Q&A with our Director of Health Care Innovation

Did you know that Project Angel Heart offers two meal delivery programs? Most meals are delivered via our core program, our legacy program where philanthropic investments fund meals for Coloradans who are ill. In 2016, we also started Meals for Care Transitions, a program where health care organizations reimburse Project Angel Heart to provide meals for their patients. This program gives health care providers and payers a way to support their patients’ health with delicious, medically tailored meals, and it allows Project Angel Heart the opportunity to provide food as medicine for more people in need.

To check in on the program’s progress, we sat down with Leslie Scotland-Stewart, Project Angel Heart’s director of health care innovation, to ask a few questions:

What kind of partnerships have come out of the program? What kinds of organizations are interested in working with Project Angel Heart?

We have partnered with a wide range of health care organizations. Some of our initial pilot programs provided 30 days of medically tailored meals to individuals coming out of an inpatient hospital stay. Other partnerships include a contract with Eagle County paramedics to provide meals through their community paramedicine program and another with the oncology survivorship program at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction. Denver Health Medical Plan provides meals after a hospitalization for dual-eligible members (people eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid). Our most recent partnership is exploring the difference medically tailored meals can make for individuals diagnosed with diabetes who are attending diabetes self-management education classes.

Leslie Scotland-Stewart, right, moderates a panel of health care experts discussing the impact of medically tailored meals on health care costs.

What are some of the outcomes of these partnerships?

Meals for Care Transitions partnerships have produced compelling outcomes! Patients who received 30 days of meals after a hospitalization saw a significant decrease in 30-day readmissions. We also saw fewer emergency department visits and better adherence to the patient’s health care regimen. Patients reported that meals helped them remain independent at home and improved both their health and energy.

One patient commented, “I can’t cook so I loved [the meals]. They’re things that I would never cook for myself. I’m a diabetic and have heart problems—for you all to sit there and give me a balanced meal is terrific. If you leave it up to me I’d just open up a can of soup.”

How will Meals for Care Transitions move Project Angel Heart forward?

The program allows us to increase the number of people we are able to help with medically tailored meals. Reimbursement contracts mean that we don’t have to rely solely on philanthropic funding to grow the number of clients we serve.

This program has also increased our knowledge and capacity to educate others on the power of food as medicine. We have been asked to speak at state and national conferences regarding the results of our health care partnerships.

What do you think is the most exciting part of the program?

The future! In the last month, interest has skyrocketed from health care organizations that want to utilize Project Angel Heart’s medically tailored meals as part of their care model. We are gaining support from insurance programs at both a state and national level to make medically tailored meals a reimbursable service, just like medications! The next year should bring an explosion of growth for the program and the number of clients we can help.