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Boston Medical Center Varnum Winner

November 20, 2012
Lebanon, NH

If your patient is diabetic, prescribing insulin will only do so much. What if you could literally prescribe healthier food for her pantry, and healthier recipes for her table?

Physicians at Boston Medical Center (BMC) do just that. Eleven years ago, they started the Preventive Food Pantry and Demonstration Kitchen, where low-income patients with certain medical conditions or nutritional needs are actually prescribed fresh food, which they can pick up in the hospital's on-site Food Pantry and learn to prepare in healthy new ways across the hall in the Demonstration Kitchen.

View the documentary trailer above.

"[When] patients have come back and lost ten percent of their body weight, for example, I am able to take them off insulin because they've lost weight," said Caroline M. Apovian, MD, FACP, FACN, director of nutrition and weight management at BMC.

Many of the people served at BMC have unique needs that can hinder proper health care, including language barriers, lack of transportation to and from appointments and insufficient income to properly feed their families. The Preventive Food Pantry and Demonstration Kitchen works to address nutrition-related illness and under-nutrition for patients. As the only hospital-based facility of its kind in the nation, it fills the therapeutic gap by linking physicians and nutritionists to patients. Individuals with special nutritional needs are referred to the pantry by BMC providers who write "prescriptions" for supplemental foods that best promote physical health, prevent future illness and facilitate recovery. A key feature is the provision of perishable goods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables in the winter, and meats all year round – items that are often costly and therefore often lacking in a low-income family's diet. In 2011, the pantry served more than 80,000 patients and their families.

It's the spirit of innovation and partnership between patients and staff shown in creating the Preventive Food Pantry and Demonstration Kitchen that has earned BMC the 2012 James W. Varnum National Quality Health Care Award, established by the Trustees of Dartmouth-Hitchcock and recognizing an outstanding national leader in health care quality improvement initiatives.

The Varnum National Award, presented every two years, will be presented to BMC Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 12:30 p.m. in Auditoria E & F at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Dartmouth-Hitchcock staff members are welcome to attend the premiere of the inspiring documentary video honoring the Preventive Food Pantry and Demonstration Kitchen. The video itself is the award, serving to help BMC inform the public about the program and to help other organizations get similar initiatives off the ground.

"The Preventive Food Pantry and Demonstration Kitchen gets at one of the main issues in addressing population health: preventative care," said Dartmouth-Hitchcock Chief Quality and Value Officer George T. Blike, MD. "The creative approach taken by BMC in making nutritious food and education readily available to patients is a terrific example of providing value at relatively low cost, putting patients on the road to a healthier lifestyle and helping prevent costlier care later in their lives."

The James W. Varnum National Quality Award honors former Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital President Jim Varnum, a visionary health care leader for more than 40 years, an inspiring and bold innovator, and a responsible and responsive member of the national and local health care community. During his 28 years at the helm of Mary Hitchcock, Varnum was an architect of progress for patients, their families, and staff. In recognition of his exceptional service, leadership and lifelong commitment to a culture of caring, the Trustees of Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital established The James W. Varnum Quality Health Care Endowment. Income from this permanent endowment supports local and national recognition of outstanding leadership in health care quality improvement initiatives.

The 2010 Varnum Award winner, Project SEARCH at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, provided job training for young adults with disabilities. The program has spread across the nation; the success of Cincinnati's program inspired staff at Dartmouth-Hitchcock to create its own Project SEARCH program, which graduated its first class in Lebanon last spring.

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