“Have you in the past 12 months had to worry about food running out?”
This is one of the two questions community health workers ask recently discharged hospital patients at the Temple Center for Population Health, an institute created by Temple University Health System.
In Philadelphia, 21 percent of the population is experiencing food insecurity. Within the area surrounding Temple Health, that number climbs to 27 percent.
Healthy Me PA spoke with community health workers Jacqueline Beltran and William Mitchell-Williford, and Director of Population Health Ronni Whyte, to discuss Temple Health’s food insecurity program.
What is food insecurity?
Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. This includes not having enough money to buy food and not having enough food to last through the month.
“The best way I explain it to [patients] is that you really don’t understand food insecurity until you understand what being secure about food is,” Beltran said. “I try to teach people just the opposite. What does it mean for you to feel that you have a family and are able to feed them without anyone going hungry?”
Hunger and limited access to healthy options are factors of poor health. Health issues with long-term implications, such as hypertension, obesity, and diabetes, can indicate that an individual does not have access to healthy options or is experiencing some other form of hunger.
What is Temple Health doing to solve the problem?
With each patient discharged from Temple University Hospital, Temple community health workers conduct a follow-up phone call to see whether the patient understood and is able to follow the care plan. As a part of that call, patients are asked about hunger and access to healthy food options.
“Constant readmission is an indication of food insecurity and shows they need help,” Mitchell-Williford said. “We see every time they come in that they don’t have the money to buy food or medicine. If you don’t ask people what’s going on, they won’t tell you.”
If a patient is food insecure, the community health worker on the call offers to transfer the patient to:
- Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, for help applying for food stamps (officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP)
- United Way 211 for information about nearby food banks and other social service resources
Patients are educated on how to access healthier, affordable foods. Patients who do not need assistance are informed of how they can help to make a difference for those who do.
Information from these calls provides valuable insight to community health workers about the community they serve.
Temple Health is not alone in its efforts. It is partnering with other Philadelphia-area health systems and community-based organizations to address social issues that can undermine health and health care outcomes. Right now, food insecurity is the top priority.