We were glad to see this article in The Blade (In Toledo, hunger is a health issue) describing ProMedica’s efforts to address hunger issues—“food insecurity”—in Ohio. Although plenty of effort is correctly devoted to obesity in America, hunger and malnutrition are pervasive problems that profoundly affect health. In particular, the incidence of hunger among the elderly is on the rise. This issue is a long-standing concern at Fresh Advantage.

In 2009, while a senior executive at New Milford Hospital in New Milford, Connecticut, Fresh Advantage founder Marydale DeBor developed Senior Suppers, a program to help fight malnutrition among the elderly. Consistent with national data, the majority of patients over 65 admitted to the hospital for an acute event were subsequently diagnosed as clinically malnourished by the dietitians. Clearly, this condition was contributing to the overall poor health status of seniors living in the hospital’s service area. A comprehensive response to this situation was needed. DeBor and her team began by using the hospital’s own asset: its health-driven, fresh food dining service and the 4–6 p.m. “down time” in the hospital cafeteria.

The team developed a $5.00 set menu from the cafeteria’s normal offerings. Senior Suppers was introduced in an extensive outreach at all senior centers in the hospital service area. Special introductory meals were held for each center to ensure clients were comfortable with the hospital cafeteria and understood the offerings. As the program evolved, special features were added. Physicians visited informally with the senior guests and reinforced the theme of “good-for-you food.” Dessert and coffee were often served in the hospital “living room” accompanied by demonstrations of complementary medicine therapies by the hospital’s integrative medicine team. On other occasions, music and song supported the social network value of Senior Suppers. Within a short time, the hospital needed to install a reservation line and offer two seatings. Transportation is now offered, supported by a grant from a community foundation.

Senior Suppers is still going strong. It is an efficient, cost-effective way to combat hunger and malnutrition, as well as social isolation, among the elderly. In addition, it has qualified as a community benefit under the applicable IRS guidelines for non-profit hospitals since its inception. If your hospital is interested in establishing a similar program, Fresh Advantage is ready to help with a proven blueprint for designing, launching, and maintaining effective anti-hunger programs for vulnerable populations within your hospital service area.