Feeding America reports that 30 percent of seniors who rely on local food pantries say they sometimes must choose between paying for food and paying for medical care. As the infographic shows, older Americans without enough food to eat are at higher risk of developing serious health issues, including heart disease.

Senior_Hunger_monthFresh Advantage founder Marydale DeBor has long been aware of malnutrition among the elderly as a critical health issue. In 2009, when Marydale was vice-president for external affairs at a community hospital in Connecticut, she developed a “Senior Suppers” program in collaboration with local senior center organizations. Her hospital began providing daily suppers to seniors in the hospital “healthy foods” cafeteria from 4 to 6 p.m. The cost was low: only $5.00 for a robust meal, with the cost differential (approximately $1.65 per meal) underwritten by the hospital as part of its community benefit program. The program, which is still in operation, proved so popular that the hospital had to install a special phone line for reservations.

LESSON LEARNED: Non-profit hospitals can take an effective first step to support population health through access to healthy food as a platform for their ACA-mandated community benefit programs. By using their own assets—in this case, the food service operation—hospitals can support the nutrition needs of poor and vulnerable people in their communities.