Healing Care for All
From 18 to 42.
Those two numbers tell a lot about how BayCare is continuing to deepen its commitment to West Central Florida’s health needs, particularly food insecurity. Two years into a strategic partnership with the region’s largest food assistance organization, Feeding Tampa Bay, BayCare in 2022 supported 42 school-based food pantries across Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties—up from 18 in 2021.
BayCare’s emphasis on food insecurity dates to 2019, when BayCare and its partners in the All4HealthFL Collaborative surveyed residents of the four counties about their health care needs and learned that one of the most pressing problems was hunger. BayCare’s discussions with Feeding Tampa Bay were already underway in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, and hunger was soon an even bigger crisis in the Tampa Bay and West Central Florida regions.
The school pantry project followed. BayCare now contributes to the operation of 42 school food pantries in the four counties and is also beginning to provide food for distribution to hungry families through area YMCAs. The health system is studying ways to deepen the impact of its school food pantries on families.
Pinellas Hope, a facility for people without permanent housing, has many residents with chronic illnesses. In 2022, these residents proudly graduated from a six-week class called “Go Healthy” to teach them how to cope and get healthier. Instructor Sandra Grosvenor (kneeling in photo) is a registered nurse and outreach program coordinator from St. Anthony’s Hospital
BayCare has continued to work closer to home on food insecurity, knowing that access to healthy food is the first step in good health. During 2022, team members at BayCare hospitals asked 103,000 patients two questions to determine whether they had ready access to food, and patients’ answers were added to their electronic medical records.
Upon discharge, those patients who self-identified as food-insecure were offered a “Healing Bag” that contained nonperishable food as well as information to connect the recipient to food banks and other community-based resources near where they live. BayCare’s Healing Bag program now exists at every BayCare hospital, but also in the Chronic Complex Clinic at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital and in BayCare’s HIV clinics.
BayCare team members distributed more than 9,200 “Healing Bags” in 2022, up from 2,650 in 2021.
These systemic, region-wide efforts to address food insecurity were in addition to dozens of smaller-scale investments BayCare and its hospitals made in 2022 to impact individual population groups or niche communities, such as the La Esperanza Clinic for uninsured and underinsured residents in eastern Hillsborough County, health education classes for residents of Pinellas Hope, free community health screenings and many others.
What’s a CHNA?
Healing hunger is both a medical mission and a benefit provided to the community by BayCare. “Community Benefit” is a term that describes the services a health care system provides to individuals and the community without being paid. Not-for-profit health systems are required by the government to track their community benefit services and how those services meet a community need. So, every three years, not-for-profits must conduct a community health needs assessment (CHNA) to figure out the top needs in their communities and how to address them.
In 2019, the All4HealthFL Collaborative conducted a survey as part of that year’s CHNA. In January 2022, it was time to launch another survey. More than 14,000 residents responded to the 2022 survey. Then leaders, community members and partners in each of the four counties met in prioritization sessions to sift through the survey answers, study health data and choose the top three health-related problems.
In both 2019 and 2022, the prioritization session attendees selected these three as the top issues: access to health care and social services; behavioral health (including mental health and substance misuse); and exercise, nutrition and weight. As 2022 ended, BayCare had developed implementation plans that’ll extend through 2025 to address those needs in each of the four counties and also was expanding the health system’s hunger initiatives. Among the plans:
- BayCare leaders approved funding and are working out the logistics to create “food clinics,” where individuals could fill a “food prescription” provided by their doctor. The clinics would have food pantries and dietitian services.
- BayCare approved financial support for promotora services in areas where there are sizable Hispanic communities. Promotoras are specially trained lay health care workers who serve Spanish-speaking communities where there may be a generational mistrust of outside agencies.
- BayCare is working with a Lakeland-based organization, Gospel Inc., to provide a nurse or other medical professional for the group. Gospel Inc. provides housing and work opportunities for people who have been chronically homeless.
- In Polk County, BayCare wants to help expand several food pantries and also work with Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine to support a new clinic serving the community around BayCare’s Bartow Regional Medical Center.