Parents typically leave their pediatrician offices with an updated immunization record, maybe a prescription and, hopefully, some reassurance about a concern. But how about leaving the office with Granny Smith apples, and locally-grown green peppers and cucumbers?
Every Thursday from June through October, the StarkFresh Mobile Grocery Market will be selling fresh produce and other affordably-priced healthy foods in the parking lot at the Alliance office of Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics (ACHP).
On a recent visit, several dozen people – patient families and the office staff – gathered outside on a sunny 80 degree day to do some “farm market” shopping in the city.
Jessica Spinks learned about the market the previous week during an appointment for 14-month-old son, Milo.
“I saw the flyer and decided to come back,” said Jessica, who had Milo in tow. “This is great. I’m impressed. The prices are good.”
Jessica bought some pears, grapefruit, green peppers, and bags of salad. She also bought a few Larabars, low-sugar snack bars made with just a few ingredients like dates and nuts. She predicted Milo would like them since she ate them a lot throughout her pregnancy.
Dr. Megan Woodward, a pediatrician at the Alliance ACHP office, said teaming up with StarkFresh was a natural fit for the office as pediatricians become more and more concerned about the social determinants of health, including food insecurity.
This year, Akron Children’s will be applying to the National Committee for Quality Assurance to receive accreditation for its 28 primary care offices as “Patient Centered Medical Homes (PCMH).” It’s a path that leads to improved outcomes by focusing on a patient-centered approach to care, and putting an emphasis on care coordination, easy access to care and a commitment to quality and safety.
A child’s health is contingent on so much more than having the good fortune to stay healthy and avoid injuries, said Dr. Woodward.
“A child’s long-term health can be impacted negatively by issues like domestic violence, a parent with a substance abuse problem, access to firearms in the home and poverty,” she said.
ACHP pediatricians have discreetly added several screening questions to learn if parents have enough food in the home or worry about running out in the next few days or weeks.
“We also want all families to have access to fresh produce, which isn’t always available to families depending on where they live,” Dr. Woodward said. “One of the things I love about StarkFresh is that for families on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) they match dollar for dollar up to $20 when you buy produce.”
StarkFresh also travels to senior and public housing facilities, community centers and non-profit organizations throughout Stark County. Much of the produce comes from farms in Stark and Wayne Counties, said Logan Valentine, of StarkFresh.
He said the affordable prices are a result of co-op arrangements with the farmers, who will have an even bigger surplus of crops in the weeks ahead. Another food supplier provided fresh chicken, pork, fruit, blended veggie beverages and other items, which are all stored in a refrigerated truck.
“We don’t make a huge profit but, whatever we do, it goes back into the program,” Valentine said.
A mobile farm market set up in a parking lot may seem like a small thing, but it’s just another step in a big health care transformation that focuses on population health, a phrase that means doctors and hospitals want to focus on preventative initiatives that keep their patients out of the hospital.
The PCMH journey for all the ACHP offices helps focus attention on details that may have previously been missed. Does the family lack transportation to get to appointments on a regular basis? Are we following up with patients after ER visits? Are we sending out reminders that it is time for the flu vaccine?
For Dr. Woodward, watching the progress unfold has been rewarding.
“I fell in love with pediatrics during my (pediatrics) rotation in medical school,” she said. “I saw that when you care for a child you are really caring for the whole family.”