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  • Jun 16, 2017

Are You Hungry? (and why are we asking you?)

When you come to CHA for a primary care appointment, you might be asked some questions about food and hunger in your household.

So why are we asking you these questions?

Dr. Amy Smith, a CHA family medicine doctor, is leading an effort at CHA to make food security an important part of patient care.

"For my daughter's 4th birthday we decided to celebrate her growing capacity to be of service to others by organizing a food drive with her summer camp friends instead of receiving gifts," she explains. "I made arrangements to drop off canned food to a local food pantry, but when we arrived it was closed. I ended up driving around with bags of food in my car for days until I found a place that could accept the donation and it made me think about the complex system that my patients have to navigate if they're food insecure."

Children are hit especially hard from hunger. According to the Academy of Pediatrics, food insecurity impacts 21 percent of children nationwide. Hunger is often invisible - but in children it is related to things like homelessness, higher chronic illness and more stressful life events.

Since every child sees a doctor at some point in their lives, Dr. Smith decided to pilot a two question screening (from Hager et. al.) in her clinic that is 97 percent effective in identifying families at risk. But identification was only part of the equation. Dr. Smith also wanted to make sure these families could actually access the services they needed.

Dr. Smith contacted Lisa Brukilacchio, Director of CHA's Somerville Community Health Agenda, who helped initiate a meeting with Boston's Project Bread to set up a referral system, and connected her with other partners such as the Greater Boston Food Bank. "Such connections illustrate our community health efforts," said Lisa. "It's not just about providing healthcare, it's about the whole person and the many factors that impact health." In 2016, the CHA Broadway Care Center in Somerville became the second site for the screening. Staff began asking patients about food insecurity during their intake, and if identified, asked if they wanted to be connected to hunger relief services.

Project Bread started doing follow up phone calls with these patients, enrolling eligible people into food support programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and informing them of available resources. "Since the partnerships began we have successfully reached 177 patient households and assisted 37 households to access the SNAP program," said Noreen Kelly, Director of Programs at Project Bread. "We expect this help will result in nearly $100,000 in SNAP benefits over the course of the coming year and will enable these families to purchase fresh produce they otherwise weren't able to afford on their strained food budget."

These partnerships ensure families and children at risk for hunger will get the food they need to stay healthy.

This articles provide general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this article, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider.

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