It’s a tragic fact that many families throughout the Ozarks struggle with poverty, and something that often accompanies that reality is food insecurity.
Food insecurity – not having enough to eat, or not always knowing if food will be available – affects more than someone’s stomach. It can also affect their health, especially for people with specific conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
Such factors led Dr. Karissa Merritt to start a new initiative to help her patients in need have more healthy food options.
Dr. Merritt practices at Family Medical Care Center (FMCC), a CoxHealth clinic on Springfield’s north side that traditionally sees higher rates of poverty – and, as a result, high rates of food insecurity.
Through Dr. Merritt’s efforts, doctors at the clinic are now able to write “prescriptions” for healthy food for patients with food insecurity, which may be redeemed for healthy food at Crosslines and Springfield Community Gardens.
The program has seen such success that a code has been made for food insecurity in CoxHealth’s system, allowing any physician to diagnose patients with food insecurity.
“A lot of people struggle in ways that we don’t really look into as a care team,” says Dr. Merritt. “If people aren’t able to eat, their highest priority isn’t blood pressure or diabetes control.”
The “prescriptions” are only one aspect of the clinic’s efforts to combat food insecurity. Dietetic interns from Cox College regularly visit the clinic, and help educate patients on how to eat healthfully from a food pantry.
In addition to connecting patients with resources for food away from the clinic, FMCC physicians also have an emergency supply of food at the clinic for patients who are in crisis and can’t wait.
“Low-quality food is impacting health outcomes,” says Dr. Merritt. “There are factors, apart from health care – like access to food – that are keeping people in hospital.”