Why It Matters
Optimal population health and access to healthy food are inextricably linked.
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Invest Community Benefit Resources into Sustainable, Healthy Food

By IHI Multimedia Team | Friday, September 28, 2018

September 28 blogOrange Center Elementary School’s Healthy Living Garden creates an interactive venue for teaching students about good food choices and overall health and wellness. (Source: Orlando Health)

Across the country, health care organizations are recognizing the vital link between healthy food access and community health outcomes and are putting their community benefit resources to work on solutions.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example — where nearly a quarter of the population struggles to access healthy food — hundreds of families receive fresh produce through a unique partnership between a farmers cooperative and a health system. In a New York City borough, doctors and health clinics issue produce prescriptions to encourage healthy eating. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, catalyzes a collaboration for healing through vegetables.

With more than 30 resources and a plethora of stories from facilities nationwide, Health Care Without Harm’s Delivering community benefit: Healthy food playbook helps hospital community benefit professionals and community partners to develop initiatives to promote healthy food access and local, sustainable food systems. The playbook offers information and tools to address food- and diet-related community health needs throughout the community health engagement process.

Health Care Without Harm and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement are working to support health care professionals in identifying opportunities for their organizations to make practical, meaningful, and sustainable advancements in improving the health and well-being of the patients and communities they serve. The strategies outlined in the playbook are aligned with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Pathways to Population Health framework which challenges hospital professionals to consider “what creates health?” and “how can health care engage?”

P2P HealthPortfolios of Population Health Framework

The framework’s four “portfolios” group the population health-related improvements health care organizations may pursue. The playbook is especially aligned to Portfolio 3, but the work underway by hospitals in the Health Care Without Harm network aligns with other portfolios as well:

  • Physical and/or mental health of patients or employees (Portfolio 1) — Portfolio 1 aims to improve the health and well-being of the health care workforce, address obesity and diet-related chronic disease, and leverage the role of purchaser to invest in local communities. As described in the playbook, these goals can be accomplished when hospitals and health care facilities purchase and serve local and sustainably produced foods thereby promoting healthy eating for hospital staff, patients, and visitors.
  • Community health and well-being (Portfolio 3) — Strategies outlined in both the playbook and Portfolio 3 of the framework provide health care organizations tools to address obesity and diet-related chronic disease, improve social determinants of health and health equity, and create place-based health improvement in their communities utilizing their community benefit programs.
  • Communities of Solutions (Portfolio 4) — Portfolio 4 aims to realize long-term, holistic community improvement. Resilient communities initiatives are multi-sector collaborations among hospitals, other institutions, and community partners that leverage institutional purchasing commitments and other resources to build healthy, sustainable regional food systems and strengthen local food economies. The playbook describes this strategy as an integral part of the work underway by hospitals in the Health Care Without Harm network. Resilient communities initiatives can create well-paid jobs and cooperative ownership opportunities, and strengthen the health, wealth, and resilience of low-income and underserved communities.

Use the Pathways to Population Health and Health Care Without Harm resources to improve access to healthy, affordable food at your facility. At the same time, you can support economic and workforce development in low-income or disadvantaged communities.

April Galarza is the communications coordinator of Health Care Without Harm's Healthy Food in Health Care program.

Editor’s note: Learn more from Health Care Without Harm and IHI on a free Pathways to Population Health call series (starting Wednesday, October 10). These 8 calls will offer expert coaching and peer learning.

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