Harris Health, Houston Food Bank open new ‘Food Farmacy’ in Acres Homes

Harris Health System opened a new food farmacy at its Acres Home Health Center to help patients with food insecurity and diabetes.

Harris Health System has opened a new food farmacy location in Acres Homes to help patients dealing with food insecurity and diabetes. The 850-square-foot mini-food market is located inside Acres Home Health Center and exclusively serves Harris Health patients.

Patients with a diagnosis of diabetes are particularly dependent on what they eat to manage and control their disease. Acres Homes joins Pasadena as the only two locations to house these unique food programs — both collaborations with the Houston Food Bank.

“This effort demonstrates to patients our commitment to providing them with the best treatment and care,” says Dr. Glorimar Medina, executive vice president and administrator, Ambulatory Care Services, Harris Health. “With our collaboration with Houston Food Bank, we are providing an immediate intervention to a true patient need. We also wanted a solution that could sustain itself with an organization that shared our common goal of addressing the social determinants of health.”

Harris Health System leaders cut the ribbon to celebrate the opening of Harris Health’s second food farmacy location at Acres Home Health Center.

During a virtual dedication of the site on Sept. 30, Medina and other Harris Health leaders praised staff for completing construction of the space during the pandemic and for successfully launching the program Aug. 14.

“At a time when healthcare systems have recognized the need to address social determinants of health, community based organizations are in a prime position to provide for these social needs,” says Esther Liew, manager, Food for Change Health Partnerships, Houston Food Bank. “We are excited about the new Acres Home Health Center Food Farmacy. We’re building a model for future food bank-healthcare partnerships in Houston and beyond.”

Patients with documented food insecurity and diabetes with elevated A1C levels (three-month hemoglobin measures above 7%) qualify for the program. Each receives free food: 30 pounds of fruits and vegetables, and four healthy food items like whole-grain rice, beans or meats every two weeks. As patients walk the aisles of the food farmacy to select items, they also get a guided tour with nutrition education from a patient educator or licensed dietician.

About 60% of the 2,700 patients with diabetes at the health center have elevated A1C levels. Patients with A1C levels of 7% or more are at risk for severe nerve damage, kidney failure, loss of vision, as well as life-threatening conditions like stroke and heart disease. In the Acres Homes community, 45% of residents 18 years and older are classified as food insecure, according to Feeding America, the nonprofit organization network of food banks from across the U.S.

“We know that if we give our patients the tools — in this case foods — they need to succeed, they will,” Medina says. “We’re seeing success and they’re seeing it too. Our hope is that it will show them that they can help in the process of taking care of their health.”

Acres Home Health Center officials hope to expand the program later this year to include a kitchen area for cooking demonstrations and an exercise room. Harris Health also plans to open a new food farmacy location at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital.