The American Hospital Association’s Committee on Performance Improvement prioritizes population health as a must-do strategy for hospitals and health systems if they are to succeed in a dynamic and changing care environment. Often these efforts include non-traditional programs and efforts outside the conventional hospital setting to educate the general public, particularly vulnerable patient populations, and support community health and wellness needs.
During the Center for Health Design’s Built Environment Network (BEN) annual summer meeting, hosted by Boston Medical Center (BMC), members were able to hear firsthand the successful efforts BMC has made over the years to improve the health and well-being of its community. BMC is the largest safety net hospital and Level 1 trauma center in New England and a longtime BEN member. During the meeting, BMC shared insight into its work and how it is being turned during the COVID-19 pandemic to push for even better outcomes at a time when the need was even greater.
In 2001, as part of its annual capital program, BMC launched the Nourishing Our Community effort as a way to provide access to nutritious food and educational programming. The organization’s three-pronged approach to combating food insecurity in its community includes:
• Cultivation of fresh produce on a rooftop farm on the main hospital campus. The food is prescribed by doctors just like conventional medicine is, based on the unique needs of each patient including their family members. Each year, the BMC garden produces 6,000 to 7,000 pounds of vegetables.
• The provision of culturally and nutritionally appropriate food from an on-site therapeutic food pantry located within the medical centre. Each patient is given the supplies needed for five days of meals for a family, and patients work with pantry employees to collect the doctor-prescribed ingredients and package them as a way to take pride in the experience and separating it from a traditional community food bank. The food is also tracked and part of a person’s medical record.
• Offer culinary and nutrition education classes. It is taught virtually from a hospital-based teaching kitchen and made widely available online to help people maximize the benefits of the food provided.
Due to the limitations brought about by COVID-19, BMC realized that it must adapt its efforts to continue to provide access to food and nutrition education and to help the social isolation resulting from pandemic-related safety and distancing precautions combat It started a home delivery service in August 2020 to ensure the food continues to reach patients. The program, which serves more than 7,000 people a month, has been so successful that the organization plans to continue the virtual classes and food delivery even after the pandemic subsides.
A unique feature is that the entire program is funded by philanthropy. Additionally, it falls under BMC’s capital construction budget because the organization sees it as an extension of its facilities department. It is this kind of outside-the-box thinking—looking at community health initiatives under the umbrella of facilities, design, and construction—that can bring design professionals into the larger conversation around population health and help them share such examples with their clients.
Creating holistic solutions where built environments are linked to community programs to reach more people where they live will help create the best possible health outcomes for both individuals and communities.
Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.