A farm-to-hospital nutritional program at Harris Health System’s Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital for patients suffering from food insecurity won top honors as Grand Prize Winner of the 2019 Innovation Challenge Award by the American College of Physicians. The hospital’s national recognition bested programs submitted by Cleveland Clinic and other renowned institutions.
The team at LBJ Hospital has been growing a farm that produces tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, squash and other vegetables on its grounds for more than a year now. In that time, staff and volunteers have harvested hundreds of pounds of food.
“We are creating a truly comprehensive farm‐to‐hospital produce prescription program integrating both therapeutic and educational components across the continuum of care. We hope this becomes a national model for a holistic approach to improve the health of underserved communities,” says Dr. Jonathan Dau, an internal medicine resident at The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) at Houston who attends at LBJ Hospital.
An estimated 55 percent of the population in northeast Harris County — LBJ Hospital’s major service area — lives below the federal poverty level and more than 13,000 residents suffer daily from hunger. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers the area a food desert, meaning the area suffers from a lack of access to healthy food options.
“Our patients face the unique healthcare burdens associated with poverty. They live in food deserts and lack many of the supports needed to nurture and sustain healthy habits,” says Patricia Darnauer, executive vice president, LBJ Hospital, Harris Health.
The initial goals of the produce prescription program are to address nutrition‐related diseases such as diabetes and hypertension by establishing a hospital-based food pharmacy where patients can receive 30 pounds of fresh produce every two weeks to help them develop healthy lifestyle changes. Food supplies will be filled by crops harvested from the hospital farm and the Houston Food Bank.
The program will also feature “walk-and-learn” sessions with patients by dietitians who teach participants about food selection and its effects on their health. The lessons are aligned with the culinary nutrition curriculum from UTHealth School of Public Health Nourish Program and will provide patients the tools to prepare food they receive with consideration to cost, preparation time, taste, cultural sensitivity and their specific health condition.
“We vowed to shift the paradigm in which we practice medicine. The farm has become an anchor for an interdisciplinary, community-based approach that encompasses the multiple sectors that impact health — from medicine, nutrition and education, to farming, physical therapy and exercise. It’s part of a broader population health movement at Harris Health to develop innovative solutions for our patients’ unique health needs,” says Karen Tseng, senior vice president, Population Health Transformation, Harris Health.
The project, co-authored with Dr. Tiffany Truong, an internal medicine resident who attends at LBJ Hospital, and resident, UTHealth, is a collaboration of partners from McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, UTHealth School of Public Health and the Houston Food Bank. For winning the grand prize, the team received $20,000 that will be used toward the produce prescription program.