Health Care Screenings Help Identify Hunger in Pittsburgh

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank works with local providers to better identify and assist patients without reliable access to healthy food.




photo: shutterstock

 

Prescriptions for a broad range of medications carry a simple, three-word instruction on their labels: “Take with food.” It’s a requirement that many of us never have had to consider. But it becomes an impediment to health if you don’t have any food to begin with.

That’s a specific yet illustrative example of a dilemma the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank hopes to address by working with health care providers to screen for food insecurity among patients. Taking its lead from a 2014 survey conducted by the domestic hunger relief organization Feeding America, the food bank aims to broaden the scope of health care providers during patient visits with these new initiatives.

“Food insecurity has an impact on people’s health; we know that,” says Lisa Scales, the food bank’s president and CEO. The goal is to convince health systems to incorporate questions about food security into routine health screenings; practitioners then would be able to add data about hunger to normal reports of vital signs such as temperature and blood pressure.

Determining whether or not an individual is food-insecure can be more complicated than it may seem, Scales points out. “There’s a limited amount of time that health care providers spend with people,” she says. “So the challenge [involves] addressing all of the needs that people have that address their health.”

The wording of the questions is of vital importance. Many patients are reluctant to admit that they’re eating poorly or not at all, so simply asking if a need exists often will not yield the right information. For that reason, the food bank suggests that providers read patients two statements, drawn from the U.S. Household Food Security Survey’s “Food Insecurity Screener.”

The statements are: “We worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more;” and, “The food that we bought just didn’t last, and we didn’t have money to get more.” Patients are asked if those statements were often, sometimes or never true in their households in the previous 12 months.

The answers to those questions can help a provider to identify patients who need further assistance. Those patients may be directed to resources such as the food bank or enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Ideally, this also can lead to health care centers and providers maintaining a food pantry on-site; Karen Dreyer, director of the Southwestern PA Food Security Partnership, cites a program underway at ProMedica Toledo Hospital in Ohio, where doctors can write food-insecure patients a prescription to be filled at the hospital’s own pantry. “That is a great option; it’s a very good way to do it,” Dreyer says.

“But our end-goal is that [these] screenings would become integral in the health care system.”

The food bank has had preliminary conversations with both UPMC and Allegheny Health Network and has begun partnering with other organizations for pilot programs. Dan Swayze, the vice president and COO of the Center for Emergency Medicine and the project manager of the CONNECT Community Paramedic Program, says he’s observed a tangible impact since implementing the food bank’s suggestions into the organization’s health screenings in February.

“We work with a lot of vulnerable patients in the county, and food security is a very vital issue for them,” Swayze says. “Thanks to the partnership, we’re now able to actually leave food behind with them after performing that assessment.”

Widespread implementation of these efforts still is a long way off, as administrative hurdles are cleared and management strategies are devised. The potential impact of those two simple statements, however, could be enormous in addressing one of the key social determinants of health. 
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Best Restaurants 2017

Best Restaurants 2017

This year Pittsburgh Magazine's independent Restaurant Review Panel recognizes 34 establishments as our regions's top restaurants. Our list includes All Arounders, Killer Casual, Fancy Night Out, Best Budget and Classic Comfort establishments.
Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Bill Fuller’s portfolio includes overseeing five specialty restaurants — Eleven Contemporary Kitchen, Casbah Mediterranean Kitchen and Wine Bar, Soba, umi and Kaya — as well as 14 fast-casual Mad Mex restaurants and a full-service catering operation. Even in an increasingly competitive environment, his restaurants remain in-demand and relevant.
Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Apteka, operated by Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski, is a vegan eatery that draws on Lasky’s sixth-generation Pittsburgh roots and Skowronski’s Polish heritage.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference Helps Writers Tell Their Stories

Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference Helps Writers Tell Their Stories

The fifth annual Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference brings writers from across the country together to improve their craft.
Watch: Radio-Synced Highlights of Pens 7-0 Win in Game 5

