Two local agencies are working together to tackle the challenge of food insecurity in The County by finding ways to reach out to vulnerable citizens who may not be aware of all of the programs that exist to help alleviate their situation.

Since May 2016, through a collaboration of Aroostook County Action Program (ACAP) and The Aroostook Medical Center (TAMC), TAMC implemented a new “Screen and Intervene” initiative in the intake screening process, first at Aroostook Pediatrics, and more recently also at the hospital’s primary care and women's health offices. As part of the initial intake, patients are asked two questions that evaluate if a person has run out of food or has struggled with the ability to purchase food in the last twelve months. If the answer to either question is ‘yes,’ then patients receive a packet of information on available programs and a referral to ACAP Case Manager Heidi Rackliffe, LSW, who will work with the customer on building food security in his or her home.

The program, supported through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems (EMHS) and the Partnerships to Improve Community Health (PICH), is working, according to ACAP Community Education Specialist Dawn Roberts.

“ACAP is excited that people are being screened and referred to Case Management services through TAMC’s outpatient clinics, because these are the clients that we are here to serve and make their lives better with our services and programs,” said Roberts.

From the time TAMC began asking the food insecurity questions to the end of June 2017, 6,264 patients have received screening. Out of those, 160 people responded in the affirmative to one or more of the questions. Those 160 people each received a Pathfinder Guide that leads patients to local resources, a Food Resource handout that directs people to free food in the area, and a referral card to ACAP Case Management. As of the end of June, 33 people followed through with contacting ACAP to receive case management services.

 

Families facing food insecurity cope using a variety of methods to stretch their food dollars, but those methods are not always the healthiest options. Families might decrease the amount of food they purchase and just eat less, or they purchase lower quality food that lacks nutrients and has fewer, if any fruits and vegetables. In fact, 79 percent of households report choosing food that is filling but not nutritious, and that may actually contribute to obesity and poor health. Purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food just to have enough to feed the family is a dangerous practice, according to Roberts. Many of the most common chronic health conditions are diet-related, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes, and may be prevented or improved by eating better quality foods.

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