FFEN’s food shelf partners are a tremendously varied group in terms of both their history and their circumstances. Hennepin Healthcare, based out of the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), is in a unique position to offer food assistance to patients, understanding that food insecurity can be compounded by medical emergencies and health care costs. Our partnership with Hennepin Healthcare seeks to address this often unacknowledged area of need while dealing with all of the material challenges that accompany hunger-relief work generally.
As FFEN staff or volunteers begin working with a food shelf, it is critical that we’re able to start from an understanding of the unique context of each food program, as well as the particular challenges and opportunities in their environment. We were thrilled at the opportunity to work with the food shelf at HCMC in 2019 as they underwent a significant transition in their programming. We saw it as critical that FFEN brought potential solutions and outside perspectives to the table that were tailored to the complex nature of food distribution in a large health care organization. So in this instance, FFEN supported a shift to a more streamlined and standard model to ensure that the staff could focus on process development, consistent implementation and increasing internal buy-in and feedback loops for HCMC staff.
"The HCMC engagement was different from other FFEN engagements," says FFEN Board Member Sue Gillman, who was an important piece of this work.
"Previously, we focused on food shelves throughout the state that primarily distributed food to families. The Hennepin Healthcare model was quite different. The clinicians at HCMC noticed that many households who used the clinics throughout the city were food insecure and that a system needed to be created to support their nutritional needs. They also needed to consider the cost and portability of the food items offered. The goal was to send patients home with 2-3 meals."
After all, Sue observed, "Food is medicine." "As FFEN participates and leads projects that reduce the food insecurity gap, it is enlightening to find distribution solutions such as healthcare, where we can create greater access to healthy food. The Hennepin Healthcare model is just the beginning of many opportunities that can launch from this concept. It was very rewarding for FFEN to help architect this solution and realize the results."
Here's what Hennepin Healthcare shared about the importance of the transition to their sustainability and program implementation: Hennepin Healthcare, with the support of Foundation for Essential Needs, took significant steps to launch its Immediate Food Support Program in October 2019. This new approach to address patients’ immediate food needs builds on Hennepin Healthcare’s original food shelf model, which began in 2009 as an innovative response to patient hunger. The food shelf bought food in bulk, received food rescue donations from local grocers and relied on a large volunteer workforce to pack and distribute food. While thrifty, this model posed challenges for Hennepin Healthcare. The majority of funding supported staffing and volunteer management costs. There was an inconsistent distribution of food due to the fluctuating availability of volunteers, and highly variable food stock.
In Hennepin Healthcare’s new model, the Immediate Food Support Program is no longer involved in food rescue, no longer depends on an unpredictable volunteer workforce, and funds have been shifted from personnel cost to better support the purchase of food. This program provides Hennepin Healthcare with a new food distribution process: weekly, Hennepin Healthcare sources hundreds of prepackaged, shelf-stable, nutritionally-balanced food bags from a local nonprofit partner, The Sheridan Story. Hennepin Healthcare’s supply chain team then utilizes its existing delivery processes to bring food bags into over 30 individual clinics and clinical areas. With food bags properly stored in each clinic, clinical staff can directly provide a food bag to a patient during an appointment.
Transitioning to this new approach has allowed Hennepin Healthcare to streamline food distribution, increase consistency of nutritional value in each food bag, efficiently monitor the
amount of food distributed to patients, and more closely connect an immediate food resource with patient care.
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