Food is medicine. But we often fail to see it that way.
When our patients are at home, do they have an empty fridge or a pantry that lacks wholesome foods? Do we make it a priority to ensure that patients have access to nutritious foods?
Nutrition plays a key role in the health of individuals and communities. Many of the diseases we fight originate in part because of food issues. And it happens to be one of the simplest things we can change.
In our community, one in six Central Floridians is food insecure. One in four children is at risk of going to bed hungry tonight. “Food deserts” are littered throughout the region.
That’s why one of Florida Hospital’s top community priorities is combatting food insecurity. Our work is guided by CREATION Health, a Florida Hospital philosophy that is designed to help individuals achieve maximum health and wellness. This framework seeks to positively influence all aspects of a person’s life—mind, body, and spirit—through the guiding principles of choice, rest, environment, activity, trust, interpersonal relationships, outlook, and nutrition.
A Pervasive Problem
We know the impact of food and nutrition on our health. But for many Central Floridians, it’s not as simple as picking a banana over greasy potato chips. Sometimes it’s a matter of simply eating. Recent figures show 70 percent of Central Florida households said they had to choose between buying food and paying their mortgage or rent at least once during the previous year, according to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.
In response, we have committed more than $1 million in recent years to community partners that are working to combat food insecurity in Central Florida.
Some of this funding is facilitated through grants via Florida Hospital’s Community Health Impact Council, a subcommittee of the Florida Hospital Board of Trustees. The Council—composed of business, education, faith, and nonprofit leaders from throughout the region—evaluates, funds, and measures initiatives that improve the health of the community, specifically segments that are underserved and marginalized.
Among the more significant of the projects we support financially:
- Mt. Sinai Seventh-day Adventist Church Community Outreach: The church operates a co-op that delivers 75,000 pounds of food per week to 14 other organizations.
- Fleet Farming at Winter Park Memorial Hospital: In March, we partnered with urban agriculture program Fleet Farming to plant a fruit and vegetable garden at the hospital. Produce harvested from the garden will be donated to underserved patients who are discharged and to seniors who are shut in and live within three miles of the hospital.
- Celebration Foundation Learning Without Hunger: This program provides food to children in need every weekend, ensuring they have meals to eat while not in school. A great aspect is that volunteers with the organization discreetly put the food in each child’s backpack to avoid embarrassing or stigmatizing them.
Some of our partnerships and programs could be replicated by other health systems across the country:
- Florida Hospital prepares thousands of meals daily for our patients, visitors, and employees, and we donate the surplus food to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.
- We recently worked with the Boy Scouts to support their “Scouting for Food” initiative, which collects food for Second Harvest and other local food pantries.
- Florida Hospital Orlando, the largest of our campuses, has a food pantry for employees who need assistance.
- To educate our employees and visitors about nutrition (and hopefully encourage healthy food choices), our cafeterias feature a red-, yellow-, and green-light system that informs customers about the relative nutritional value of the foods on offer.
Partnerships Drive Progress
There are many other examples of our initiatives, large and small. It’s important for us to partner with organizations that are also committed to healing the whole person.
Health systems don’t need to tackle food insecurity alone. There are many organizations that already do this, and do it well. What hospitals can do is support these groups and work together, extending their reach.
If we can provide members of our community with the food they need to avoid diabetes, lower their blood pressure, and avoid a host of other problems that arise with poor nutrition and malnutrition, we can hopefully improve the overall wellness of our community.
Todd Goodman is senior executive officer/CFO, Florida Hospital and the Central Florida Division of Adventist Health System, Orlando.
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