The program will help connect patients to SNAP benefits and other programs for food access and social determinants of health.
Kaiser Permanente has launched Food for Life, a program aimed at connecting vulnerable patients to nutritious meals and addressing the social determinants of health, the health system recently announced.
The program will begin with a statewide texting campaign to connect eligible Californians to resources to help them enroll on CalFresh, the state’s supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP).
The Food for Life program is Kaiser’s latest effort to close some of the gaps in social risk factors, or social determinants of health, which impact an individual’s ability to attain wellness. Studies suggest that individuals without regular access to nutritious food incur healthcare costs 45 percent higher than those living in food secure households, the healthcare system reported.
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“It is unacceptable for anyone to suffer from poor health because they can’t get enough nutritious food to eat,” said Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente. “The association between good health and healthy food is indisputable, and if we want to make our communities the healthiest in the nation, it is crucial that we connect people with the resources they need to achieve total health.”
Kaiser expects the texting campaign to reach over 600,000 Kaiser Permanente households and will ideally help those are eligible to enroll on CalFresh. And if effective, the texting campaign can be expanded nationwide, the health system said, helping to connect even more vulnerable patients with SNAP benefits offered in their own communities.
As for California, SNAP benefits can go a long way in improving patient health and access to nutritious food. The program provides up to $192 to beneficiaries to help them purchase groceries and nutritious foods. However, this program is exceptionally underutilized, Kaiser experts said.
Currently, California ranks 42nd out of 50 states for SNAP enrollment, despite the fact that the Kaiser Permanente Social Needs in America Survey revealed that 40 percent of California residents experienced stress related to healthy food access within the past year.
The state has recently expanded eligibility for SNAP benefits, making the timing for the text campaign rollout prime, Kaiser experts said. Ideally, the campaign will close the food security gap and connect more individuals with nutritious foods.
The program will also allow Kaiser Permanente to create medically tailored meal kits for families based on their individual healthcare needs.
These meal kits will be key for chronic disease management, especially for those with exceptionally diet-influenced conditions such as diabetes, cancer, or kidney disease. The health system will be delivering this in-home food assistance as a test to determine if improved diet helps boost other metrics, such as lifestyle change adherence and healthcare costs.
These efforts are not Kaiser’s only foray into social determinants of health and community-based healthcare work.
“Food for Life builds on our existing community health work — such as preserving affordable housing, researching firearm injury prevention, and teaching resiliency in schools — to improve health outcomes, decrease the cost of care, and create systemwide change,” said Bechara Choucair, MD, chief community health officer, Kaiser Permanente.
Earlier this spring, the health system launched Thrive Local, a referral network helping to connect patients with community-based care that can address the social determinants of health.
The initiative, created in partnership with SDOH data software company Unite Us, will allow Kaiser Permanente providers to refer patients to social services that can address food security, housing stability, public safety, and access to utilities, among other services.
The technology will integrate into the Kaiser Permanente EHR, allowing providers to view the specific social determinants of health an individual patient experiences and the social services available for addressing that need.
From there, Kaiser Permanente will be able to track patient outcomes, helping medical experts to understand the efficacy of certain community-based care programs and intervene where necessary.
“By integrating this network into our clinical care, our members with unmet social needs will be connected to community services more efficiently,” Choucair said in a May 2019 statement. “In addition, Thrive Local will be open to community health centers and community-based organizations to improve social health access for the entire community.”
Kaiser Permanente has also famously invested in housing security, funneling grant money into affordable housing units across the state. In January, Kaiser, along with its community partners Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise) and East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC), unveiled a new affordable housing development in the East Oakland area.
The development, which cost EBALDC $8.7 million using $5.1 million in assistance from Kaiser and Enterprise, includes 41 units and is close to Kaiser’s world headquarters.
Creating affordable housing units is essential, especially in the Bay Area, Kaiser representatives said during the press conference. Between 2015 and 2017, homelessness in Oakland increased by 25 percent, which has had negative impacts on health.
“Housing security is a crucial health issue for vulnerable populations,” Tyson explained. “Access to affordable housing is a key component to Kaiser Permanente’s mission to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve and to advance the economic, social, and environmental conditions for health.”
Source: Patient Engagement Hit