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Unity Care's Whatcom Veggie Rx Program

Wednesday, August 14, 2019   (0 Comments)
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By: Kyle Davidson, Population Health Director,  Unity Care NW


Making the changes needed to manage or prevent diabetes can be challenging for many patients, particularly those struggling with food insecurity or social isolation. In the hope of addressing both of these challenges, Unity Care NW in Bellingham, Washington is offering two innovative new programs to its diabetic and pre-diabetic patients.


Whatcom Veggie Rx launched in February of this year, in collaboration with the Bellingham Food Bank, Sea Mar Community Health Centers, PeaceHealth, Community Health Plan of Washington, and Community Food Co-op. The goal of the program is to help make fruits and vegetables affordable and available to participating low-income, food-insecure diabetic patients who have high Hemoglobin A1c levels. Participants receive a $40 voucher each month redeemable for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables at either of the Community Food Co-op’s locations in Bellingham.


Unity Care NW offered 67 available program slots to patients this year, and all have been filled. Participants also have the opportunity to participate in classes developed by the nutritionists at PeaceHealth and Community Health Plan of Washington that offer cooking instruction, shopping tips, and nutritional information. Classes are offered in English and Spanish. The response to the program has been very positive, both in terms of patient feedback and initial outcomes.



Dale James, for example, has had type 2 diabetes for over 20 years and has used insulin for most of that time. When Unity Care NW began recruiting for Whatcom Veggie Rx, Outreach and Enrollment staff asked providers to recommend their Type 2 diabetic patients with high A1c numbers. Dr. Lien, a Unity Care NW physician, recommended Dale, and he received his first voucher in February. By July, Dr. Lien felt his patient had started to control his blood sugar without the need for insulin.


Dale said his goal in participating in Whatcom Veggie Rx was to discontinue his insulin. Just before his July visit, Dale reported that he was “happy as a clam” because his sugars were consistently low, and Dr. Lien took him off the short-acting insulin he had been taking during the day. “Then he takes me off [insulin] altogether,” Dale said.


“I eat healthier, more veggies. The more veggies I eat, the less bad foods” he eats, like sweets and hot dogs. He’s learned to read labels to see how much fat and salt are in various products. He shopped with a friend who taught him “not just to read [the label] but learn from it.”


He buys salad fixings, cucumbers, packages of skinny bell peppers, cauliflower, and broccoli. He watches “Iron Chef” for inspiration on experimenting with different dishes. “I don’t have a set diet, but this program has helped me understand that I need to eat better.”


The Whatcom Veggie Rx program has been made possible through start-up funding from the Bellingham Food Bank. The partners hope to sustain the program through ongoing fundraising and eventually through the inclusion of interventions like Whatcom Veggie Rx as a health insurance benefit. The goal is to demonstrate the value of such programs in improving health outcomes and reducing health care costs.


Unity Care NW has also partnered with the Whatcom Family YMCA to offer a Diabetes Prevention Program for those at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Patients over 18 years of age who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 (overweight) and have been diagnosed as pre-diabetic, or are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, are eligible. This is a year-long, peer-supported program, developed nationally by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The evidence-based program meets for 26 total sessions, and participation includes a Whatcom Family YMCA membership. Two sessions of 12 participants each are underway, including both current YMCA members and Unity Care NW patients. Unity Care hopes to grow this program and encourage participation from more of its patients. Initial results are positive. As a program participant describes, “[The class] gets you into the mindset to make changes that you maybe didn’t know you need to make, what you could do better.”




With the creation of a new Population Health Program, Unity Care NW looks forward to expanding programs currently underway and working with community partners to offer new programs in the future that will help their patients to live healthier lives.






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