This Boston Globe opinion piece by Bina Venkataraman points to the role hospitals can play in addressing food insecurity. Nonprofit hospitals, which make up 60% of US hospitals, have historically justified their tax exemptions from federal and state government by offering charitable services in communities where they operate. However, most haven’t been required to report in detail exactly what they are doing to help people in need. This year the IRS issued a rule that every three years these hospitals must work to evaluate the health needs of their communities and report on what they are doing to solve them.

Venkataraman writes that New England has been a testing ground for possible actions hospitals can take. Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, MA, for example,  runs a prescription program for fruits and vegetables that gives some patients $1 per day per family member to subsidize buying fresh food at farmers markets.

The Center for American Progress estimates that in 2010, lack of access to healthy food was responsible for $130.5 billion in health care costs. Venkataraman believes that despite such programs, poverty, hunger, malnutrition and related diseases continue to scourge communities in New England and across the nation and it will take far more investment and far more leadership. She says this is defining moment for hospitals to lead and live up to their charity status.

Do you have examples of other hospital programs that are working to address food insecurity? What can be done to encourage more investment and more leadership from hospitals?

Ally Gotsell is a communications associate at ReThink Health. 

The personal views and opinions expressed in this blog (and in any comments) are those of the original authors only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Rippel Foundation or ReThink Health. Neither The Rippel Foundation nor ReThink Health is responsible for the accuracy or validity of any of the information contained in the blog or any comments. All information is provided on an “as-is” basis.

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