The County Voice

Food is Medicine Thanks to Solano County’s Mobile Food Pharmacy

CSAC is spotlighting this 2019 Challenge Award program, which was in place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly half of all Solano County residents live in “food deserts,” areas with limited access to healthy and affordable food. About 15 percent of County resident experience food insecurity, defined as being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Acknowledging the established link between health outcomes and good nutrition, Solano County instituted a fresh produce prescription program and the We’re All Family! Mobile Food Pharmacy.

During Family Health Services clinic appointments, clients receive a prescription for a presorted box of non-perishable canned foods that are low-sodium, low-fat and healthy. After the appointment, clients exit the building to a commercially refrigerated vehicle to fulfill the food prescription, receive a bag of fresh produce and a recipe card. The Mobile Food Pharmacy visits a different clinic each day, on a regular schedule.

“You get this big box of food and fresh produce that helps reduce your food bill every month,” said Erin Hannigan, Solano County Supervisor. “I have heard there are several customers from our clinics who have received the food and changed how they eat, which has changed their need for heart medication, which reduced their need for insulin for diabetes.”

Dr. Bela Matyas, Solano County Health Officer, agrees. “When our health professionals give you a prescription for healthy food, it reinforces that you and the healthcare provider as a team recognize that it’s important for you to eat well. The Mobile Food Pharmacy allows us to actually distribute the food as if it were a pharmaceutical.”

The Solano County Mobile Food Pharmacy was made possible by a donation from the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and a partnership with the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano, Solano Public Health and Solano County Family Health Services. Fresh produce varies by season and during a recent  visit to the Vallejo Family Health Services clinic, the Mobile Food Pharmacy offered oranges, zucchini, lettuce, carrots and apples.

“It just makes sense that when we’re talking to someone about their diabetes medication or their cholesterol medication, that we have a conversation about food as well,” said Marisa Castaldini, Registered Dietitian and Solano County Public Health Nutritionist. “But if you talk about healthy eating and know that people might not have access to that, then we’re missing something.”

Another positive outcome of offering the Mobile Health Pharmacy at Family Health Services clinics is that clients are more likely to keep their appointments at the clinic. “The Mobile Health Pharmacy allows us to offer a one-stop shop, to marry food and what they’re eating with their healthcare. Clients tend to keep their appointments and are able to see the relationship between healthy eating and chronic condition health outcomes.” said Noelle Soto, Project Manager for Solano County Family Health Services.

Food prescriptions can be redeemed any time at the vehicle, and produce is available to anyone who approaches the truck. “We try to come every week to get the fresh produce because they are so good for your health. And it has helped my husband as well, as we are both diabetics,” said Elnora and Isaac, Mobile Food Pharmacy clients. “We are retired, disabled people, so this helps us not spend a lot of money on the extras. It is easy to come to this truck and fill up once a week and I never run out. It’s a blessing.”

Offering the food prescriptions helps people keep their appointments, because one trip away from home can both address a health need and restock the refrigerator and pantry. “When you get diagnosed with diabetes, all of a sudden you get a flood of information about what you should be eating,” said Kim, a Family Health Services client. “I get to go to my appointment and pick up groceries at the end. It’s one less stop and it’s helpful to get some extras, too.”

Not only has the Mobile Food Pharmacy improved the kept-appointment rate at the clinics, but it also has extended the reach for the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano, which provides the food boxes and fresh produce. 

“So far we’ve given out 130,000 pounds of fresh produce out in the community and 3,500 boxes have been given out through the Mobile Food Pharmacy,” said Matthew Durkin, Community Produce Program Administrator for the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano. Those numbers equate to around 30,000 individuals in Solano County who have benefited from the Mobile Food Pharmacy.

“It’s great to know that we have another outlet for people to receive food, to know that the food is whole, it’s healthy, it provides good nutrition,” said Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan. “Being able to reverse those negative trends in peoples’ lives is really what’s  important to me and this is definitely one of those programs that does that.“

Fawn McCloud, a Nurse Practitioner who uses the food prescriptions with her patients agrees. “Medical care isn’t just doing the exam and pushing pills obviously, it’s the whole person. I know that when my patient leaves here, they have a grocery bag full of healthy produce and that’s a good feeling. I’m treating the whole person.”

To learn about how to enter the 2020 CSAC Challenge Awards, click here. The entry deadline is Sept. 11, 2020.

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