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St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam strengthens food security

Food insecurity is one of the most significant social determinants affecting community health. Lack of access to healthy foods adds to the root causes of poor health outcomes. The economic instability resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this issue in many communities. In 2018, St. Mary’s Healthcare began its Community Food Drop and Medical Mission to improve food security and access to healthy food and beverages for vulnerable people across the service area.

While providing medical, social and spiritual social care to the underserved, the community outreach and population health teams identified food insecurity as a barrier to healthcare services. St. Mary’s Healthcare also identified lack of access to healthy foods and beverages as a barrier to health for those patients at high risk for chronic diseases, including cancer and diabetes.

The Community Food Drop and Medical Mission targets rural and low-income populations with limited access to healthy foods and beverages as well as the population less engaged in healthcare. This initiative addresses the New York state Prevention Agenda focus area, “Chronic Disease Prevention and Healthy Eating and Food Security.”

The staff at St. Mary’s Healthcare assess each patient for food insecurity using the evidence-based Hunger Vital Signs questionnaire. St. Mary’s also developed a resource list, including food pantries and community meals, to refer patients in need. To further address the need for food, the hospital created six food pantries called “Mission Cupboards” throughout the hospital campuses for patients who are in immediate need of food.

In 2019, 5,840 people received food and more than 500 men and women were referred to the breast and prostate cancer prevention and education program at the hospital. Of the 500 men and women educated, more than 30% have been referred to primary care services. Additionally, 231 people completed diabetes risk assessments and six were referred to the St. Mary’s Healthcare diabetes prevention program to address pre-diabetes.

For more information, contact Margaret Brodie, vice president, mission integration, at brodiem@ascension.org or (518) 841-7135.