HSC Health Family Medicine social worker Maryssa Vasquez was frustrated to see so many of her patients go home hungry. Even when clinicians and physicians referred food-insecure patients to the existing food resources, it could take weeks for them to actually have food in hand.

“The contributing factors to the gap between available resources and need are many,” Vasquez said. “It is common for patients to say that they do not have any food in the house or enough to make it through the week. Many people do not realize our patients are at that point, but I’ve witnessed that pretty frequently.”

Vasquez tapped into a little-known and seldom-used partnership HSC has with the Tarrant Area Food Bank to take advantage of a streamlined system that speeds up the delivery process for those in need. She’s also spearheaded a food drive and hopes to send patients home with pre-prepared food packages after their appointments.

Every patient at HSC Health, the clinical enterprise of HSC, is screened for food insecurity and can now be connected to Tarrant Area Food Bank’s Healthcare Referral Home Delivery Program. 

Patients who need food resources in Tarrant County and are homebound or have limited transportation are now automatically approved for a delivery of shelf-stable products. They receive food once or twice a month depending on need through the provider link created by Tarrant Area Food Bank. These deliveries can be customized to fit dietary restrictions, including low-sodium, low-fat and healthier options. Deliveries even can include protein shakes, which can be expensive and are typically not available at food banks.

“It’s a very low-barrier option compared with a lot of different resources in the community for food because typically there’s a waiting period, there’s an interview, and sometimes patients have limited transportation options and can’t go pick up food,” she said.

For the past three months, Vasquez estimates she refers two patients a week to this expedited approval process.

Although Vasquez has been using this resource in the HSC Health Family Medicine clinic, all clinics at HSC Health will have access for this expedited approval via a unique referral link for medical providers to connect patients directly to the Tarrant Area Food Bank.

“I’ve had patients show me pictures of recipes they’ve made from getting food from the food bank,” she said. “This was really heartwarming because it is difficult to give patients these resources without knowing if they will access them or if they are continuing to be hungry. When I had that patient show me her table setting with all of her food, that was so awesome.”

This encouraged Vasquez to continue searching for low-barrier nutrition resources and start the food drive in-clinic. The food drive involves the entire medical team, with the goal of encouraging conversations about the disparities in nutritional needs in the HSC Health patient population and how dire the need really is in Tarrant County.

“Meeting this need also gives patients a voice across all disciplines in our clinic, from our pharmacy team, to our medical assistants, to our students involved in their care,” she said. “I have no doubt that these seemingly small interactions are creating a ripple effect in our community. The goal for social work is always tangible change and to empower patients with the knowledge of the amazing people and resources working together to make that change in our community.” 

Those wanting to donate can drop off food at the Health Pavilion in Room 231 (the Family Medicine clinic). Donations can include canned soups, canned vegetables that are low sodium, pasta, rice, whole grain crackers, peanut butter and canned proteins.

“From a provider standpoint, having this service and referral line directly to the Tarrant Area Food Bank ensures that we are looking out to not only treat disease, but to prevent disease from occurring by ensuring adequate access to health nutritious foods,” said Dr. Damon Schranz, family physician at HSC Health and associate professor of Family Medicine in HSC’s Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Maryssa created this direct access on her own by witnessing some of the consequences of inadequate nutrition in our clientele. I am so pleased to have Maryssa in our clinic and for her work in the propagation of Whole Health in our HSC Family Medicine Clinic.”

About HSC

The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth is located in the heart of the Fort Worth Cultural District. HSC trains the health providers and scientists of the future in an interprofessional ecosystem. In HSC’s six schools, students learn to work in teams and to develop an innovative mindset that prepares them for a rapidly changing health landscape. HSC Health, the clinical enterprise of the Health Science Center, provides patient-centered care to people across Tarrant County. HSC’s research enterprise provides a foundation to expand the frontiers of scientific discovery to improve health and well-being.

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