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News Release: 7 Philadelphia-Area Health Systems Collaborate to Address Hunger

November 27, 2017

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (November 27)—As the holiday season approaches, hundreds of thousands of families in the greater Philadelphia region are without consistent access to the nutritious food necessary to lead healthy lives. This serious condition, known as food insecurity, contributes to poor health, including the development or worsening of chronic diseases such as diabetes.

To explore ways to address food insecurity, a coalition of seven Philadelphia-area health systems, insurers, community organizations, and public health departments have launched the Healthy Food Access Pilot—a two-step process of screening and intervening:

  • In selected clinical settings at the health systems, trained hospital staff are asking patients about their access to sufficient food
  • If patients’ responses indicate food insecurity, hospital staff refer patients to the coalition’s community partners, so they can help with enrollment in SNAP food assistance benefits and provide information about food banks and other resources

So far, 3,289 patients have been screened. More than one in five of these were food insecure, and have been referred to partners such as Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger and United Way’s 2-1-1 SEPA, a phone service that provides information about food banks and other health and human services.

“These early results confirm what hospitals have long suspected:  too many patients are coping with food insecurity as well as illness,” said Michael J. Consuelos, MD, senior vice president of clinical integration for The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), the organization sponsoring the food access pilot. “The pilot is designed to test the power of partnerships between hospitals and community organizations:  Will addressing social challenges, like food insecurity, serve to more fully engage patients in their health? In the long-term, can these partnerships measurably improve community health and well-being?”

The Healthy Food Access Pilot is an initiative of COACH, Collaborative Opportunities to Advance Community Health. Begun during 2016, COACH aims to improve the health of vulnerable local communities by addressing social and economic challenges that can compromise health and the outcomes of health care services. According to public health experts, socioeconomic factors play a key role in determining health status, accounting for about 40 percent of a person’s overall health.

Ultimately, COACH seeks to improve health and reduce preventable medical interventions and unnecessary health care spending caused in part by patients’ social circumstances, as described in this fact sheet. The collaborative is facilitated by the Health Care Improvement Foundation.

COACH participants:

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