University of Maryland Medical System Announces $1.2 Million Commitment To Address Food Insecurity
System and Member Organizations Working With Four Well-Respected Organizations
The University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) today announced a $1.2 million commitment to address food insecurity issues in the communities across the state which are served by the organization's 13 hospitals.
This initiative falls under the System's Corporate Social & Economic Justice workstream, which operates within the growing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion effort, and is one of several that the System will be focusing on to address social determinants of health.
UMMS member organizations have been working to address food insecurity issues in local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this aligns with those efforts on a systemwide scale. In addition to the financial commitment, members of the System's workforce of more than 29,000 individuals will also have opportunities to volunteer, such as helping pack and/or distribute food in local communities.
Prior to COVID-19, nearly 11 percent of Marylanders were food insecure, according to the organization Feed America, impacting approximately 380,000 individuals across the UMMS footprint, and the issue was exacerbated as a result of the pandemic.
While Baltimore City has the highest rate of food insecurity, residents of the Eastern Shore are also experiencing double-digit rates. For example, Dorchester County has a food insecurity rate of almost 15 percent of residents, and is where UMMS operates the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Dorchester in Cambridge, one of three UM Shore Regional Health hospitals serving the five-county Mid-Shore area.
"As anchor institutions in the communities we serve, we have a moral obligation to help people not only directly with their physical health needs, but helping them put food in their pantries and on their tables," said Mohan Suntha, MD, MBA, President and CEO of UMMS. "Being secure with food is at the heart of, and one of the driving forces behind, an individual's overall health."
UMMS is working with the Maryland Food Bank, the Capital Area Food Bank, Moveable Feast and Meals on Wheels to provide directed grants and other resources to the most vulnerable individuals in targeted areas and help those who are hungry in our communities by supplying food and prepared meals. In most cases, the grants will be an extension of work that is already occurring in local communities.
"We are working with these organizations because they are focused on feeding the hungry now and also on developing broader long-term solutions to food insecurity challenges," Dr. Suntha said. "Partnering with them will help ensure that our resources are used for the most measurable and innovative solutions possible."
In Baltimore City, the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) has partnered with Hungry Harvest for "Mobile Markets" providing fresh food strategically located in areas with food deserts; more than 2,600 bags of low-cost fresh produce have been sold. UMMC also hosts weekly Farmer's Markets in a park across the street from the hospital's downtown campus. Throughout COVID, the hospital has partnered with food companies and non-profit organizations to distribute close to 40,000 boxes of food, fresh produce and prepackaged lunches, filling an especially urgent need in the immediate wake of the pandemic, when schools shut down and food stores could not keep up with demand.
"Food deserts are a longstanding problem in many cities. Here in Baltimore, we are working in partnership with our communities to assure all citizens have access to nutritious food, which is vital to whole-person health," said Bert W. O'Malley, MD, UMMC's President and Chief Executive Officer. "This grant will significantly aid these efforts and further expand the infrastructure our medical center is helping to build to support reliable access to fresh and healthy food in all Baltimore neighborhoods."
Prior to COVID-19 in Baltimore County, more than 88,200 people (including more than 26,300 children), nearly 11 percent of the county's residents, were food insecure. The projected overall food insecurity rate for Baltimore County in 2021 is 12.5 percent of residents. During its COVID-19 response, the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center (UM SJMC) supported the Student Support Network food distribution at Parkville High School, providing 450 staff hours. The Towson hospital also purchased more than 14,000 sub sandwiches and nearly 2,700 emergency produce boxes, equaling more than 26,750 pounds of produce from Hungry Harvest, which were donated and distributed to families in need in the communities they serve.
"We are committed to advancing the health of our community and so fulfilling the needs of those experiencing food insecurity is a responsibility we take seriously," said Thomas B. Smyth, MD, SJMC's President and Chief Executive Officer. "We are here to serve our community and grateful to support all efforts to erase inequities such as food insecurity that adversely impact the health and well-being of our fellow citizens."
University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health (UM UCH) has a long history of working alongside community organizations to address food insecurity issues in Harford County. Prior to COVID-19, more than 23,000 Harford Countians - nearly one in 10 residents, were food insecure, and more than 8,500 residents, which at four percent is higher than the state average, had limited access to healthy food. In addition, Harford County is stressed with areas of food swamps, defined as having limited access to healthy foods, where only fast food, convenience stores, or corner shops with limited healthy food options are available.
During COVID-19, food insecurity issues increased by 40 percent across Harford County. As part of its response to the pandemic, UM UCH, alongside Healthy Harford, convened a Harford County Food Access Workgroup with more than 25 community organizations. Among other actions, UM UCH provided gloves to the Harford County Community Action Agency so their staff could continue distributing groceries to the public, donated $15,000 to organizations such as the HC Community Action Agency and Mason Dixon Community Services, and worked with the HCFAW to educate community members about benefits available to help maintain family stability.
"As a community partner for health and wellness, we continue to strive towards being a catalyst for positive change, and this new grant initiative is one way in which those efforts are supported," said Lyle Sheldon, President and Chief Executive Officer of UM UCH.
