Small Steps – Encouraging positive changes by increasing access to fresh, local produce
Monday, September 14, 2015
Patient Services Administrator
For the second year in a row, CHAS Health, along with several other local clinics, has partnered with UnitedHealthcare Community Plan to promote healthy food choices and better nutrition through UnitedHealthcare’s Small Steps program. Geared toward low-income families including Medicaid eligible and/or food assistance recipients, the program encourages members to visit the local farmers market by providing a voucher for fresh produce and recipes to go along with it.
Many people think that, to eat healthy, they have to spend a lot of money. Too often eating out seems to be the cheapest or most convenient option, but fast and convenient foods are often high in fat, sugar, and sodium. For people struggling with their weight or managing chronic conditions like diabetes, healthy eating is an important part of improving one’s overall health. This Small Steps program aims to dispel the myth that eating healthy is always more expensive, and encourage medical providers to talk to their patients about the many benefits of eating a diet filled with nutritious fruits and vegetables.
The Small Steps program begins with the provider. One of the aims of the program is to encourage medical providers to start a dialogue with their patients around healthy eating. Addressing issues of weight can often be a prickly subject with patients. It can be frustrating for a person who wants to eat more healthfully but doesn’t necessarily know where to start. Bad habits are hard to break, especially when one doesn’t have the tools necessary to break free. With this approach, a provider can encourage the patient to reduce those bad habits while handing him the tools he needs to do so.
The provider refers the patient to the Small Steps program by handing the patient a Small Steps Healthy Eating Rx Card, where the provider can note particular serving recommendations for whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. The participant can take the Healthy Eating Rx Card to the Spokane Farmers Market on specified dates and visit the UnitedHealthcare booth to redeem it for a voucher for $10 worth of fresh produce. The participant also gets recipes and a canvas bag for their produce. Food assistance beneficiaries are also educated on the extra benefits they can receive for using their EBT card at the Farmers Market, stretching their dollar even further.
At CHAS, it was easy to integrate the Small Steps program into our day-to-day dealings with our patients. Our providers are already in the habit of talking to patients about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. We have a Registered Dietician on staff and we have a Healthy Living with Chronic Conditions group that meets regularly. Our staff enjoys connecting our patients with resources that align with CHAS’ mission of improving the overall health of the communities we serve by expanding access to health and wellness services. The program has been well received by patients at CHAS. Keri Smith, Registered Dietician at CHAS, said of the program, “I have given out all of the vouchers I had and have had patients give me feedback that they really loved receiving the voucher and enjoyed the fruits and vegetables that they were able to purchase.”
CHAS Patient Services Coordinator, Johnna Wacholtz, noted that “Families are very thankful” when they receive their voucher. For many struggling to make ends meet while also trying to improve their health, the voucher can be a key component to moving toward a healthier diet. Many folks who have never visited the Farmers Market see how easy it is to get fresh produce and make a habit of coming back.
The Small Steps program has helped to encourage provider-patient dialogue around healthy eating habits and has given participants an introduction to finding fresh local produce that is both accessible and affordable. The program is a great fit for community health centers trying to increase patient awareness of the importance of healthy eating, while also giving patients the tools to start taking those small steps toward healthier habits. CHAS is grateful to be part of this unique program to give low-income individuals and families the opportunity to improve their overall health, one Small Step at a time.
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