“Folks, good morning, and welcome to the ribbon cutting and opening of the Fresh Food Pharmacy,” announced Sam Balukoff, the MC at Geisinger Health System’s launch of a new food pharmacy located on the grounds of a hospital in central Pennsylvania.
The Geisinger Fresh Food Pharmacy is stocked with healthy pantry staples like oatmeal and peanut butter, as well as fresh produce, and specializes in helping type 2 diabetes patients in a pilot program aimed at getting them to change their diets and lose weight. They receive free groceries of healthy foods every week. Currently, there are 180 patients involved in the program.
The pharmacy, as reported by NPR, is more like a grocery store, with shelves filled with healthy foods, including whole grain pasta, beans, fresh produce, low-fat dairy, lean meats, and fish.
Each of the pilot program’s participants meet one-on-one with a registered dietitian, who gives them recipes and hands-on instruction on how to prepare healthy meals, and one of the most powerful barriers has been eliminated — patients go home with five days of free, fresh food to make those recipes.
“It’s life-changing,” David Feinberg, the president and CEO of Geisinger Health System says of the results. According to Feinberg, so far all of the patients in the pilot program have made improvements. One example is the significant declines in patients’ hemoglobin A1C levels, the blood test used to track how well patients with diabetes are controlling their blood sugar. Feinberg says that as his team tracks hemoglobin AIC levels in the pilot participants, they’re also assessing the number of medical visits, sicknesses and the overall cost of caring for these patients.
Here’s what they estimate so far: “A decrease in hemoglobin A1C of one point saves us [about] $8,000,” Feinberg says. And many of the participants have seen a decline in hemoglobin A1C of about three points. “So that’s [about] $24,000 we’re saving in health care costs,” he notes, adding that “the costs associated with diabetes in the U.S. now exceed $240 billion a year.”
The Geisinger Fresh Food Pharmacy program costs the hospital about $1,000 for the food it gives to each patient.