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Delivering Access to Foods that Promote Better Health

Food is Medicine–Harvest RX

Pictured above, Stephanie Banks, a MedStar Community Health Advocate picks up fresh produce from Hungry Harvest.

While the benefits of eating healthy are well known, accessing nutritious foods can be challenging.

That is the case for some patients at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital. The East Baltimore community around the hospital is known as a food opportunity zone—meaning access to fresh produce and supermarkets is limited.

So when Patricia Johnson, a cancer patient at the hospital, was asked by Joyce Johnson, a MedStar Community Health advocate, whether she would be interested in a program that delivers healthy foods to her door, she saw it as an opportunity to eat better.

“With my illness, it’s good for my health to eat fruits and vegetables,” says Johnson, 64. “But it’s not always easy.”

Launched at all three MedStar Health Baltimore hospitals in October 2018, and funded in part by a grant from the PNC Foundation, Food is Medicine–Harvest RX is designed to fill gaps in access to food and nutrition.

MedStar Community Health advocates are trained to identify patients in need of food assistance, enroll them in the program, and give them advice on nutrition and eating healthy on a budget. Then, the patients receive a biweekly box of fresh vegetables, fruits and grain from nonprofit organization Hungry Harvest. The box is estimated to provide four to eight meals.

The program ends after eight weeks, but patients can also be connected with longer-term healthy food programs such as Meals on Wheels, Moveable Feast and the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“Our goal is to provide patients with a tangible solution to improve their health,” says Ryan Moran, director of Community Health for MedStar Harbor Hospital, MedStar Good Samaritan and MedStar Union Memorial. “Many times, access to healthy food plays an important role in whether or not a patient returns to the hospital.”

Source: Baltimore City Health Department – https://health.baltimorecity.gov/food-access/mapping-food-environment

Moran says that more than 250 patients have participated in the program so far, and the response has been positive and encouraging, for both the participants and the community health advocates who work with them.

“This program has such a positive impact on our patients,” says Joyce Johnson, the MedStar Community Health advocate who enrolled Patricia Johnson in Harvest RX. “I am extremely grateful to be in a position to help those who might otherwise go without fresh food and introduce them to a healthier way of eating.”

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