Nutrition Rx: a new kind of prescription
UF Health Jacksonville offers access to nutritious food for patients with chronic health conditions.
Imagine receiving a prescription from your doctor and redeeming it for healthy, nutrient-rich food specialized to your body’s needs. It will soon be possible for select UF Health Total Care Clinic patients, thanks to the Urban Health Alliance’s new Food Pharmacy at UF Health Jacksonville.
The Food Pharmacy will open its doors in late May in the Professional Office Building on UF Health Jacksonville’s downtown campus. It will use a therapeutic prescriptive model to ensure patients without access to affordable, nutritious food who have been diagnosed with a chronic disease, such as diabetes or hypertension, receive education and foods tailored to their needs.
“This is a novel concept for our community that will help vulnerable, food-insecure patients receive the nutrition and education they need,” said Ross Jones, MD, medical director of the Total Care Clinic and Urban Health Alliance.
Jones and Ann-Marie Knight, vice president of community engagement and chief diversity officer at UF Health Jacksonville, have spearheaded the initiative along with the support of many team members.
The initial concept started in 2018 when Jones and Linda Lawson, associate vice president of nursing at UF Health North, came up with the idea for a food pantry. Coupled with this idea was a shocking discovery that many UF Health Jacksonville patients identified as food insecure. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic further increased the need and urgency to open the pantry.
After researching best practices across the nation, they learned about the success of many programs, including Health-Smart led by Carolyn Tucker, PhD, director of the UF Health Disparities Research and Intervention Program, and the Food as Medicine program, led by Judella Haddad, MD, medical director of UF Health Community and Family Medicine – Jacksonville. It became clear that an expansion of their efforts could be a clinical and a community asset. The plan took shape with support from senior leadership and the Urban Health Alliance.
In late 2020, UF Health Jacksonville hosted a fall food drive where generous donations by staff helped build an initial stock of food. As a result, select patients were able to benefit from the food pantry over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“This truly makes a difference, especially since I am still out of work right now. You all (UF Health Jacksonville) are helping me through a difficult time, and this means more than you know,” said Lynn Torres, one of the patients who received nutritious food from the Food Pharmacy.
The Food Pharmacy process
To qualify for the Food Pharmacy, someone must be a patient at the Total Care Clinic, complete a screening questionnaire, be diagnosed with a chronic condition that would benefit from improved nutrition, be food insecure as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and be enrolled in the City Contract Program.
Jones and his team identify eligible patients and help them go through the steps of qualification. The patient then receives a “prescription” and takes it to the Food Pharmacy to redeem for a food plan to meet their particular nutritional needs.
Set up like a small grocery store, the Food Pharmacy is led by dietitians and trained volunteers. They assist the patient with their “shopping experience” and help them gather everything listed on their prescription.
“We not only want these patients to get healthy food, but also to learn how to read nutrition labels and shop for the right foods in the future,” Knight said.
Taking it one step further
Education on nutrition and cooking classes will complement the pantry, offering another layer of support. Additionally, Feeding Northeast Florida will help reach patients who cannot travel due to the pandemic or lack of reliable transportation with its new mobile food pantry.
Patients will also have access to the social services hub in the Professional Office Building, which will provide assistance with locating housing, finding jobs, earning a GED diploma and much more. It is slated to open in April and will help create a more comprehensive support system for uninsured patients.
Vision for the future
The Food Pharmacy aims to improve the lives of these patients, to improve health outcomes and to transform the health of the community at large.
“We want to cause a ripple effect in our local community, starting with these patients,” Knight said.
The Food Pharmacy will continue to receive support throughout the year from organizations like Farm Share, Feeding Northeast Florida and Safe Futures Foundation. Additionally, a three-year grant from Florida Blue and generous donations from other benefactors will further support the pantry.
Urban Health Alliance
Transforming the neighborhoods where people are born, live, learn and work
Who are we?
The Urban Health Alliance is a comprehensive resource and community health innovation hub that brings together organizations and individuals to help improve the health of Jacksonville residents using community-initiated, self-sustainable strategies and solutions.
Our mission is to improve the health of residents through a multifaceted, evidence-based approach to the health and well-being of people, particularly the most vulnerable.
Our vision is to help residents achieve their full potential for optimal health and well-being.