After reading Toni Carey’s blog post asking if hospitals should become an oasis in food deserts, I felt a little overwhelmed wondering, “Is this another thing that a hospital can take on?”
I am personally concerned about food deserts around South Carolina, especially in a couple of communities in particular that have high unemployment and poverty rates and maybe one grocery store with a limited supply of fruits and vegetables.
Hospitals are asked and expected to serve the health care needs of people regardless of their ability to pay, their insurance situation, or their citizenship status. Whether it’s a car accident, heart attack, or public health emergency, when the need arises, we look to our hospitals.
In fact, the more than 5,700 U.S. hospitals provide thousands of programs many take for granted and services that are probably never even associated with essential community resources. The wide range of benefits that hospitals provide goes well beyond free and discounted care, much of it created by under-funded government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Hospitals provide services like trauma care, neonatal intensive care, and burn units that save the lives of their sickest patients, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay. Plus they provide for needs such as ambulance services, AIDS clinics, community health facilities and immunization programs.
In 2009, America’s hospitals treated 127 million people in their emergency departments, provided care for 515 million other outpatients, performed 27 million surgeries, and delivered 4 million babies, according to the American Hospital Association.
In South Carolina, local hospitals work with their communities to determine what services and programs are needed most by residents. They provide health education, health screenings, outpatient clinics and numerous other services for the community’s well-being.
So, should a local hospital be responsible for solving food scarcity in its local community in addition to all of the other problems it currently works to mend? In truth, some have already implemented programs to help reduce the problem and others are sure to follow their lead. However, hospitals cannot do it alone, and some hospitals are simply not in a position these days to take on additional services.
Earlier this year, Truman Medical Centers President & CEO John W. Bluford III (a Columbia native) spoke to South Carolina health care leaders about some of the health initiatives that his hospital has put in place. These include a farmer’s market held on the hospital’s property. A number of other hospitals across the nation do it as well. At the same time, other hospitals are participating in CSAs (community supported agriculture) on site as a way to make farm fresh, locally grown produce and other foods more readily available.
I agree that there are opportunities to help, but I disagree with the notion that hospitals do not acknowledge their role in improving the overall health of their communities. Hospitals are doing all kinds of things to improve and maintain health, but no single hospital can address all problems. So look a little harder. If your local hospital isn’t specifically addressing food deserts, I’m confident you’ll still be able to identify many, many other ways it is addressing serious community needs.