Glacial Ridge Health System clinics and hospital are now “prescribing” free boxes of fresh produce and lean meats to patients experiencing food insecurity, it was announced last week. 

 The new program, Food Rx, is an evidence-based initiative for adults living in Pope County with limited resources or access to nutritious food. Priority is given to patients who also have a diet-related chronic health issue, including obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. 

Transforming Care

Health is more than just physical health – or the absence of illness. Rachel Wagner, Clinic Manager, stated, “When you are asked questions in the clinic, which we call Social Determinants of Health, your answers tell your medical provider about other aspects of your health. In addition to your blood pressure, heart rate, and AIC level, your diet, activity level, social interactions, etc., also impact your overall – and long-term health. We ask because we care.”

GRHS staff in the clinics, hospital, and emergency department are screening patients for food insecurity with specific questions such as, “Within the past 12 months, have you worried that your food would run out before you had money to buy more?” By identifying adults who live in Pope County who qualify for Food Rx, the provider can explain the program and refer patients who want to participate. GRHS intends to have 135 patients signed up for the monthly Food Rx program that starts in August. Participants will receive a monthly food box containing 20 pounds of fresh produce and 4-5 frozen lean meats. Staff can connect patients who are not Pope County residents with other resources for food assistance.

“We are passionate about ensuring all patients have consistent access to nutritious food that supports disease management,” said Wagner. She added, “The Food Rx program allows us to help patients in more ways than we could before.” 

GRHS’ program is getting its start through grant funding and collaboration with Horizon Public Health. In 2023, Horizon Public Health received a three-year PrimeWest Health Community Reinvestment Grant that focuses on addressing food insecurity in each of its five-county areas. The grant funding covers the food boxes at GRHS for Pope County residents and partially funds staff time for two and a half years while GRHS identifies avenues to sustain it afterward. 

Identifying Community Needs

The collaborative effort of Glacial Ridge Health System and Horizon Public Health is one strategy to address food insecurity, which is negatively influencing health in Pope County. 

The latest Community Health Assessment (CHA) reported that 10% of residents face food uncertainty and lack consistent access to healthy, affordable food. Additionally, the CHA showed that rates of chronic conditions leading to heart disease are all higher in Pope County than the statewide average, including rates of adult obesity (40% compared to 31% statewide), high blood pressure, and diabetes. Subsequently, heart disease is the leading cause of death in Pope County, followed by cancer. Statewide, it is cancer and then heart disease.