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Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital has opened a food pantry to ensure patients and their families struggling with food insecurity have access to food to help them heal now, and stay healthier as they grow.
The Primary Pantry is made possible by Smith’s Food & Drug, a division of Kroger; as well as Dairy West and the Utah Food Bank, which provide all pantry items. The Primary Pantry, which is located at the Primary Children’s Hospital Eccles Outpatient Services Building in Salt Lake City, is staffed by local volunteers.
The pantry aims to address food insecurity and hunger, which can put children’s overall health at risk, and connect patients to additional community food resources that can provide more long-term support. The need is significant. Currently, one in nine children in Utah struggle with hunger.
“Hunger, housing instability, traumatic childhood events – all of these social determinants of health impact the overall health of children and their entire families,” said Katy Welkie, chief executive officer of Primary Children’s Hospital and vice president of Intermountain Children’s Health. “Giving food to those who need it can make a world of difference in their health and wellbeing, and influence their health for years into the future.”
The Primary Pantry is part of Intermountain Health’s Primary Promise to create the nation’s model health system for children, in part by addressing the root causes of illness and poor health, which are known as social determinants of health.
Poor nutrition is a leading cause of illness in the United States, the USDA reports. About 600,000 people nationwide die each year from diet-related diseases. Food insecurity is a lack of consistent, equitable access to healthy, safe, and affordable foods that promote optimal health and wellbeing.
Studies show food insecurity is related to poor health outcomes such as higher levels of chronic diseases, not taking proper medications, poor diabetes management, high probability of mental health issues, higher rates of anemia, more hospitalizations, and longer inpatient stays.
“With so many children going hungry in our community, it’s imperative that they and their families leave the hospital’s outpatient clinics with food to eat, and a connection to resources to make sure they have access to healthy food in their communities,” said Carolyn Reynolds, executive clinical director of pediatric community-based care for Intermountain Health.
At outpatient clinic visits, patients are screened for food insecurity and other social determinants of health. Providers then recommend patient families visit the pantry in the same building.
“It’s common for families to tell me they’re concerned about not having enough food for their families when I meet with them in the clinic,” said Rachel Hendrickson, a licensed clinical social worker and care manager at the Primary Children’s outpatient diabetes clinic.
“Until now, I’ve given families a list of food resources they can follow up with once they get home. While they are good resources, often families who need food are already strapped for time, energy, or extra money for gas to access them,” Hendrickson added. “That’s why I’m so excited about the pantry. Families needing this resource now can leave their clinic visit and immediately access food quickly, easily, privately, and without additional stress.”
The pantry opened in late January. It includes refrigerated and frozen foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and non-perishable foods. Families also will be connected to food resources in their community. A similar pantry will be included in the Primary Children’s Hospital Miller Family Campus in Lehi, which is scheduled to open in 2024.
For the past decade, Intermountain has targeted health initiatives to address the social determinants of health of patients throughout Utah and surrounding communities. This includes connecting families to community organizations addressing hunger, screening for food insecurity, and creating community gardens.
The pantry expands on Intermountain’s commitment to keep children and families healthy in their communities, and is part of Primary Promise’s Healthy Kids initiative. Primary Promise is a minimum $600 million philanthropic effort to address kids’ emerging health needs, strengthen Primary Children’s Hospital, and expand access to pediatric care throughout the Intermountain West.
To support the Healthy Kids initiatives, visit PrimaryPromise.org.