Food insecurity is a problem in Harris County, Texas. About 18% of adults and 26% of children in the county have difficulty accessing food.
Research on food insecurity indicates that lack of nutritious foods can lead to other health problems, worsen existing diseases and increase costs. A 2015 study published in Health Affairs found that food-insecure children were twice as likely to report fair or poor health and 1.4 times more likely to have asthma compared to children who weren't food insecure. Older adults who were food insecure also had more difficulty with daily living than those who weren't food insecure. A different study found malnutrition increases healthcare spending by about $15.5 billion per year.
Determined to tackle the issue, Memorial Hermann, a 16-hospital health system based in Harris County's Houston, began to ask its patients in October 2015 about their access to food with the goal of getting them healthier by eating better.
The program started in the emergency department in select Memorial Hermann hospitals staffed with patient navigators. The navigators primarily see patients in the ED who are uninsured or on Medicaid to help them find a permanent medical home and help prevent readmissions, according to Carol Paret, Memorial Hermann's senior vice president and chief community health officer.
As part of the program, navigators ask each patient if at any time within the past 12 months they were worried food might run out and if they had difficulty gaining access to nutritious food.