Submitted by: Unity Care NW

You have probably heard the saying “You are what you eat.” Nutrition and access to healthy foods are key ingredients for good health. Good nutrition can help prevent chronic diseases and conditions, boost our immune system, help with healing and tissue growth, reduce inflammation in the body, and increase energy. Healthy food choices can help in the management of chronic disease by relieving symptoms. Unprocessed, unrefined whole foods are nourishing foods. Yet too many of us don’t have access to healthy food.

We see this all too often among the patients we serve at Unity Care NW. For some of our patients, they cannot afford healthy food. Each month, they have to decide whether their limited resources will be spent on shelter, keeping the heat on, clothing their kids, paying for needed medications or groceries. Some patients don’t know what it means to eat healthy and need nutritional education and support. Some never learned how to cook and prepare fresh foods. Some live in food deserts and have difficulty making the trip to the grocery store. Instead, they rely on fast food or the limited selections available in convenience stores.

To improve the health of our patients and break down barriers to healthy eating, Unity Care NW is investing in our nutritional and food-based programs:

  • We have an on-staff registered dietician who serves as a resource to our patients. She provides nutritional counseling and education, helps patients set goals and provides tips on preparing healthy, inexpensive meals.
  • Our Community Health Workers have now been trained to offer Food $ense education classes. These classes teach those with limited resources to select and prepare affordable, healthy foods. Participants learn how to stretch their food assistance benefits and cook nutritious, tasty meals from items available at the grocery store or local food bank.
  • We are working with the Bellingham Food Bank to launch a Veggie Prescription pilot program in 2019. Based on similar programs implemented in other parts of the country, the Veggie Prescription program will be offered at Unity Care NW, PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center and Sea Mar Community Health Centers. The pilot program will provide redeemable vouchers for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables to identified patients who struggle with chronic health conditions and food insecurity. We expect that the program will improve our patients’ health while reducing costs to the health care system.
  • We help our patients access food assistance programs for which they are eligible, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka Food Stamps); Fresh Bucks, a program that matches food stamp benefits towards the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets; and the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC), which provides nutritional information and food assistance to low-income families with a young child in the household.

Here in Whatcom County, we have the benefit of living in an area with rich farmlands and local farmers committed to growing and producing nourishing foods.  During Eat Local Month in September, Unity Care NW is partnering with Sustainable Connections to highlight the linkages between locally-grown food and good health. Our Annual Gala on Friday, September 28 is a featured Eat Local Month event. Our food-based and nutrition programs are not services that are typically covered by health insurance, so the proceeds of the Gala will be directed to supporting these programs.

For more information about the upcoming Annual Gala, go to Unitycarenw.org/2018-annual-gala.

Photo credit: Diane Padys Photography

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