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Allegheny Health Network opens Healthy Food Center in Bloomfield

| Tuesday, April 17, 2018, 1:51 p.m.
Allegheny Health Network opened its Healthy Food Center on Tuesday, April, 17, 2018, inside West Penn Hospital.
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Allegheny Health Network opened its Healthy Food Center on Tuesday, April, 17, 2018, inside West Penn Hospital.

Allegheny Health Network opened a “food pharmacy” Tuesday aimed at providing healthier plant-based foods to diabetic patients.

The Healthy Food Center, at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield, is patterned after the Geisinger Health System “Fresh Food Farmacy” initiative in Central Pennsylvania, which gives away fresh foods to diabetes patients.

“What better place to come than a hospital for food,” said Ronald Andro, president and CEO of West Penn. “Nutrition is a major component of health.”

To open the center, AHN partnered with the Catholic Community of Bloomfield Food Pantry in sharing 1,200 square feet of space in the lower level of West Penn School of Nursing.

AHN is piloting the program among its patients with diabetes. Those patients are screened to determine if they don't have money to buy food such as vegetables, fruit and proteins.

If patients fall into this category, they are referred to a dietitian at the Healthy Food Center.

After shopping at the center for recommended food items, such as lean proteins, whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables, they go home with food for two to three days for the entire family.

In July, the Geisinger Health System launched its fresh food pharmacy for patients in Shamokin, Northumberland County where 20 percent of the residents live below the poverty line. Geisinger officials have said they have seen improvements in patients fairly quickly.

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which is providing food to the center, said one in seven adults in the region lack financial resources to buy food.

Patients can come to the center for free food once every 30 days for six months. They also receive access to nutrition and educational resources. If they still need the center for food, they can ask their doctor for a new, six-month prescription to the center.

The Healthy Food Center is also partnering with East End Cooperative Ministry to provide additional case management for patients.

“Just like having your blood pressure, or pulse taken, people will be screened for food insecurity,” said Dr. Paul Lebovitz, vice chair of the AHN Medicine Institute.

West Penn was chosen for the initial Healthy Food Center because it was a convenient location for people to get healthy food, despite having food stores within walking distance of the hospital, said Dr. Sameera Rahman, medical director Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“When you serve inner-city communities, you see the challenges,” she said. “This can help improve clinical outcomes.''

The Healthy Food Center has a flat entrance, something that should greatly benefit many of its volunteers who are past retirement age, said Christina Howell, executive director of the Bloomfield Development Corp., which has its office in the building.

“The center means people are getting more services in one space,” she said.

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