FQHC collaboration seeks to reduce food insecurity in Wisconsin

The average rate of food insecurity from 2019 to 2021 in Wisconsin was 9.9%. Food insecurity is defined as a limited ability to acquire an adequate quantity and quality of food due to a lack of money and other resources.1 The 9.9% average translates to roughly 580,000 people subsisting on an insufficient amount and quality of food. For some Wisconsin residents, prioritizing a nutritious diet is easier thanks to the collaboration between UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin and NorthLakes Community Clinic.

Implications of food deserts and barriers to access

Individuals who live in food deserts are more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease and obesity. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a nutritious diet is imperative for physical well-being as it is linked to positive outcomes for cardiovascular disease, bone health and breast/colorectal cancer.2

Rural areas in particular – such as those serviced by NorthLakes Community Clinic – are impacted by food deserts. The 2022 Map the Meal Gap Report conducted by Feeding America found that of the top ten counties in the U.S. with the highest food insecurity rates, nine were rural.3 These areas are more susceptible to food insecurity as individuals in rural settings are more likely to experience underemployment, low wages and a lack of transportation.

Programs such as the “Farm-to-Patient” initiative by NorthLakes Community Clinic aim to lessen barriers to food security.

NorthLakes breaks down barriers

A Federally Qualified Community Health Center, NorthLakes provides services across 14 counties in Wisconsin.4 Committed to enabling members to prioritize their well-being, NorthLakes developed the Farm-to-Patient program. Through this program, patients experiencing food insecurity work with a health care team to select nutrition goals and action steps.

From May through November, participants receive two boxes of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) food shares per month free of charge. Purchased locally, the organic food shares are a result of NorthLakes’ partnership with five farmers across the upper Wisconsin region. Upon arrival for CSA pick-up, patients meet with their designated community health worker to discuss food preparation and community resources. Transportation barriers are minimized through financial assistance provided by UnitedHealthcare in the form of gas gift cards.

Trisha Houghton, Director of Population Health and Quality Improvement with UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin, commends NorthLakes’ efforts to minimize food insecurity, “NorthLakes Community Clinic truly focuses on the people they serve by removing barriers and providing quality care,” she said. “I look forward to ongoing collaboration to support their Farm-to-Patient program, patients and local communities with resources to help individuals live healthier lives.”

Commitment to improving population health

Through UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin’s relationship with NorthLakes, more than 200 patients are able to prioritize a healthy diet – increasing their probability of positive health outcomes across a variety of chronic diseases. One such patient is 59-year-old Drew. Having worked tirelessly to reverse his prediabetes, Drew said he relies on the Farm-to-Patient program to “…give me the extra vegetables and fruits I need to eat in order to avoid diabetes.” Accessing fresh produce in his area is a challenge as he lives 12 miles from the nearest grocery store. The gas gift cards provided by UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin for CSA pick-up days make it possible for Drew to continue the nutritious diet essential for his health.

“Thanks to UHC, we were able to give every person enrolled in the Farm-to-Patient program this season a gas card,” said Nate Roberts, Director of Community Support Programs at NorthLakes. “We have 16 pick-ups over the course of the season, so this is a big deal in terms of breaking down barriers so people can stay engaged.”

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