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Leadership Views

As published in the July 1, 2013 Toledo Business Journal

Randy Oostra, ProMedica

Randy Oostra
ProMedica

Hunger and food insecurity impacting
area healthcare

Toledo Business Journal recently interviewed ProMedica’s president and CEO, Randy Oostra. He shared the following thoughts:

Toledo Business Journal: Can you explain ProMedica’s Come to the Table initiative and any involvement with other national programs addressing the issue of hunger?

Randy Oostra: ProMedica began working on hunger as a health issue after learning of the inextricable link between obesity and hunger through our collaborations with partners at the local, regional, state, and national levels. More than 18.1% of Ohio households and 19% of Michigan households report food insecurity. Food insecure children suffer from more ear infections, colds, stomachaches, iron deficiency, and negative effects on cognitive and physical development. Food insecure pregnant women are more likely to deliver underweight babies. And adults who are food insecure while also struggling with other diagnoses, such as diabetes and heart disease, find their health issues exacerbated.

ProMedica established a collaborative hunger-related advocacy program, titled Come to the Table. We are proud to work with several national partners, including The Alliance to End Hunger, with which we are holding an October 10 summit in Washington, DC, to encourage other healthcare organizations to address hunger as a health issue and federal legislators to protect food-related programs and policies.

TBJ: Can you provide information concerning the issue of hunger in the greater Toledo area?

RO: We recently developed a white paper with the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, another one of our national partners in our Come to the Table effort. Among statistics outlined in that white paper is that nearly one in five Lucas County residents – or more than 85,000 people – faces hunger. That is one of the highest rates statewide, and Ohio’s food insecurity rate is higher than the national average as well.

TBJ: What is the current Witness to Hunger photo exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art about?

RO: We asked nine people from our region to use their new cameras to document their experiences struggling with hunger. They learned about photography at a Toledo Museum of Art workshop, and they snapped photos over several weeks. We are showcasing 27 of their photos depicting their lives, including their struggles and their successes. Witness to Hunger will be in the Toledo Museum of Art’s Community Gallery through August 9. The exhibit also will travel to Washington, DC, for the Come to the Table national summit, and then it will return to the area to continue its tour of venues.

TBJ: Can you discuss in further detail connections between hunger and health issues?

RO: There are many connections between hunger and health. Everyone needs nutrients to help ward off colds, stomachaches, depression, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. A lack of access to nutritious and healthy food can exacerbate obesity and related health problems. Discharged hospital patients who need to take medication with food to recover may not be able to afford both or even one. We are especially concerned about vulnerable populations. Among children, for example, some research shows even one experience with hunger has a negative health impact 10 to 15 years later, which is astounding.

TBJ: Can you explain major program efforts with this initiative to address hunger in our area?

RO: We are helping agencies and municipalities in our 27-county service area pool resources and share best practices to create a hunger-free region. As part of that local Come to the Table initiative, we are working with various social service and government leaders interested in eliminating hunger and providing access to nutritious food. In May, for example, ProMedica Bixby Hospital in partnership with the Lenawee Health Network launched the Veggie Mobile program. The Veggie Mobile will make stops at senior centers and other community gathering places so residents can purchase fresh produce at affordable prices.

TBJ: Could you tell us more about ProMedica’s food reclamation project?

RO: Earlier this year, we partnered with Hollywood Casino to repackage prepared food that has never been served. Our program is based upon a successful model at Forgotten Harvest in Michigan. Our part-time food packers have reclaimed more than 13,000 pounds of un-served food, which Seagate Foodbank delivers to homeless shelters and other communal feeding sites. Otherwise, all of this food – fruit, salads, vegetables, meats, and more – would go to waste. We are working with additional foodservice venues to establish similar programs.

TBJ: Who are some other partners involved with the Come to the Table initiative that you haven’t yet named?

RO: Other Come to the Table partners are the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio Inc., Children’s Hunger Alliance, Share Our Strength, the National Federation to End Senior Hunger, and many others. ProMedica also is a member of the Health Systems Learning Group, which is comprised of 40 healthcare systems and several other organizations working with the US Department of Health & Human Services to improve population health through innovative practices and community partnerships. The group’s aim is to lower healthcare costs, improve access to healthcare, improve the health status of the communities we serve, and reduce health disparities. At least initially with this group, we are focusing our efforts on hunger as a health issue.

TBJ: What opportunities exist for companies and individuals to provide support to the Come to the Table program?

RO: We would be happy to assist other large-scale foodservice venues to establish reclamation programs. We also work with various agencies that could use both corporate and volunteer assistance. For further guidance, please call our Come to the Table initiative at 419-469-3894.

TBJ: Are there any other issues that you would like to address?

RO: Absolutely, ProMedica is committed to our mission of improving the health and well-being of the communities we serve. That includes examining social determinants of health, starting with hunger. We realized that we need to look outside of our hospitals’ four walls to do something about how food insecurity and other circumstances affect the health of residents throughout northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. We plan to identify other areas that need attention, too.

 

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