SCHENECTADY — Nutritious food and advice on better long-term nutrition are now available at a new food pantry on McClellan Street.
The Food Farmacy is based at Ellis Medicine’s McClellan Street campus and serves Medicaid-eligible patients referred by Ellis for reasons such as limited access to nutritious food and limited understand of what good nutrition entails.
The joint venture of Ellis, Catholic Charities of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, and the Alliance for Better Health is open five days a week at 600 McClellan St. It will provide up to three days’ worth of fresh produce and other nutritious food to people who need it.
Dr. Jacob Reider, CEO of the Alliance, said the Farmacy provides short-term help and long-term guidance.
“Practice with great food choices is a really good way to start,” Reider said. “It’s not, ‘Eat well three days,’ it’s ‘Learn how to eat well for the rest of your life.’”
This speaks directly to the mission of the Alliance, an organization set up to implement the state’s Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment program. DSRIP is an initiative to shift the health care model from curing sick people at hospitals to keeping people healthy and out of the hospital. Hopefully, this improves outcomes and saves money in the process.
Long-term nutritional habits play a large role in long-term health, Reider said, particularly with conditions such as diabetes.
But the Food Farmacy enables good choices, rather than imposing them. “This principle is that we don’t tell people how to be healthy and successful, they have to find that path themselves,” said Reider, a family physician.
“I was trained never to wag my finger at patients who are smokers,” Reider said, but instead to ask if they are ready to quit. “That’s effectively what we often do in our culture. We try to take a more benevolent approach.”
Food Farmacy clients typically will have had a recent interaction with Ellis Medicine care providers that resulted in a referral, Reider said, whether a hospital stay, an emergency room visit or a primary care appointment. This may have provided a turning point for the patient that paves the way for better dietary choices.
“We humans make decisions to change when we’re ready to change, and there’s all kind of things that provide the tipping point,” Reider said. “More people make positive life changes on their own than when prompted by their doctor.”
Jenn Hyde, executive director of Catholic Charities Tri-County Services, said the combined short-term/long-term approach of the Food Farmacy boosts its effectiveness.
“One of the keys to the program is that folks are coming to our program straight from their discharge,” Hyde said.
Food Farmacy Coordinator Hana Chehade will not only provide quality food items but suggest recipes for better menus.
There are of course obstacles with this type of food for the Medicaid-eligible patient population the Food Farmacy is designed to serve: Cost and sometimes availability.
Some city residents live in food deserts, where there are no supermarkets within walking distance. For them, Hyde said, the other aspect of the Food Farmacy — referrals to social services and humanitarian organizations — is critical.
The Food Farmacy opened in late January and has served about 10 families, Hyde said. Part of the effort in starting the program has been increasing its profile in the Ellis medical community, she added.
“I think that the more folks within the healthcare system we talk to, the more excited they are,” Hyde said.
Complementing the Food Farmacy is the Community Nutrition Program, an initiative that delivers medically tailored meals to homebound or ill patients who have been discharged from the hospital but have continuing nutritional needs. Here again, referred patients can work with a dietitian and learn to sustain a healthy diet.
Both initiatives were among the Alliance for Better Health’s 2018 innovation projects, which as a whole delivered more than $5 million to more than 50 organizations in the Capital Region.