Just Food, LMH Health partner to give emergency patients healthy food

In January 2019, Just Food and LMH Health began discussing ways the organizations could collaborate to serve the community. When the conversations began, the link between food insecurity and many health conditions began to become increasingly obvious.

Elizabeth Keever, Just Food’s executive director, said that with the partnership at LMH Health, Just Food wanted to create something that would provide both resources and a smooth transition out of the emergency department.

“When patients were discharged from the emergency department, we wanted to make sure they had a supply of food that could last them a couple of days and was heart-healthy food,” she said. “With LMH Health, we created the Emergency Meal Kits.”

The Emergency Meal Kits contain a supply of nonperishable items, providing patients with healthy options for the days following discharge. These bags can provide support for those who may not have a food supply or may not have sufficient food to take with medications that require food.

“When patients leave the ED, we don’t want to just hand them a guide that says what food they should be eating, but show them and provide them with the foods they should be eating,” Keever said. “To date, LMH Health has provided 194 Emergency Meal Kits to patients discharged from the ED. That is 194 people who we know went home with a supply of food that is healthy and sustainable for at least two days. They were given a warm handoff, and most importantly, they were able to eat.”

Jan Wiebe, the director of the emergency department, said the partnership has been a success for the ED and LMH Health. When food is needed in the ED, Just Food is there to make sure that patients are cared for.

“There is a cabinet in the ED for the (meal kits),” she said. “When I see our supply is getting low, I reach out to Just Food and almost immediately they bring 10 to 15 more bags over to replenish our supply. It is truly amazing how quickly food is provided and how much Just Food cares for our patients and the Lawrence community.”

Wiebe said that the bags are great resources for the staff to give to patients who come in and could benefit from one of the food kits.

“We have provided these bags to members of the community who are homeless, elderly patients on a fixed income that may not have much money to spend on food and many others in the community,” she said. “Our physicians and nursing staff feel good handing out these bags because the food is healthy and not highly processed.”

Wiebe said the need is there. Often, it doesn’t take long for a full stock of food kits to run out.

“It has been a wonderful collaboration — we have come to rely on the food kits,” Wiebe said. “Our social workers give them to their patients in need, as well. Many have been helped with these kits, and it continues to amaze me the wonderful partnership we have with Just Food and the huge success these bags have been.”

Allison Koonce, LMH Health’s community outreach and engagement supervisor, said that as the program showed success at LMH Health, it also grew in the community.

“LMH Health started the food pack program in our emergency department and then expanded the program to our social work department and the East Heights Clinic,” she said. “LMH Health was able to serve as a pilot for this healthy food pack program. As LMH Health and Just Food saw how well the program was going, Just Food expanded the healthy food program and now provides packs to the Senior Resource Center.”

Though screening services have temporarily stopped because of COVID-19, Koonce mentioned that LMH Health also partners with Just Food in other ways.

“LMH Health staff performed monthly screenings for blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol for the clients of Just Food,” she said. “The first year, we administered over 115 screenings, and (we) had administered 20 this year before COVID-19 hit.”

Koonce said LMH Health wanted to provide a resource where it was convenient for community members, and taking the screening program to Just Food was the first step. As the partnership continues to evolve, Keever said Just Food looks forward to new and innovative initiatives to work on with LMH Health.

“Since COVID, many things have changed, but that doesn’t mean our vision and our mission have,” Keever said. “Our partnership has helped us to identify health concerns for those in our community who may not have been aware of medical conditions they are at risk for without the help of Just Food and LMH Health. The collaboration between these organizations has been wonderful, and we are excited to continue helping clients and patients down the road.”

— Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communication specialist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of Lawrence-Journal World’s health section.


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