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Harris Health Food Farmacy Patients Receive Curbside Service during Pandemic

Harris Health Food Farmacy Patients Receive Curbside Service during Pandemic

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Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Harris Health System patients participating in its food prescription program are still receiving food thanks to curbside pick-up at Strawberry Health Center in Pasadena. The service is exclusively for patients already enrolled in Harris Health’s Food Farmacy.

Food Farmacy is a collaborative program with the Houston Food Bank. It’s a 600-square-foot fresh market located inside the health center with food aisles and refrigerators. Patients are identified by physicians and referred to the program based on their food insecurity needs (without means to adequate food sources) and a diagnosis of diabetes with elevated A1C levels (three-month hemoglobin measure) above 7 percent.

Because COVID-19 is known to threaten those with chronic diseases like diabetes, Harris Health wanted to minimize the exposure of Food Farmacy participants to the virus. Knowing, however, that these patients still need nutritious food to maintain their good health prompted the curbside idea, says Melissa Prideaux, MS, RDN, LD, program coordinator, Food Farmacy, Harris Health System.

“Now more than ever, our patients need to remain healthy and reduce the risk of exposure to the virus,” she says. “With our continued support and precautions, we’re able to ensure they can continue to receive nutritious food and related disease management education during these difficult times.”

Since starting curbside pick-up March 25, nearly 200 patients have arranged for more than 350 food pickups at the health center. Each patient receives 30 pounds of fruits and vegetables, and four healthy food items like whole-grain rice, beans or lean meats every two weeks.

Before the pandemic, patients would walk the aisles of the Food Farmacy to select items. An important component of the program involves educating patients about each food item selected and ways to prepare/cook for best nutritional value. With social distancing guidelines in place, health educators and licensed dietitians now provide these valuable educational sessions virtually through video chats or telephone calls.

“We understand that the patients we serve have interrelated needs, and those needs don’t exist in a vacuum,” says Karen Tseng, senior vice president, Population Health Transformation, Harris Health. “For example, many chronic diseases have dietary components, but our patients don’t always have the means, the access or the skills to follow expert recommendations. That’s where our population health team steps in to meet their needs more holistically.”

Harris Health treats nearly 36,000 patients with diabetes. At Strawberry, staff treats more than 3,000 patients with diabetes which includes roughly 2,000 individuals who have elevated A1C levels. Patients with uncontrolled diabetes are prone to severe nerve damage, kidney failure, loss of vision, as well as life-threatening conditions like stroke and heart disease.

For more information on the Food Farmacy at Strawberry Health Center and Population Health Transformation, visit www.2019.harrishealthannualreport.org

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