Rush University Medical Center’s Office of Community Health Equity and Engagement (CHEE) has launched the Food Is Medicine program, which is designed to provide a long-term solution to food insecurity for Rush patients.
Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food. West Side Chicago residents report barriers to obtaining affordable fresh fruits and vegetables, which is linked to poor health outcomes. Before the pandemic, over 560,000 West Side residents face at least one barrier to accessing healthy food. COVID-19 has resulted in more people facing new and additional challenges, affecting their ability to manage their health.
“When I began learning about communities of color, health equity, and equitable access to food, I fell in love with the concept of helping others who were less fortunate than myself," says Julia Bassett, system manager for health and community benefit at Rush University Medical Center. “People have a right to healthy food, to grocery stores, to fruits and vegetables in their diet."
Through ensuring connections to resources for food, primary care, insurance, utilities, transportation, and housing increases one’s stability in the community, our patients are better equipped to focus on improving their overall health and well-being.
Strategies and Goals
Under the pilot program, patients in six clinics at Rush University Medical Center are screened for potential food insecurity using a series of questions to measure social determinants of health (non-medical factors that lead to adverse health conditions, like regular access to healthy food).
Those who identify as food insecure will be referred to the Food Is Medicine pantry. At the pantry, they'll receive a bag containing healthy proteins and produce. A community health worker will also sign them up for two additional home deliveries. Participants will get help signing up for long-term food assistance like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Meals on Wheels, if they are eligible. The program is also partnering with Top Box Foods, a grocer that works with underserved communities in Chicago.
The aims of the Rush’s Food is Medicine Veggie Rx pantry are to:
- Reduce the life expectancy gap and improve patients’ health outcomes by providing access to nutritious foods for all patients identified with food insecurity;
- Reduce potential readmissions by identifying and referring patients experiencing hardship from various social determinants of health (food insecurity, housing instability, transportation barriers and others);
- Assist patients in securing long-term sustainable food assistance through SNAP and WIC application assistance;
- Promote patients’ self-efficacy by offering navigation services including providing community resources available in the community;
- Increase patients’ confidence by making educational materials, recipes, and other tools available to patients to guide and inform them about the benefits of healthy eating.
This program will help fill the gaps of food deserts found in some of our neighboring communities and best support the patients and community members we serve.
Veggie Rx Pantry Details
- About: Offers fresh fruits, vegetables and shelf-stable foods to patients referred by Rush providers.
- Hours: The Veggie Rx pantry is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last client seen at 4:45 p.m.)
- Location: The pantry is located on the fifth floor of the Medical Center's Triangle Office Building at 1700 W. Van Buren St. in Chicago.
- Referrals: Providers can make referrals directly to the Veggie Rx Pantry Secured Chat to start the process.
- Contact information: You can reach Food is Medicine at (312) 942-9638
Food Delivery Bags
Veggie Rx offers fresh produce straight to the doorstep of Rush patients via our partnership with TopBox Foods. Patients will receive three deliveries via Top Box over the span of three months (one delivery per month) delivered directly to their front door, eliminating potential barriers of transportation or access issues. Patients will also receive tailored recipes, notice of free and low-cost nutrition and health education programming and assistance with public benefit applications (SNAP, WIC).
Home deliveries will occur on Friday’s between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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