Food as medicine: Food prescriptions coming to Cleveland community

Picture this: you need a prescription to help with your illness, but instead of getting a prescription for medication, you get a prescription for food.

It’s a novel concept now making its way to Greater Cleveland — using food prescriptions and food pharmacies to fight food insecurity. ProMedica, a nonprofit hospital system in Toledo, started the program three years ago.

Kate Sommerfeld, ProMedica’s president of social determinants of health, said 40 to 60 percent of an individual’s health is determined by non-clinical things — and hunger is one of them.

Since the program started, Sommerfeld said they have seen a difference.

“We’re actually seeing impact to healthcare cost, reduction in ER usage and increase in primary care visits as well,” she said.

Sommerfeld spoke at an event on Tuesday hosted by The Center for Community Solutions titled “Hungry for Policy: Searching for Solutions to Food Insecurity in Ohio Medicaid.” The discussion was centered around how not having reliable food access increases healthcare costs and decreases health outcomes.

At 94 years old, Ruth Small knows the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables. She grew up on a farm with her nine siblings, eating primarily from their garden. These days, she relies oftentimes on the food bank for her groceries.

“Honey, food is medicine. Food is it!” Small said. “I don’t care what kind of disease you got, food is going to help you. I know that for a fact.”

This summer, a food pharmacy will come to Cleveland through the Centers for Families and Children and partnering with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

To benefit, residents have to be clients of The Centers, a nonprofit that provides health care, childhood education and workforce development services in Ohio. You can call 216-325-WELL for more information and to become a client.

Once someone becomes a client, their case manager will work with an on-site pharmacist who will write a prescription for medication and for food that is tailored to their chronic condition — whether it is diabetes, heart disease, asthma, obesity or more.

The food prescription will be taken to the food pharmacy in exchange for a bag or box of healthy food, along with recipes. The prescription can be refilled once a week.

The Centers food pharmacy is expected to be open this summer.

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