With a goal of helping at risk community members learn how to live a healthy lifestyle, the team at Summit Pacific Medical Center introduced Food Rx, food as medicine, in December of 2022 to eligible patients. Sponsored by Amerigroup, the patient-focused wellness program provides ingredients for five nutritious meals per week, recipes, and cooking classes to participants with chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

“Summit Pacific Medical Center has a generational vision of making our community the healthiest in the nation.  We believe that nutritious food is really some of the best ‘medicine’ available and we are excited to offer a program which makes it easier for our participants to make sustainable healthy food choices,” said Summit Pacific Director of Innovation, Jennifer Brackeen.

Photo courtesy: Summit Pacific

Brackeen and Population Health Manager, Natasha Chapin, developed the concept for Food Rx over several years with a goal of educating participants about nutrition and making it easier for them to make healthy decisions.  Summit Pacific’s Medicaid partner, Amerigroup, was very excited about the program, agreeing to sponsor it for up to 100 of their patients.   Brackeen, Chapin, and Summit Pacific’s Chef, Brandon Smith, then spent six months finalizing the program and creating recipes.

“This is an opportunity to break the cycle of unhealthy living through education, cooking classes and wrap-around services in our primary care clinic,” Brackeen said. “Food is medicine, and we have seen time and time again when our patients have improved their cooking and eating habits they tend to have healthier outcomes.”

Why Summit Pacific Emphasizes Good Nutrition

Kevin Caserta, M.D. is the Senior Medical Director of Population Health at Summit Pacific. Clinically, he specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. For much of his career, Caserta has taken care of people with neurologic disabilities.

“Many of the medical conditions we see in clinics are significantly influenced by what a patient eats,” Caserta says. “Diabetes and obesity are significant risk factors for heart attacks, strokes, and many other disorders. As we strive to make our community healthy, we need to get ahead of that curve before people have a significant debilitating illness. That is where nutrition comes in.”

Caserta also points out that any type of heart disease whatsoever is significantly impacted by diet. A poor diet and obesity has been shown in many instances to raise the risk of certain cancers.

 “Those that are committed to the program are seeing great results,” Caserta says. “Ideally, they are also exercising and staying active. The great news is, we still have the capacity to enroll more people in our community with Amerigroup insurance into this program.”

Photo courtesy: Summit Pacific

Food Rx for Health Program Eligibility

Eligibility requirements for the Food Rx program include having Medicaid insurance with Amerigroup; a high body mass index (BMI), resulting in being overweight or obese; having high blood pressure; or being diagnosed as being diabetic or pre-diabetic.  Eligibility is determined by the Summit Pacific Medical Center population health and clinic teams.

Getting started with the Food Rx for Health Program

Established patients at Summit Care are referred to the program by their primary care provider. A patient coordinator will then reach out, and go over a questionnaire to make sure the patient is a good fit for the program and ready to participate. A referral is made to Registered Dietitian Sarah Carossino, who will go through an individualized care plan that will fit the unique nutritional needs of the new participant.

After determining how many sessions the patient would benefit from with the dietician, a commitment form is signed. It is at that point when a patient is able to come back to the café at Summit to pick up their weekly Food Prescription Box filled with nutritious and tasty food items to take home and prepare using the recipes provided. With the program’s weekly food boxes, the Summit Pacific team takes away some of the expense and burden of shopping for enrolled patients.

Recently, weekly meal vouchers have been added to the program, allowing patients to either pick up a meal that is served in the café during café hours, or request a premade meal to be part of their food box.

“In addition, we offer monthly in-person and online cooking classes hosted by Chef Brandon Smith,” Brackeen says. “We adjust the program along the way at the request of patients. For instance, the program includes ingredients and recipes for a dinner meal, and people are asking about tips on how to eat healthy at other meal times.”

Photo courtesy: Summit Pacific

In the Summit Pacific cafeteria, Chef Brandon gears his daily menus around healthy food choices, including Blue Zones inspired and plant-based options. Check out this video of Chef Brandon sharing his recipe and cooking technique for One Pan Pork Chops with Apples and Onions.

Summit Pacific Team Provides Ongoing Support

Patient coordinators Kimberly Starkweather and Tasha Nowak check in with enrolled patients on a weekly and monthly basis to lend support and encouragement. Over the course of the program, the team measures indicators such as blood pressure, A1C levels (a marker of blood sugar control), and others to determine improvements in a patient’s overall health.

“We can’t acknowledge our patient care coordinators enough,” Caserta says. “They are making those connections with participants and providing additional encouragement. Also, the knowledge our dietitian brings, and how she connects with individuals as they are working to change their life in a positive direction makes a huge impact. Chef Brandon and the entire food services team go above and beyond to help support the program as well.”

Building a personal relationship with each patient is a team effort, for sure. Knowing the patient’s eating habits, lifestyle, and medical background helps the team at Summit Pacific create a unique and personalized program for each participant.

Those with Amerigroup insurance interested in participating in the Food Rx Program are encouraged to discuss your eligibility with their Summit Pacific primary care provider. Call 360.346.2223 to schedule today.


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