NORTHAMPTON — A new partnership between Cooley Dickinson Hospital, a member of Mass General Brigham, and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts will benefit patients who experience food insecurity. The Food Bank will receive $500,000 from Mass General Brigham over four years to launch the partnership, which is expected to start this spring.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Patients screened for food insecurity, as well as other social determinants of health, including housing and transportation, will be referred to the new program if inadequate access to food surfaces as a need.
“We put patients at the center of all that we do by providing exceptional and compassionate care, and food security is an important component of ensuring good health,” Cooley Dickinson President and CEO Dr. Lynnette Watkins said. “This funding is part of Mass General Brigham’s $50 million investment in a new, comprehensive community-grant strategy to improve the health of patients and communities.”
The Food Bank’s executive director, Andrew Morehouse, is excited about the partnership. “We know we can ensure patients have access to healthier food to lead healthier lives. We also know we can support members of our community to become more economically stable and food-secure.”
Since 2018, the Food Bank has collaborated with local healthcare providers to address food insecurity through the Food Bank’s Food Insecurity Screening and Referral Initiative (FISRI). With the funding from Mass General Brigham, the Food Bank will be able to expand the screening and referral program to more patients who are food-insecure and hire a dedicated food-assistance referral coordinator.
The coordinator will provide FISRI services to patients referred by Cooley Dickinson who do not qualify for Flexible Services. (To be eligible for Flexible Services, a patient must be enrolled in one of MassHealth’s accountable-care organizations, or ACOs. Flexible Services support the broader MassHealth goal of addressing the health-related social needs of its members as part of the ACO program, according to mass.gov.) FISRI is a safety net for community members who do not quality for Flexible Services but who are food-insecure.
Morehouse said the coordinator will be able to serve 200 patients annually for a total of 800 participants over the four-year partnership. “Ultimately, we know this service will benefit entire households, including at least two times more people, or a total of 2,400 individuals.”
Many Mass General Brigham patients, including 37% in its MassHealth program, report experiencing food insecurity, said Dr. Elsie Taveras, chief community health equity officer for Mass General Brigham. “Throughout the pandemic, we have worked with organizations across the Commonwealth to make the greatest impact we could for the communities we serve. By significantly increasing our food-security efforts, we can continue to help address the challenges and barriers that many people in the communities we serve are facing. Expanding our reach into Western Mass. through the services provided by the Food Bank directly connects to our mission.”