Clinic-based Distributions Offer Opportunities to Engage Patients

by Tabatha Bennett Senior Community Initiatives Manager, Health and Outcomes Services, Roadrunner Food Bank

While the economy in much of the country has been recovering from the effects of the recession, New Mexico’s economy has lagged in terms of poverty, home ownership, unemployment, and underemployment. These circumstances add stress to already stretched budgets, leaving many families with difficult decisions each month. Thousands of the state’s families are struggling to put food on the table, and healthy options are not always the most cost effective. This can exacerbate or lead to multiple health conditions. We recognize that hunger is both the cause and effect of poor health. Because the link between food and health is critically important Roadrunner Food Bank is working to create specialized programming as part of the Health and Wellness Initiative.

According to Hunger in America 2014, 66% of our clients choose between paying for food and transportation. This number, however, is only accurate for those within our current network of services. We know that there are many more individuals struggling with food insecurity and access to healthy food options. To reach the most vulnerable with the least access to our current services, Roadrunner, in partnership with the University of New Mexico Family Health Clinics, is piloting Healthy Foods Markets.

The Healthy Foods Market is a produce distribution that takes place weekly at a healthcare clinic. It is designed to mimic a farmer’s market, with the major difference being that food is offered at no-cost. Produce is delivered from Roadrunner Food Bank and set up by clinic staff. Eligible patients can select products for their household. All produce is distributed in one day with no need for ongoing storage.

Distribution at the clinic allows patients to pick up produce in a familiar and convenient location. It also offers a unique opportunity for medical providers to engage in further dialogue with patients about their health needs. Clinic staff reaches out to patients who have chronic diseases, such as diabetes, or families with young children to invite them to the distribution. It has been an opportunity for clinic staff, especially the Community Health Workers, to offer a tangible resource to patients who are struggling with multiple symptoms of poverty.

When patients arrive to pick up their produce, they are greeted, often by name, by clinic staff. This deepens the relationships the patients have with the staff and can increase the likelihood that they continue with follow up visits. Clinic staff also use the distribution reminder calls as a chance to check in on patient goals and to schedule follow up visits.

As we continue to pilot the Healthy Foods Market model at clinics across New Mexico, we hope to see continued engagement from medical providers. Additionally, we hope that patients will report increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as increased preparation of healthy foods in the home. We envision a model that allows clinic staff to offer a holistic approach to meet patient needs and improve health outcomes for the communities we serve.

Tabatha Bennett, a born and raised New Mexican, is passionate about improving the health and wellness of her community. As the Senior Community Initiatives Manager at Roadrunner Food Bank, her focus is on health and outcomes services. She works to build partnerships with various individuals in the healthcare and nonprofit industries, and create innovative programs to address the intersection of hunger and health.