Photo Caption: A patient in the OU-HCOM Diabetes Free Clinic consults with the Heritage Community Clinic%u2019s Tobie Newberry, C.N.P.
One crucial aspect of healthy living is nutrition, but in southeast Ohio it's not always easy for residents to access or afford the fresh produce and good food necessary for a balanced diet.
The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine's Heritage Community Clinic is making strides in addressing that very concern.
In addition to a number of free clinics offered through OU-HCOM, for the past year the facility has also been offering bags of healthy, local foods to its patients.
The staff initiated a food collection program in June 2010 after learning one of the patients at the Diabetes Free Clinic was having difficulty affording food. The Diabetes Free Clinic is one of several free clinic that provides an opportunity for underinsured or uninsured patients to receive care through OU-HCOM.
"We had a concern from a doctor that a patient didn't have access to food," said Melissa Kemper, assistant director of Community Health Programs at OU-HCOM. "The patient had a need. We helped that patient through local food banks, and then our ideas started going from that."
Kemper said that the idea snowballed to the point where the staff decided the goal would be to provide a bag of food to each diabetes clinic patient who receives treatment each month, as well as recipes.
She noted that making good food decisions and having access to fruits, vegetables and nutritious eating is a crucial element in controlling diabetes.
Kaitlyn Kelly, an AmeriCorps member and Heritage Community Clinic volunteer, said that diabetes is very much a lifestyle disease.
"So it's difficult when patients don't have access to the resources they need," she said.
But the fruits, vegetables and whole grains that make up a healthy diet can be much more costly than fast food and processed food. In an area such as southeast Ohio where poverty is common, the situation is exacerbated.
The movement to provide healthy food to patients gained traction this past August when clinic staff began working with Community Food Initiatives, which works to expand access to fresh and local foods in the area.
Kelly has been picking up produce at the CFI donation station to help obtain fresh produce to provide to patients.
"It's all seasonal," Kelly said. "So over the summer we got a ton of cantaloupe and watermelon and corn. Lately, we've been getting a lot of root vegetables and squash and stuff. And it's slower now because the growing season is over. But it's really cool because we've gotten a lot of food there."
The collaboration with CFI also has allowed the patients to have access to locally-grown food.
Lauren Borovicka, program director at ComCorps, pointed out the advantage of that fact in announcing the program.
"Some people might never pick up a butternut squash at the store," she said, "but if we provide it to them and give them information on how to cook it, they might see it at the store and try it again. Plus, we're supporting local agriculture at the same time."
ComCorps is an AmeriCorps program administered by OU-HCOM advocating health education in Athens County.
In the three-month period between August and November, the clinics provided 1,076 pounds of food to 297 community members.
Patients can get produce when it's available as well as a variety of canned goods, whole-wheat pastas, peanut butter, tuna, green beans, breads and other items at the time of their visit.
"We have enough bags for every patient that comes into our Diabetes Free Clinic," Kemper said. "And we typically schedule between 20 and 30 patients. So each patient, once a month, gets a bag of food."
Since the program was initiated, a variety of churches, sororities, local businesses and residents have pitched in on the effort. At OU-HCOM itself, faculty, staff and students participate by making non-perishable foot items required for admission to holiday and fundraising events.
"The whole college is becoming involved," said OU-HCOM spokesperson Richard Heck.
Kemper said that a variety of programs are coming up with opportunities for donations, such as the facility's holiday luncheon, called "winter blast."
"We try to get a sponsor each month," she said. "It's been churches; it's been the College of Medicine numerous times. This month, the students, our medical students, are sponsoring it."
Those who are interested in helping out or donating food to the Heritage Community Clinic can contact Kemper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 740-593-2567.