Demand for Medically Tailored, Home Delivered Meals on the Rise in Cities across the Nation

Demand for Medically Tailored, Home Delivered Meals on the Rise in Cities across the Nation

Demand surges 20 to 45 percent in some cities as one-third of critically ill patients are unable to afford food, medications or both.

Boston, MA (December 10, 2014) – The need for medically-tailored, home-delivered meals among the critically and chronically ill is on the rise in cities across the nation, according to data released by a national coalition of nonprofit food and nutrition service agencies. The surge comes as more Americans are being forced to choose between purchasing food or medicine, and as studies are demonstrating that reliable access to nutritious meals improves health outcomes and lowers overall costs.

In cities such as Boston, New York, Denver, and Atlanta, organizations are seeing a rise in demand.  In Boston, Community Servings, which delivers medically tailored meals to individuals in 18 communities throughout Eastern Massachusetts, reported a 13 percent increase in demand in one year and carries a wait list of critically ill applicants. In Denver, the demand for medically-tailored meals has surged by more than 20 percent in the past two years, with a waiting list of more than 200 individuals, according to nonprofit provider Project Angel Heart.

“It is imperative that patients battling critical and chronic illness have reliable access to the nutrition they need to fight their illnesses,” said David B. Waters, CEO of Community Servings.  “It’s no secret that food insecurity and poor diet have a direct impact on the healing process, escalating healthcare costs and alarming rates of re-hospitalization. That’s why the benefits of these types of meals programs are so tremendous, particularly when it comes to improving outcomes and reducing costs.”

During the past four years, New York’s leading provider of nutritious, individually-tailored meals for the sick, God’s Love We Deliver, reported a 33 percent increase in clients between 2010 and 2014 and a nearly 45 percent increase in the number of meals delivered during that same time period – reaching a record 1.2 million meals annually.

In Atlanta, over the past three years Project Open Hand has seen a growth in demand for its community nutrition programs.  In 2010, the agency was serving seniors in only two metro Atlanta counties, today they are the primary nutrition provider for seniors in five metro Atlanta counties.

Additionally, Project Open Hand has seen the number of clients seeking medical nutrition therapy (MNT), nutrition assessment and counseling prescribed by physicians, more than double in the last two years.  At the same time, the organization has seen growth of their client wait list within the sector for federally sponsored meal delivery programs, due to funding cuts.

Studies have chronicled the benefits of medically tailored meals for critically ill patients, which include improved medication adherence, fewer missed doctors’ appointments, lower hospital readmission rates, reduced healthcare costs, and overall better patient satisfaction.

Despite these benefits, Americans are increasingly being forced to choose between purchasing food or medicine. According to a Feeding America study, 61 percent of households receiving food from the network of Feeding America food banks – the largest in the U.S. – must decide whether to purchase food or medicine because they simply can’t afford both. Thirty-one percent of individuals said they make that decision every single month.

“When you look at medical guidelines for the management of life-threatening conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, they all say that improving nutrition is the first step,” said Dr. Seth Berkowitz, an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School faculty member.  “When 1 in 4 or 1 in 3 patients simply don’t have the resources to do that, it not only creates disparities in health, but becomes a public health crisis.”

Just as troubling is that individuals who have difficulty affording food are almost four times more likely to skip their medications due to cost issues, according to a survey published in The American Journal of Medicine earlier this year.

“Across the nation it’s becoming increasingly difficult for families to access nutritious food, and for those battling life-threatening illnesses challenges can mount quickly due to sickness, limited employment and costly medical bills,” said Karen Pearl, President and CEO of God’s Love We Deliver.

Despite the surge in demand across the country, funding for home-delivered medically tailored meal services is still largely dependent on private donations.

“The benefits of medically tailored meals are clear, but the challenge right now is to better integrate these types of programs into the overall healthcare system,” said Matt Pieper, executive director of Project Open Hand in Atlanta. “Too often patients battling a host of serious illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease and renal failure, are without access to any type of meals programs once they leave the hospital.”

“America’s emergency food assistance programs are designed for people who are well enough to access food banks or food pantries, young enough to qualify for school foods and other child nutrition programs, or old enough to qualify for home-delivered meals programs.  There is a hole in the safety net for those who are poor, critically ill, and homebound – particularly for adults,” said Waters.

There is a direct connection between nutrition and healthcare costs. One recent study estimated that as many as one in three patients enter the hospital malnourished nationwide, and that the cost of treating patients with nutrition-related risks is on average 20 percent higher than the cost of treating well-nourished patients with the same disease. Another study that evaluated patients who adhered to a medically tailored diet over a 12 month period saw an average monthly cost savings of $12,000.

Additionally, in states like Massachusetts, a day in the hospital can cost on average $2,500, while Community Servings is able to offer its home delivered medically-tailored meal service for $25 per day.

“The U.S. has the unique opportunity to apply common-sense logic to addressing the growing costs of critical illnesses,” said Waters. “These non-profits are keeping patients out of the hospital, while filling a significant gap in care for a fraction of the cost of a hospital stay.”

As the need for these programs intensifies, there has been a growing push to encourage insurers and medical providers to start covering these services as they would any other prescription received upon discharge from the hospital.  The good news is that more and more healthcare providers are recognizing the benefits of food as medicine.

“Someone should not have to choose between food and medicine, because both things might be one and the same,” said Erin Pulling, president and CEO of Project Angel Heart. “Health care providers are realizing that providing access to medically tailored meals is more cost-effective, and is increasingly keeping more people out of hospitals. Much of this recognition has contributed to awareness and growth.”

About Community Servings
Community Servings is a not‐for‐profit food and nutrition program providing services throughout Massachusetts to individuals and families living with critical and chronic illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, any form of Cancer, MS, Lou Gehrig’s disease and over 30 others. We provide our 1,525 clients, their dependent families, and caregivers with appealing, nutritious meals, lunch, dinner & a snack each day and send the message to those in greatest need that someone cares. Our goals are to help our clients maintain their health and dignity and preserve the integrity of their families through free, culturally appropriate, home‐delivered meals, nutrition education, and other community programs. To learn more, visit www.servings.org.

Media Contact
Laura Wareck | lwareck@oneillandassoc.com | 978-660-9587

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