It’s not unusual for BJC team members to go the extra mile when caring for patients, often providing help above and beyond patients’ immediate medical needs. A new community partnership program launching at Barnes-Jewish Hospital is the result of such caring efforts by team members.
Beginning this month, Barnes-Jewish ambulatory services staff now offer a way for patients in the Center for Outpatient Health clinics to identify if food insecurity is a concern for their family. Anyone who indicates the inability to access food will be offered a box of food that day and be connected to additional resources. Patients will also have the option to decline. Food will be provided by the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.
“Our goal in ambulatory services is to find ways to more proactively care for our patients, well beyond the medical needs they seek us out for,” says Aislynn Moyer, director of ambulatory services at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “Knowing that food insecurity is a major issue in St. Louis, our goal is to screen patients and provide assistance to those who want help.”
The first major step in the food initiative is screening all patients for food insecurity when they arrive for their appointment. As part of routine visit questions, patients will have the option to fill out a form, noting whether the following is never true, sometimes true or often true:
- Within the past 12 months I worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.
- Within the past 12 months the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.
In respect of their privacy, patients also will have the option to choose “Prefer not to answer.” All responses are confidential and are handled like other protected health information.
Cheri Meador, Barnes-Jewish OB/GYN clinic manager, says the food initiative started when a patient and her child came to the ambulatory clinic for care. “Due to COVID-19, her child had to sit in the waiting room with the nursing staff on duty,” Meador says. “While watching the child, the staff started talking and asked what they were going to have for lunch since it was close to lunchtime. When the child responded that they didn’t have any food, the staff got together to purchase the family lunch for that day.”
“The OB/GYN clinic started with their own local food response and then BJH ambulatory services built a more sustainable process from that,” Moyer adds.
Ambulatory services will provide an immediate solution and a longer-term solution for patients who share that they have challenges getting food for their family.
“In partnership with the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, the immediate solution will be to keep a food box in the clinic that we can offer to the patient to ensure they have meals for that day and the next few days. From there we will consult with our social work partners to follow up with resources on how the patient can connect to food banks and food pantries,” Moyer says.
Moyer says the process is starting in the primary care medicine and OB/GYN clinics. “We hope to spread it across all our areas in ambulatory services over the next few months. Knowing we can help support the needs of our community, even beyond the doors of the clinic, is so rewarding for all of us involved," she says.
Quenesha Catron, division operating officer for The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, is thankful for BJC’s partnership in this initiative. “Working with BJC to fight food insecurities in the St. Louis area will be a great opportunity to further our reach in the community,” Catron says. “It is our mission to empower our community, and we cannot do it alone.”
Catron says the pandemic brought additional challenges with regard to serving those in need. “We have always had food pantries at our outreach centers and we were used to serving thousands of people monthly. Once the pandemic hit, we had to figure out how to feed thousands more and could not allow those who could not get to us due to Illness as a hardship to not be served.
“The partnership with BJC is an answer to prayers,” Catron says. “We never want anyone to have to go without food. If we could feed all of St. Louis, we would.”
The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis advocates for and empowers African Americans and others in metropolitan St Louis by pursuing educational excellence, economic opportunities, community empowerment, civil rights and advocacy by meeting families' basic needs through social justice and sustainable quality services.
For more information about ways to support the community, visit the Urban League website at www.ulstl.com.
More about food insecurity
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire these foods in socially acceptable ways.
Think Health St. Louis, a web-based source of population data and community health information, calls food insecurity “an economic and social indicator of the health of a community.” Poverty and unemployment, for example, are frequently predictors of food insecurity in the United States.
According to Think Health St. Louis, a survey commissioned by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) found that one in four Americans worries about having enough money to put food on the table in the next year. Closer to home, the percentage of the St. Louis population that experienced food insecurity at some point during 2018 was 11% for St. Louis County and over 18% in St. Louis City, or almost 1 in every 5 people.
And food insecurity is more than a matter of hunger — it is associated with a variety of chronic health conditions in both adults and children.
“Those are just a few of the reasons we’re passionate about this partnership with the Urban League,” says Moyer. “Our patients reflect the makeup of our larger community, so we know a certain percentage of them are struggling with food insecurity. If we can help those families overcome this obstacle, then we know we’re helping to meet the needs of our community — well beyond the walls of our clinics.”