Essentia Health’s food insecurity program gets assist from UCare

By Louie St. George III

An Essentia Health program aimed at tackling food insecurity will receive a technological assist thanks to a $15,000 grant from UCare.

Food insecurity includes a lack of access to affordable, healthy food, and it affects families across the communities Essentia serves. The UCare grant will facilitate the purchase of iPads, which will enhance patient privacy — and hopefully encourage more candid responses — as they answer screening questions.

“We know that social risk factors such as food insecurity directly impact the health of our members, and we are partnering with provider partners to launch programs that address those factors,” said UCare’s SVP and Chief Medical Officer, Julia Joseph-Di Caprio, MD. “The Essentia Health food screening and referral program using iPads is a powerful way to honor patients’ privacy while helping to connect them to healthy foods.”

The response was robust during a recent pilot project in Pediatrics at Essentia clinics in Duluth and Baxter, as well as South University Clinic in Fargo. When patients visited for their well-child checkup, parents answered two questions about food insecurity, plus other social needs like transportation and financial strain. If a need was indicated, parents then were asked if they’d like to talk with an Essentia community health worker, who would connect them with the appropriate resources.

Community health worker Lindsey Eales said people were “extremely appreciative.” Eales estimates she’s talked to between 70 and 100 patients since the pilot launched.

Essentia’s screening will expand to six more clinics by 2021.

“There’s a ton of data out there that shows the impact of food and (healthy eating) on health,” said Nicole Bailey, Outreach Coordinator for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at Hunger Solutions Minnesota, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that Essentia partners with to get patients connected with food resources. “We can tell people all day to do this if you want to lose weight or control your diabetes, but if a person can’t afford (healthy) food, or doesn’t have access, it’s not going to be able to positively impact their health.”

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