The $185,000 Seven Valleys Health Coalition got in grants announced this week will help people get, cook and eat fresh produce; help them with transportation and a variety of other services linked to their health.
The Mother Cabrini Health Foundation awarded the coalition $175,000 in grants, followed by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Community Health Award of $5,000, a grant matched by the Bright Ideas program at the Central New York Community Foundation. Susan Williams, assistant director of the Seven Valleys Health Coalition, said this will help to address needs for low-income individuals such as food security.
“We have been discussing the idea of having a fruit-and-vegetable prescription program and working with other community partners,” Williams said. “We’ve been trying to make that happen for a while now, it’s probably more than three years since the first time that we started trying to apply for funding.”
The nonprofit partners with community organizations, including Family Health Network, Guthrie Cortland Medical Center, and Family and Children’s Counseling Services, that refer clients to the coalition’s Supports for Health program.
“Let’s say you have a diabetic patient that’s not managing their disease as well as they need to,” said Amy Carlson, a patient care coordinator with Family Health Network. “It might be because they have other social determinants, like they live in a different house every month or they have trouble paying their electricity bills, which means they have trouble keeping their insulin supply cold. There are a lot of other factors that can really burden a patient’s health care.”
Carlson said care coordinators pay attention to people’s other living situations to connect them with community-based organizations to get the support they need.
The coalition’s Fruit and Vegetable Prescription element, or FVRx, would provide free, fresh produce for 22 weeks a year, paired with cooking classes and nutrition counseling with a registered dietician.
“To give someone access to, really, all of the fresh produce they could possibly need for at least the growing season, it really changes the dynamic between just offering nutritional advice, and then offering the actual tools and the food that they need in order to make those changes,” Williams said. “It makes it much more likely that they will implement the suggested changes that health-care providers are offering.”
However, food security is just one of many social determinants of good health that Seven Valleys Health Coalition aims to address.
“Health isn’t just about whether or not you’re getting physical activity, or whether or not you’re taking prescription medications, or your diet,” Williams said. “You can be unhealthy because you have no housing or poor housing, because you’re underemployed or unemployed, if you have no transportation because maybe you’re socially isolated or not able to access the services that you need.”
Another program to win funding is a subsidized transportation service.
“I had one person who needed to get a ride to get a cataract surgery, and had tried so many different avenues to get to the hospital but just didn’t have the money,” said project coordinator Samantha Weeks. “They put it off for a couple of years before they finally got in touch with us, and we were able to get the transportation to the surgery. They said their whole life was changed, because now they could see everything they couldn’t see before, and in full color.”
Although the grants will help programs like the fresh produce prescription get up and running, nonprofit employees understand that it’s only the beginning.
“I know it sounds like they got several thousands of dollars, but truthfully the money can spread thin among the programs really fast,” Carlson said. “We’re just trying to keep up with the community’s needs and things that we could be helpful with and what the community is asking us to respond with.”