Thursday, December 8, 2011

I Thought About Titling This Post "Healthcare with a Heart", But I Am Not Cheesy So I Won't

From the Unity HealthCare website
Just today, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released the results of a physician's survey that showed doctors believe patients' social needs to be as important as their physical ones. Nine out of ten physicians of low-income patients in particular, believe that procuring healthy food, safe housing and adequate transportation have a strong effect on good health. The survey notes, however, that most doctors and healthcare centers do not have the time or the funds to help support these social needs. Short staffed already, they often cannot provide the wrap-around services essential to good health.

Unity Healthcare, here in Washington, DC, sees these gaps and works to address them. Started in 1985 to address the health needs of homeless individuals and those in emergency shelters, Unity has grown to encompass 29 health care centers and a mobile van that serve uninsured and underserved populations of Washington, DC. Many of their clients are recent immigrants. Almost all of their patients would encounter difficulties receiving medical services without them.

Unity also happens to be the first organization I began my classes with just over a year ago. Several of their clinics received resources through the NIH program We Can!  This is a program that aims to give parents, caregivers and children the abilities and knowledge to combat obesity. At Unity, this translates into a once a week clinic where families come in, meet with a doctor to talk about their health and nutritional habits, listen to programming on good nutrition, participate in an exercise program (everything from yoga to Zumba! to belly dancing) and, this is where I come in, learn how to make easy, affordable and healthy family meals.

The participants in the classes I have taught are fabulous. They already love to cook and, for the most part, are willing to sample whatever we make. Clients regularly come in and report dishes and cooking changes they've made at home as well. As a bonus, they allow me to practice my Spanish (which is fairly terrible...the other night I might have mentioned cooking my grandmother by mistake) without ridicule. The cooking classes are approached more as a discussion than a "me telling them" sort of thing meaning that I have learned so much as well. (Including a lot of Spanish translations you won't find in any dictionary!) We discuss how each recipe could be changed and adapted to retain nutritional quality, but still meet budgetary needs and culinary tastes. Because the entire family is in the class, it is also extremely beneficial for parents to see that their children will indeed eat spinach or whole wheat pasta or squash without complaining.

In the future, we are hoping to expand the classes to help participants have more access to a greater variety of fresh, nutritious foods. The Unity We Can! Clinic hopes to partner with Wholesome Wave and work with our classes to utilize their Fruit and Veggie Rx program. Providing more of the ingredients for the dishes we sample that clients can take home with them is another goal. And no matter, the wonderful doctors and nurses at Unity will continue to support participants in making small, steady changes. (In actuality, I frequently have the doctors and nurses tell me they're going to try some of the recipes, too!)

Good health encompasses so many things. I love working with an organization like Unity that recognizes a pill or a surgery isn't always the answer and that patients sometimes need more than a physical to make lifestyle changes.

What are healthcare organizations in your area doing to promote more comprehensive good health amongst patients?

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