Sentara CarePlex in Hampton introduces ‘Food Pharmacy’ program

HAMPTON, Va. - On September 16, Larry Beck was rushed to the hospital, exhausted and his saturation levels dangerously low.

"I was shocked. I thought, 'Oh my God, here it goes... this is the end," Beck said.

Beck had been rapidly gaining weight -- he'd gained 28 pounds in just two weeks.

"Once I was in the hospital, they ran a bunch of tests and said I was in congestive heart failure. I thought, 'This can't be,'" Beck explained.

Luckily for Beck, Sentara CarePlex in Hampton had just rolled out a new pilot program for high-risk heart patients called the Food Pharmacy.

"We knew that patients recently diagnosed with congestive heart failure like Larry could see dramatic health improvements with the right nutritional diet," said  Dr. Anthony Fischer, medical coordinator of the program. "Many of the challenges facing these patients are often social determinants such as access to healthy food, food cost and a lack of nutritional education."

Once a week for four weeks, qualifying patients over the age of 50 attend weekly workshops at the hospital. The workshops include meeting with a dietitian to develop a low-sodium diet plan and a social worker to help identify any barriers or social determinants that could interfere with their success, such as transportation or inability to cook.

"It's educating those patients to eat this, not that, and giving them the tools to move forward to progress along on that low-sodium diet. Salt is often overlooked," said Fischer.

During each workshop, patients are given a food box with enough healthy food to last them and one other person for one week. Patients also receive nutritional education to help them read labels and understand portion sizes.

"The classes have been wonderful, the foods are fresh, and it's a life saver -- you get to take the food home and cook healthy meals," said Beck.

Each workshop includes a chef demonstration on how to cook those simple, healthy meals. The food the patients receive is from the Food Bank of the Peninsula. The box is loaded with low-sodium foods.

Funding for this program stems from a $5.5 million donation made by Sentara Healthcare to four non-profit organizations supporting Virginia’s safety net organizations. The Virginia Federation of Food Banks received $1 million, with a portion of that going the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank to support food distribution programs.

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Sentara Healthcare hopes to share the success of this program with its 11 other hospitals across Virginia and North Carolina to improve the overall health of the communities it serves.

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