By Kelly (McCarthy) Kennedy, Sentara Healthcare
It is not unusual for patients to be prescribed medication when they are first diagnosed with congestive heart failure. A new pilot program at Sentara CarePlex Hospital in Hampton, in partnership with the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank, is now making one of those prescriptions a heart-healthy food box. The food box is filled with plenty of low-sodium, healthy ingredients and recipes to cook.
“If we can get these patients introduced to healthy food at the onset of the disease, we believe it can improve the outcome of their overall health,” said Dr. Anthony Fisher, medical coordinator of the Food Pharmacy Program.
Larry Back has been living with diabetes for the past nine years. Part of managing his diabetes includes eating a low-carb diet. In September, Back was hospitalized for congestive heart failure. This came as a huge surprise to him.
“I learned in the Food Pharmacy program I was eating low-carb, but sometimes I would take in triple the amount of sodium,” Back said. “I had no idea I was taking in so much sodium, and that was the reason I was hospitalized!”
Patients recently diagnosed with congestive heart failure can see dramatic health improvements with the right nutritional diet, Fisher says. Many of the challenges facing these patients are often social determinants such as access to healthy food, food cost and a lack of nutritional education.
“We are thrilled to partner with Sentara CarePlex Hospital to continue to improve the health of the community,” says Karen Joyner, chief executive officer of Virginia Peninsula Foodbank. “This Food Pharmacy will help alleviate the combination of stress and poor nutrition that can make disease management even more challenging and maintaining good health extremely difficult. We are grateful for the support of the Sentara Foundation.”
The Food Pharmacy Program at Sentara CarePlex Hospital partners doctors with a registered dietitian, a specialized nurse, a social worker and a food box from the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank to provide a comprehensive care plan for these heart failure patients.
Funding for this program stems from a $5.5 million donation made by Sentara Healthcare to four non-profit organizations supporting Virginia’s safety net organizations. The Virginia Federation of Food Banks received $1 million, with a portion going to the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank to support food distribution programs such as this one.
How the program works
Qualifying patients are invited to weekly workshops for four weeks at Sentara CarePlex Hospital. The workshops include meeting with a dietitian to develop a low-sodium diet plan and a social worker to help identify any barriers or social determinants that could interfere with their success such as transportation or inability to cook.
During each meeting, the patient is given a food box with enough healthy food to last for two people for one week, and nutritional education to help them read labels and understand portion sizes. Each workshop includes a chef demonstration on how to cook simple, healthy meals. The participants are then given the fresh ingredients to recreate these healthy meals at home.
The pilot program will consist of 10 to 20 patients who have recently been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, are over the age of 50 and who are motivated to try it. The goal is to improve their health so they will no longer need to battle heart failure and to help prevent them from returning to the hospital.
Sentara Healthcare hopes to share the success of this program with its 11 other hospitals across Virginia and North Carolina to improve the overall health of the communities it serves.
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