New Hospital Partnership “Boxes Out Hunger” in Alabama

by Eugenie Sellier Alabama Program Manager, Feeding the Gulf Coast

USA Health recently partnered with Feeding the Gulf Coast to implement “Boxing Out Hunger,” an innovative program designed to improve health by addressing food insecurity in the clinical setting at Stanton Road Clinic in Mobile, AL.

“Being a board member for Feeding the Gulf Coast, I feel very strongly about what they do to help the community and, of course, I am very passionate about the work that USA Health does,” said Dr. Julee Waldrop, representing both the University of South Alabama and Feeding the Gulf Coast at a recent kick-off event. “The ‘Boxing Out Hunger’ program is truly a great partnership, and it is my hope that Feeding the Gulf Coast will be integrated into the entire health system.”

The Feeding the Gulf Coast project was part of the Feeding America Health Care Partnership Program in 2016-2017. Kim Lawkis, Director of Policy and Programs for the Alabama Food Bank Association, notes the importance of this work for food banks, “helping us expand access to fresh, healthy products and working with health care partners to help implement programs that directly address food insecurity and top priorities in their community health plan.”

The program seeks to fill a nutritional gap that exists for many patients who visit Stanton Road Clinic. Through phase one of the partnership, Stanton Road Clinic will distribute 1,000 healthy pre-packaged boxes to food- insecure patients that contain an assortment of shelf-stable ingredients such as produce, protein, dairy and grains. The food box is intended to meet the immediate needs of patients at the clinic and educate them on the importance of a healthy diet. Each recipe is assembled by Melissa Olsen, who served as Feeding the Gulf Coast’s staff registered dietician. Recipe cards are also included in the food boxes, which provide tips for preparing the food.

By having an expert in hunger partner with an expert in health, proper screening, assessment and diagnosis can occur. The clinic is also tracking the health outcomes of patients receiving these healthy food boxes. We are hoping the data will show that by addressing a patient’s food insecurity, the patient’s health improves.

A social worker determines eligibility for food boxes by screening all new and self-pay patients for food insecurity. If the patient screens positive for food insecurity, they will receive a food box that is tailored to their health concerns. Patients who do not screen positive will be referred to the closest food bank. So far, the clinic has distributed 70 boxes, averaging approximately eight boxes each week.

Many of these patients are disabled and are unable to work, yet have not been able to garner disability benefits. The clinic staff believe that the ‘Boxing Out Hunger Program’ will increase patient compliance and improve health outcomes like blood pressure, diabetes control and even hospitalizations. Owen Bailey, chief executive officer for USA Health, said a visit to Boston Medical Center’s Food Pantry several years ago sparked his interest in implementing the “Boxing Out Hunger” program at USA Health. “Using their success as inspiration, it is my hope that USA Health and Feeding the Gulf Coast can create similar success in Mobile to address nutrition-related illnesses and improve the outcomes for our patients,” he said.

Eugenie Sellier is the Alabama Program Manager at Feeding the Gulf Coast.