PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Valleywise Health is expanding a pilot program that provides food-insecure patients with uncontrolled diabetes access to a free pantry of healthy food items.
The first “food pharmacy” opened up in November of 2019 at Valleywise’s Laveen clinic, and now a second location will be opening at Valleywise’s South Central clinic.
“When you’re in that situation of food insecurity, patients also don’t have enough money to buy their medications, to go to a primary care doctor, to follow up care,” said Sandra Chmelnik, who runs the program at the Laveen clinic.
The premise is that by offering lean proteins, fresh veggies, and whole grains to patients with food insecurity, they can help control their diabetes.
“We believe that food is medicine,” Chmelnik said. Chmelnik says that they saw health improvements in the patients who stuck with the program for a full six months.
St. Mary’s Food Bank provides the bulk of the food.
“Fresh fruits and vegetables are so important. If you’re on a junk food diet and your health already isn’t good, you’re headed for disaster,” said Jerry Brown with St. Mary’s Food Bank.
Valleywise is targeting areas known as “food deserts” with the locations of its food pharmacies.
“And by a food desert, we mean anywhere where you put a pin in the map, and you draw a circle a mile around, you’re not going to run into a grocery store,” Brown said.
As the program expands, Valleywise is looking to enroll 160 patients. They’ll have access to the pantry twice a month for six months.
“To help these patients achieve the best health that they can,” Chmelnik said.
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