Improving Health Outcomes Year-Round: BayCare and Feeding Tampa Bay Tackle Food Insecurity and Accessibility
The holiday season is a time of joy and celebration, but it can also be a time of stress and anxiety for many families and individuals who struggle with access to healthy food and battle food insecurity. Since 2019, BayCare and Feeding Tampa Bay have partnered to bridge Tampa Bay’s hunger gap by addressing food accessibility, food insecurity and health outcomes. Healthy food choices equate to a healthier life and general well-being, and with the help of BayCare and Feeding Tampa Bay, more people have access to nutrient-rich foods not just during the holiday season, but all year long. The two not-for-profits share a similar philosophy when it comes to nutrition: Good health starts with access to good food.
“Through BayCare’s numerous programs with Feeding Tampa Bay, we are proving that healthy foods are not out of reach,” said Krista Cunningham, MPH, CPH, BayCare’s senior community outreach coordinator. “We are working daily within our communities to make sure that as many people as possible can access those foods and use them to create a healthier life for themselves.”
BayCare began focusing much of its Community Benefit effort toward food insecurity after the 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) found great need across the four counties it serves: Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk and Pasco. That need came into even sharper focus with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Feeding Tampa Bay and other service agencies reported significant spikes in the demand for food.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.” This can be a temporary situation or can last for an extended period for an individual or family. According to Feeding America, more than 34 million people, including nine million children, experience food insecurity in the United States.
Food insecurity can have long-term health consequences. When you’re not getting adequate nutrients to your brain, muscles and organs over time, the result can be nutrition-related chronic disease and multiple other medical conditions.
BayCare and Feeding Tampa Bay have taken a multi-pronged approach to addressing access to healthy foods and food insecurity, whether it’s through food banks, in patient programs and community-based initiatives, or offering health education materials and personal consultations in the BayCare Health Education Center.
Let’s take a comprehensive look at the resources BayCare has created to address food access and food insecurity throughout the Tampa Bay and West Central Florida regions.
Since launching the ‘Healing Bags’ program in 2021 in partnership with Feeding Tampa Bay, BayCare has distributed more than 19,000 Healing Bags to individuals in need. Each Healing Bag contains roughly two to three days’ worth of healthy nonperishable food items provided by Feeding Tampa Bay. There are two varieties of Healing Bags: one designed for patients who have access to a kitchen and can prepare meals themselves with items like rice and pasta, and the other for individuals who lack cooking facilities, such as those experiencing homelessness. The bags contain ready-to-eat foods that can be consumed without the need for any additional preparation.
The program is available to inpatients as well as emergency department patients across all of BayCare’s 16 hospitals.
Food Prescription (Food Rx) Program
Select BayCare medical providers, in partnership with Feeding Tampa Bay, currently screen patients using the Hunger Vital Sign screen tool to identify those who are food insecure and have a co-occurring chronic condition or disease, like diabetes or high blood pressure. Patients then receive a prescription to visit the food pharmacy at their location and collect specific foods aimed to address their diagnosis. In collaboration with local hospitals and clinics, the Food Rx program brings healthy foods to food-insecure patients free of charge.
Currently, the Food Rx program is available at BayCare Medical Group’s General/Bariatric Surgery office and the provider identifies the patient based on their health markers and their food insecurity status. Depending on grant monies available for next year and beyond, there is possible room for expansion and enrolling more patients in the program at the OB-GYN and primary care locations at Walden Lake.
“Food Rx is a vital bridge between healthcare and nutrition, ensuring that individuals facing food insecurity can access the nourishment they need to manage their health conditions effectively," said Nick Sarich, health care program manager at Feeding Tampa Bay. “Through our partnership with BayCare, we are committed to making a long-lasting impact on the health and well-being of our overall community.”
Patients are screened for food insecurity and a variety of chronic conditions such as diabetes, high body mass index (BMI) and hypertension. If a patient screens positive for these factors, they qualify for the program. The program’s goal is to reduce food insecurity and increase the number of “healthy days” for food-insecure individuals who have chronic conditions.
Enrollees receive $25 vouchers each week for 26 weeks that can be redeemed at participating Groceries on the Go (GOTG) and Food Rx locations for fresh produce, whole grains, beans and lentils, and low-sodium canned goods. More than 320 people are currently enrolled in the program.
The Food Rx Program overlaps with GOTG, working hand in hand as many of the Food Rx sites are also GOTG stops.
Contact Nick Sarich for more information.
Groceries on the Go
Groceries on the Go (GOTG) is Feeding Tampa Bay’s mobile grocery store that aims to break down barriers that prevent healthy eating – like time, accessibility and cost. Because we know access to nutritious foods is key to a healthy diet, GOTG is stocked with healthy food including low-sodium canned goods, whole grains, shelf-stable proteins and dairy, and fresh produce. The stores offer pantry staples, fresh fruits and vegetables at costs substantially below retail.
Groceries on the Go strives to support neighbors who reside in food deserts or have trouble getting food by helping them gain access to nutritious food at a cost lower than retail. They accept vouchers from pre-authorized partners, Electronic Benefits Transaction (EBT), credit/debit cards, cash, and/or a combination of payment methods. Clients serviced through GOTG come from many of FTB’s partnered programs, including BayCare Medical Group’s General Surgery Center located at 1601 W. Timberlane Dr., Suite 100, in Plant City.
“Groceries on the Go provides a dignified shopping experience to those in the community who might otherwise not have access to fresh and nutritious foods,” said Amy McClain, programs and partnerships manager at Feeding Tampa Bay. “Our collaboration with BayCare helps provide convenient, affordable, quality foods to support the better health of our neighbors who are struggling overall to make ends meet.”
The program provides quality food options to those who may not have access, and helps EBT shoppers get the best value for their EBT dollars. Every EBT dollar spent on GOTG is matched up to $10 in Fresh Access Bucks, redeemable for additional free fresh fruits and vegetables.
BayCare Health Education Center
The BayCare Health Education Center, tucked inside Feeding Tampa Bay’s massive industrial warehouse in Tampa, provides health resources for FTB guests, staff and volunteers.
The first of its kind, the facility reflects BayCare’s commitment to addressing the community’s health holistically. The center serves as a resource for visitors to Feeding Tampa Bay to live healthier lives including offering health education materials, a Higi station for self-monitoring general health and a private area for personal consultations. BayCare also will offer health and wellness events targeted to those served in this unique location. This year, complimentary flu shots were also administered at the location.
For more information about BayCare’s community benefit initiatives: https://baycare.org/about-us/community-benefit-and-community-health-needs