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Food as Health provides assistance, tools to help people manage diabetes

food project

Physicians and staff with Fair Haven Community Health Care’s Diabetes Health Equity Clinic are making diabetes more manageable for people in Greater New Haven. From l-r: Jeremy Tchack, MD; Simon Correa Gaviria, MD; Mellisa Pensa, MD; Wanda Gomez, community health worker, Fair Haven Community Health Care; Natasha Freeman, MD; and Mari Montosa, RN, Fair Haven Community Health Care.

The Diabetes Health Equity Clinic at Fair Haven Community Health Care is making diabetes more manageable for members of the community. Staffed by Yale New Haven Hospital medical residents, the clinic aims to improve access to the resources patients need to manage diabetes successfully. 

The clinic opened in early 2019 for patients with poorly controlled diabetes. Screening for social determinants of health showed a large proportion of patients with significant financial and food insecurity. Many of these patients also had a high no-show rate at the clinic.

“Patients’ health suffers when they can’t engage in care; when they don’ t have the resources to regularly buy food, medication or supplies; and when they’re unable to make optimal food choices for their condition,” said Mellisa Pensa, MD, MPH, the clinic’s attending physician. “Food insecurity is both a cause and a compounding factor of chronic diseases such as diabetes.”

This prompted Dr. Pensa and clinic staff to launch Food as Health, a pilot program that gives patients resources to take control of their diabetes. Nearly 40 people have enrolled. The program receives funding from Yale New Haven Hospital’s medical staff. 

Food as Health partners with C-Town, a Fair Haven grocery store, on a $25 voucher program to improve patients’ access to fresh produce. Once a month, patients receive a C-Town gift card. They also receive nutrition information, a produce price guide and recipes from a diabetics nurse educator, whom they meet with monthly via telehealth. 

Food as Health also has an agreement with New Haven Pharmacy to provide free diabetic supplies to uninsured patients enrolled in the program. Access to supplies, such as a blood glucose monitor and test strips, is important to monitor the effect of diabetes treatment.

Food as Health data show improvement in food insecurity and diabetes self-management in patients who have completed the program. In light of promising results, the clinic will expand the program to include $40 monthly food vouchers and more participating grocery stores to improve access to healthy foods.

While the clinic helps patients learn more about diabetes management, it also helps educate the medical residents, Dr. Pensa said. 

“Unmanaged diabetes can lead to more severe conditions such as heart disease, kidney failure and blindness. By focusing on diabetes management, residents can help patients prevent further complications and enhance their overall health and well-being.”