Watch: Radio-Synced Highlights of Pens 7-0 Win in Game 5

Nothing beats listening to Mike Lange describe a Penguins' goal.
Break It Down: Byham Theater

Break It Down: Byham Theater

When you walk into the Sixth Street entryway of the Byham Theater, Downtown, you will see patches of green and black tile on the walls: These are originals from the early 20th century, says John Mumper, facilities manager at the Byham. The grand theater has plenty of history to go with its 100-plus years; let’s break it down.
 Wiz Khalifa to Headline Thrival 2017

Wiz Khalifa to Headline Thrival 2017

It’s the first time a Pittsburgh artist is headlining the annual innovation and music festival.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Best Restaurants 2017

Best Restaurants 2017

This year Pittsburgh Magazine's independent Restaurant Review Panel recognizes 34 establishments as our regions's top restaurants. Our list includes All Arounders, Killer Casual, Fancy Night Out, Best Budget and Classic Comfort establishments.
Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Bill Fuller’s portfolio includes overseeing five specialty restaurants — Eleven Contemporary Kitchen, Casbah Mediterranean Kitchen and Wine Bar, Soba, umi and Kaya — as well as 14 fast-casual Mad Mex restaurants and a full-service catering operation. Even in an increasingly competitive environment, his restaurants remain in-demand and relevant.
Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Apteka, operated by Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski, is a vegan eatery that draws on Lasky’s sixth-generation Pittsburgh roots and Skowronski’s Polish heritage.
Can the Restoration of a Church Lead to the Revival of a Town?

Can the Restoration of a Church Lead to the Revival of a Town?

A small group of dedicated residents sees the restoration of their church in Tarentum as a window to the potential rebirth of their once-booming community in suburban Pittsburgh.
Remembering Henry Hillman

Remembering Henry Hillman

Reflecting on the impact of the businessman, civic visionary and philanthropist.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference Helps Writers Tell Their Stories

Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference Helps Writers Tell Their Stories

The fifth annual Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference brings writers from across the country together to improve their craft.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Station's Hours Expand and Le Lyonnais Opens Downtown

Station's Hours Expand and Le Lyonnais Opens Downtown

Station, the excellent Bloomfield eatery, now offers lunch service. The Big Y Group opens a French bistro in the space previously occupied by Sonoma Grille.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


Vital Happy Hour Alert: Great Cocktails at the Wigle Tasting Room

Vital Happy Hour Alert: Great Cocktails at the Wigle Tasting Room

The third outpost of local distillery Wigle, found in the Omni William Penn Hotel, is an instant destination for cocktail fans.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Time Running Out for Penguins to Respond to Senators

Time Running Out for Penguins to Respond to Senators

The Penguins suddenly have a lot to sort out as they attempt to respond to another disappointing playoff loss.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Pittsburgh on a Plate

Pittsburgh on a Plate

The way to a beer lover’s heart is mapped out on notNeutral’s plate, which highlights Pittsburgh breweries (and other points of interest) across the city.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The Alien Series Jumps the Shark with Covenant

The Alien Series Jumps the Shark with Covenant

Reviews of "Alien: Covenant" and "Everything, Everything," as well as local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
New York Bridal Designer Shares Her Secrets

New York Bridal Designer Shares Her Secrets

Pennsylvania native Jaclyn Jordan brings her newest collection to the Blanc de Blanc Bridal Boutique in Carrick.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Get to the North Side for Home & Garden Tour, Epic Yard Sale

Get to the North Side for Home & Garden Tour, Epic Yard Sale

Explore lavish homes and gardens with the West Allegheny Historic District’s annual Tour and Tasting, or go on the hunt for hidden treasure during The Great Mexican War Streets Yard Sale.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Explore Your Future with Point Park University

Explore Your Future with Point Park University

The university will host three summer workshops for high school students from July 17-20.

Comments