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MaineGeneral Medical Center has been awarded a total of $133,000 to address food insecurity and other social needs in the Kennebec Valley.

The grants include $98,000 from Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, $25,000 from the John T. Gorman Foundation and $10,000 from the Maine Cancer Foundation.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit our region, MaineGeneral saw the detrimental effects of food insecurity on our patients and the community,” said MaineGeneral Health President & CEO Chuck Hays. “Having enough nutritious food is an essential building block of good health and healing. We have been building our capacity to link community members in need with food resources. These grants will help expand our efforts.”

Hays said the three grants expand MaineGeneral’s ability to screen patients for food insecurity and other social needs (such as transportation), provide them with short-term food supplies and connect them to community programs for long-term solutions. Hays praised community partners who will help achieve these goals, including the Good Shepherd Food Bank, Kennebec Valley Community Action Program (KVCAP), Healthy Northern Kennebec, Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Specifically, the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care grant expands food insecurity screening at practices outside of the MaineGeneral system to reach more patients. Over the past three years, MaineGeneral’s primary care practices have implemented a food insecurity screening questionnaire and connected food-insecure patients to local food resources. With support from the Good Shepherd Food Bank, practices can provide those without enough food with an emergency food bag.

The new funding will expand this work in three ways: adding four more practices to the program; enhancing follow-up capacity with the use of community health workers; and evaluating of the effectiveness of the program. Additionally, vouchers from local chambers of commerce will help at-risk patients access ready-made food from local restaurants. Community health workers will identify patients’ other social needs, such as transportation, and assist them in meeting those needs.

Funding from the John T. Gorman Foundation will enable MaineGeneral to meet the needs of more patients who are hungry. The health system will provide emergency food bags to patients, targeting those who live in rural areas where transportation services are currently unavailable, have co-existing conditions, are being discharged from hospital stays and other high-risk individuals. In addition to emergency food bags, vouchers will be provided to patients to purchase ready to go meals from local area restaurants and short-term transportation needs will be addressed, as well. MaineGeneral staff will work with patients to develop longer term solutions. The foundation funding will enable the health system to help approximately 1,000 people access these critical supports during this time of need.

The Maine Cancer Foundation grant will help MaineGeneral cancer patients access food during the COVID-19 pandemic by establishing a food closet at the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care. The food will be given to patients based on individual needs and dietary restrictions. For example, while some cancer patients can eat soups, oatmeal and canned vegetables, others may need supplements such as protein powder to ensure they are getting the proper nutrition as they undergo treatment. While patients’ ability to access nutritious food has mostly been a financial obstacle, the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional safety and product availability issues for patients.

“Combined, these grants will greatly expand our ability to meet patients’ underlying social needs, which we know contribute to overall health outcomes,” Hays said. “We’re grateful for the level of support from these foundations, especially at this critical time when the COVID-19 pandemic and reduction in social services have created even more challenges for people in need to access basic necessities. MaineGeneral looks forward to building on our local partnerships to address the needs of our most vulnerable people in our community.”