Health systems are called to respond to the needs of all, but those with the greatest needs require the greatest response. As Ascension’s Maternal Health Social Systems Initiative work continues to grow, the team has identified opportunities to advance health equity.
The Impact of COVID-19
High community demand during the pandemic led to an increase in food insecurity among pregnant and postpartum patient populations. The maternal population is not only at increased risk for complications due to nutritional deficiencies, but many of these women are also vulnerable when it comes to food resources in general, compounding vulnerability with nutritional deficiencies.
To address this problem, the maternal health team at Ascension St. Joseph developed a systematic and scalable food access program to bridge the timing gap between when the need was identified and when the woman was able to access community-based food programs. At the time of service, women and families in need may receive a bag of nutritionally sound food items along with assistance in accessing appropriate and available community resources to continue that support.
Food Access: Nutritional Education and Support
Pregnant women are at increased risk for iron deficiency anemia, gestational diabetes and hypertensive disorders. When these conditions are poorly managed, there is an increased risk to maternal health and pregnancy outcomes. Conversely, evidence suggests that nutrition education and counseling may lead to better pregnancy outcomes. This counseling and education may be more beneficial when women also are provided with nutritional support.
That pairing of nutritional support and education led Ascension St. Joseph to develop diagnosis-specific food boxes that are initiated by prescription and then dispensed through its pharmacy. The boxes contain not only the food items, but also recipes and educational materials. The boxes may also allow patients to try unfamiliar foods that they might have been hesitant to try due to limited finances. Patients may discover that they and their families like these choices and choose them again — resulting in healthier patterns of nutrition.