Mission Message

Connecting our Communities to Healthy Food

Three kids purchase produce from vendor at Hillside Farmers Market
Essentia Health supports many local farmers markets across our service area. Last summer, Essentia, in collaboration with Community Action Duluth, helped start the Hillside Farmers Market in a parking lot on our downtown Duluth medical campus. The market is in its second season and is open to the public. It also has various programs that encourage healthy eating for families who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits as well as children and Essentia staff. Above, Brock Bogart (7) and his sisters Ginny (5) and Tenley (3) purchase produce with $4 in free tokens they each received from the market’s Power of Produce Club for kids. Mom Christina Bogart says it gives her family a chance to try produce they normally wouldn’t because of cost.

Helping Patients Find Food Resources

Food insecurity – a lack of access to enough affordable, healthy food – affects families across the communities Essentia serves. Research shows these households often face difficult decisions, such as choosing food over medication, postponing preventative or needed medical care, or forgoing the foods needed for healthy lifestyles. While there are many food resources available in our communities, connecting patients and families to them can be challenging.

A recent pilot project in Pediatrics at Essentia clinics in Duluth and Baxter as well as South University Clinic in Fargo is screening patients for food insecurity and offering support. When patients come in for their well-child checkup, rooming staff ask the parents to answer two questions about food insecurity, as well as other social needs, such as transportation or financial strain. If a patient screens positively for any social need, staff ask if they’d like to talk to an Essentia community health worker who can connect them to resources.

“Within the past 12 months we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.”

“Within the past 12 months the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.”

These Hunger Vital Sign screening questions identify families at risk for food insecurity if the patient answers “often true” or “sometimes true.”

Community health worker Lindsey Eales estimates she’s talked to between 70 and 100 patients since the start of the pilot. Many people are “extremely appreciative,” says Eales. “Even if it’s not a referral they’re in need of right now, just knowing if they need something in the future that they can call me is appreciated.”

While it’s still early in the screening program, patients have already benefited. Thirty-five patients have been referred to Hunger Solutions – one of our partner organizations – from mid-March to mid-June. Once Hunger Solutions receives a referral from Essentia, they reach out to the patient within 48 hours. They see if patients qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits – previously known as food stamps – and connect them with local food shelves, discount meal programs and other resources available in their area. “It’s not easy to enroll in a lot of these programs,” says SNAP Outreach Coordinator Nicole Bailey, who works for Hunger Solutions.

Bailey shares the story of one Essentia patient who already had SNAP benefits, but still didn’t have enough food for her family. Because of Essentia’s in-clinic screening and the Hunger Solutions referral, the patient was able to get connected to local food shelves, a dollar-for-dollar SNAP matching program at farmers markets and a discount grocery program. “She was grateful to speak with someone who knew what she’d qualify for instead of her having to try to figure it out on her own,” says Bailey.

At Essentia, the screening will continue and expand to six more clinics by 2021. Thanks to a $15,000 grant from UCare, Essentia also plans to purchase iPads so patients can answer the screening questions with more privacy, thus encouraging candid answers. “We’re grateful to UCare for their support so we can continue to improve our processes and reach more patients in need,” says Essentia Community Health Director Emily Anderson. 

“There’s a ton of data out there that shows the impact of food and (healthy eating) on health,” says Bailey. “We can tell people all day to do this if you want to lose weight or control your diabetes, but if a person can’t afford (healthy) food, or doesn’t have access, it’s not going to be able to positively impact their health.”

"At Essentia, we’re privileged to partner with our communities to connect more families to food resources, both by employing new clinical practices to screen for food insecurity and supporting programs that increase access to healthy foods. By taking a fresh approach to address food challenges, together, we’re truly making a healthy difference in people’s lives."

— Essentia Health CEO David C. Herman, MD

Quality | Hospitality | Respect | Joy | Justice | Stewardship | Teamwork

A New Kind of Annual Report

Essentia’s Mission Message shares our ongoing efforts in our communities. This quarterly online publication is a new approach to a traditional annual report.

To view our financial and community benefit numbers for the year ending June 30, 2019, please see our facts and figures page.

Facts & Figures