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UAB Part of Pilot Program to Help Undernourished Seniors

UAB Part of Pilot Program to Help Undernourished Seniors

Access to healthy food is something many of us take for granted. Yet many seniors in our community go hungry, skimp on nutrition, or have to choose between buying food or medicine – a situation sometimes known as food insecurity.

Seniors often are at risk for food insecurity, and a study published this year reveals that approximately one in 12 seniors is food insecure. This risk is even higher for elderly women, racial and ethnic minorities, disabled individuals, and seniors who are unmarried, unemployed, or who live in multigenerational homes.

This issue is even more concerning in the South, which has the highest senior food insecurity rate in the country. Alabama is one of the top 10 states for senior food insecurity, estimated at 17%. Last year’s “State of Senior Hunger in America” study reported that Alabama had the second-highest level of food insecurity among American seniors – 66% higher than the national rate. Central Alabama alone is home to at least 25,000 seniors at risk of going hungry.

Screening Patients

In 2017, the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama was awarded a grant to address senior hunger, and it approached the UAB Geriatric Medicine Clinic for help. The Food Bank asked the clinic to be part of a pilot program to screen patients for food insecurity using a two-part screening tool.

“If a patient screened positive, then I met with each patient or family and provided them a food bag at the time of their visit,” says Jessica Nix, a social worker in the UAB Geriatric Medicine Clinic. “Each bag contained non-perishable items, such as canned fruit and vegetables, rice and beans, cereal, and shelf-stable milk. I also provided them with information about food pantries in the greater Birmingham area and referred patients to the Food Bank’s senior benefit enrollment center, where they would be screened for other programs, such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).”

These grocery bags contain many of the foods that are missing from seniors’ diets, such as healthy protein sources, whole grains, and vegetables. Thanks to this program and others, getting help with groceries is becoming easier and more reliable for seniors than in the past.

The Community Food Bank surveyed 478 seniors in low-income communities and 79 served by the UAB Geriatric Medicine Clinic last year and found that 73% of seniors in housing communities ran out of food or worried about running out of food each month. Meanwhile, among seniors with health conditions, 68% don’t have access to the foods they need to manage their conditions, and over half reported having to choose between buying prescription medications or food.

Other Helpful Resources

These statistics are alarming when we think about the long-term health of our beloved parents, grandparents, and friends, but fortunately there are some great local resources for seniors in need of healthy meals. A few of those resources are highlighted below:

  • The state of Alabama filed for funding through the federal Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) in summer 2018. At the time, Alabama was the only state that had not yet participated in the program, but as with most federally funded programs, it involved stringent protocols and guidelines.

“In preparation for starting the CSFP, we began enrolling patients in a pilot program, which allowed us to identify any challenges or successes surrounding this new process,” Nix says. “Our clinic and the Family and Community Medicine Clinic were the first sites to onboard for this new pilot and were the only medical sites participating. Today, there are nearly 20 community partners that act as distribution points for CSFP and will serve 1,450 seniors this year.”

  • Seniors at least 60 years of age with incomes at or below 130% of the federal poverty level may be eligible for food assistance. Seniors or their family members can call the Feeding the Gulf Coast Benefits Enrollment Center toll-free helpline at 877.833.2550 to learn more about these opportunities.
  • The Community Food Bank of Central Alabama encourages seniors to browse its website to find nearby food pantries by entering an address or zip code on the Find Food page. The Food Bank also has mobile food pantries that visit the Alabama cities of Montevallo, Bessemer, and Tarrant, and there’s a Corner Market that operates as a mobile grocery store to serve the Tarrant, Pratt City, Dora, Fountain Heights, and Oakman communities. These are wonderful resources for seniors who do not have easy access to a full-service grocery store.

“I also encourage individuals to apply for food assistance, such as vouchers through the SNAP program,” Nix says. “In addition, SNAP benefits can also be used to earn Double Up Food Bucks when used at participating farmers markets — including Corner Market locations, East Lake Market, and Pepper Place — which allow individuals to receive $1 for every dollar spent on SNAP-approved items, up to $20. Those Double Up Bucks can then be used on fresh fruits or vegetables at local farmers markets.”

Click here for information on the UAB Geriatric Medicine Clinic at UAB Hospital-Highlands, or call 205.996.2770.