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Picking and Prescribing Veggies for Complete Patient Health

August 09, 2019


Picking and Prescribing Veggies for Complete Patient Health

Employees from WellSpan Summit Health traded in their scrubs and white coats for jeans, T-shirts and boots. In a series of gleaning events, they went from the exam room to the farm to help ensure patients with little access to fresh vegetables can still get the nutrition they need.

"Everyone is pumped about this project," said Tammy Seville, human resources director for WellSpan Summit Physician Services. "I'm really proud of everyone who is participating. I think it gives them a feeling that we're part of the bigger picture. We're not just caring for the community in the exam room, but outside of it, too."

Groups of 20 volunteers have gone out into the fields, each time gathering about 1,500 pounds of sweet corn. The corn is harvested as part of The Gleaning Project, an initiative of the South-Central Community Action Program, to reduce food loss on local farms while increasing access to nutritious food for those who need it.

"Employees are making it a family event and the kids take it very seriously. They understand that the food they are getting is going to help people; it is amazing," said Seville.

The Veggie Prescription

Dr. Ryan DeCort volunteered two evenings after work gleaning sweet corn with knowledge of how important proper nutrition is for his patients.

"A balanced diet with the proper amount of fresh fruits and vegetables can help reduce a person's risk for diabetes, heart disease and a number of other serious health conditions," said Dr. DeCort, of WellSpan Internal Medicine. "Unfortunately, we do see some patients that need help in accessing the right food to promote health and wellness."

The most recent Community Health Needs Assessment released in June indicated eight percent of people in Franklin County are living in poverty. The report shows 32 percent have experienced at least one economic hardship in the last year, and 17 percent have experienced stress related to worries about food, shelter, health care and transportation.

Given what is known about food insecurity in the community, WellSpan Health in Franklin County has started to ask patients about their access to fresh produce when they visit their primary care office. If a patient does not have proper access to fresh food, coordinators are writing them a "prescription for vegetables" to get free produce from The Gleaning Project. WellSpan Summit Physician Services' community health workers are also delivering the produce to some patients, and volunteers are supporting the SCCAP food stand a few weekends this summer.

"It is rewarding as a provider to not just tell patients they need to eat more fruits and vegetables, but be able to go out into the field and pick it for them," said Dr. DeCort. "This is a wonderful example of the great things we can do for our patients outside of the clinical setting."

The SCCAP Partnership

With an understanding that health does not just happen in the exam room, WellSpan Summit Physician Services is doing more work to make sure patients are receiving the right amount of care, at the right time, in the right setting.

"Without the right food and nutrition, much of the work that our skilled providers do within the practices falls short because we can't take care of the patients once they get home," said Niki Hinckle, Senior VP of WellSpan Summit Physician Services.

As Franklin County is a robust agricultural area, generous farmers allow SCCAP and volunteers to pick unused or unneeded crops. WellSpan providers and staff are helping the harvesting efforts, sometimes within a day's notice to make sure the food is as fresh as possible.

"Our partnership with SCCAP is one of our first steps in starting to better understand how we must work closer with community agencies, using the expertise and resources of each organization to come together to provide some of our most vulnerable residents with a safety net for their care and support," said Hinckle.

More Information:

For the last few years, The Gleaning Project has been a recipient of grant money from the Summit Endowment. For more information about the Summit Endowment, visit https://www.summithealth.org/summit-locations/summit-endowment

To learn more about SCCAP and the Gleaning Project, visit https://thegleaningproject.org/

To learn more about Healthy Franklin County, visit www.healthyfranklincounty.org/