they proposed a question: What if they simply asked their hospital patients if they had food at home, and then provided nutritious resources for those in need?

The Sharp team assembled a creative mix of solutions, bringing in partner organizations like CalFresh, Feeding San Diego, and 2-1-1 and assembling a team of health coaches. Today, their program provides food to people immediately — and then proactively connects them to local resources to ensure they have enough to eat on a long-term basis.

One cornerstone of the Sharp 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 Sharp develops medically tailored food bags appropriate for diabetic, cardiac, and renal patients.

Community health coaches are an integral part of this system. After patients leave the hospital, these dedicated health professionals usually follow up with a home visit to make sure patients have food in their cupboards. They always travel with shelf-stable goods, just in case.

Community health coaches are committed to bringing healthy foods to their patients, regardless of their living situation. They sometimes even cook meals for their patients as part of their in-home care program, teaching them about nutrition along the way. Patients may not have had a nutritious, warm meal in months, and sometimes this personal touch can make all the difference between re-admittance and recovery.

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, or medicine. Sharp is one hospital that is working in their community to proactively connect people to other resources, 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 11%. Even better, 92% of patients report higher self-sufficiency, meaning they feel better equipped to access healthy and nutritious food.

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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