Prior to COVID-19, over 51,000 Anne Arundel County residents, including 14,000 children, were food insecure, according to Feeding America. During its COVID-19 response, the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center (UM BWMC) increased its efforts to support families, providing over 5,000 produce boxes, 1,800 meals and pantry items, and 500 boxed lunches to elementary school children.
"Our commitment to the health and well-being of Anne Arundel County extends beyond the medical care we provide within the walls of our hospital and outpatient facilities," said UM BWMC President and CEO Kathy McCollum. "This grant allows us to help our most vulnerable populations in a meaningful and impactful way.
On the state's Eastern Shore, University of Maryland Shore Regional Health collaborates with local organizations and food banks to collect and distribute food to families in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne's and Talbot counties. Prior to COVID-19, over 20,000 mid-shore residents were estimated to be food insecure. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, UM SRH partnered with the Maryland Food Bank Eastern Shore to help address food insecurity challenges impacting Eastern Shore Marylanders, providing approximately 15,000 nourishing meals, contributing to the overall health and well-being of the community.
"I am deeply concerned about access to food for our most vulnerable populations--children and the elderly," said Ken Kozel, President and CEO of University of Maryland Shore Regional Health. "Many studies have shown food insecurity among children has adverse health effects, including increased rates of iron-deficiency anemia, acute infection, chronic illness, and developmental and mental health problems. Among adults, food insecurity is associated with such health risks as cardiovascular risk factors and hypertension. Shore Health is happy to support the fight against hunger during this unprecedented time."
More than 66,000 Prince Georgians are food insecure, in excess of seven percent of the county's population, and more than 94,000 – higher than 10 percent of the county's residents - live in a food desert, defined as a low income area where urban residents are more than one mile away from a supermarket, or suburban residents are more than 10 miles away. The 2019 Prince George's County Community Needs Assessment identified that many residents had food access challenges related to the quality of local stores. Respondents felt that the lack of affordable and quality foods contribute to the increased rates of obesity and other chronic diseases experienced by residents in the county.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Maryland Capital Region Health (UM Capital) donated $32,000 to support the purchase of food for two local food banks, which supported the purchase of 40,000 pounds of food, serving 10,000 families. UM Capital is also a member of the Prince George's County Food Security Task Force, formed in 2020 to address issues related to the demand and supply of healthy food, food health connections, school meals, and overall food security in Prince George's County. The group is tasked with identifying challenges and opportunities and providing recommendations for creating a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system that ensures every Prince Georgian has access to nutritious, affordable, sustainably grown, safe and culturally appropriate food.
"As a community partner, we strive to improve the health of our community with a holistic approach and this initiative will support our efforts," said Nathaniel Richardson, Jr., President & CEO, UM Capital Region Health.
Quotes from partner organizations:
- Carmen Del Guercio, President and CEO of the Maryland Food Bank: "As a hunger-relief organization that serves a majority of Maryland, we see great value in working with a similar statewide entity to broaden our reach and provide access to nutritious foods in areas of high need served by UMMS facilities. We look forward to working with UMMS to improve health outcomes among vulnerable populations, and hope this will be the start of a long-term partnership that leads to more opportunities to help Marylanders improve their lives through better nutrition.
The Maryland Food Bank plans to collaborate with UMMS on approximately 240 Pantry on the Go events, which will serve an estimated 60,000 families. These mobile pantries will provide produce and other nutritious food to zip codes where the needs are greatest in and around UMMS hospital locations.
- Stephanie Archer-Smith, Executive Director, Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland: "We are thrilled that the University of Maryland Medical System chose to partner with us on addressing food insecurity among homebound aging and disabled adults. It is critically important that anchor institutions like UMMS work together with community-based organizations to address health disparities that result from inequity in our community. We look forward to working together to provide daily nutritious meals to vulnerable aging and disabled adults in support of this important work."
With the support of UMMS, Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland will provide 25,000 home-delivered meals to 100-150 additional clients in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Harford County in targeted zip codes from August 1, 2021 through July 31, 2022.
- Sue Elias, Executive Director of Moveable Feast: "Moveable Feast has been right where we needed to be during the pandemic – delivering medically-tailored meals to Marylanders experiencing food insecurity and serious illness. Over the last year and a half, we have seen a tremendous increase in the need for our services. Through this partnership, Marylanders will receive nutritious meals delivered right to their door resulting in better client health outcomes, decreased return trips to the hospital, improved food security and reduced healthcare costs."
- Radha Muthiah, President and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, said, "The extraordinary level of economic turmoil brought about by the pandemic has also caused unprecedented need for food assistance in our region. The critical support provided by UMMS is enabling us to provide more of the nutritious food that our neighbors need, and to distribute it in ways that make it easy to access. This partnership will allow hundreds of families to get the meals that help them thrive both today and into the future as our community rebuilds together."
About the University of Maryland Medical System
The University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) is a university-based regional health care system focused on serving the health care needs of Maryland, bringing innovation, discovery and research to the care we provide and educating the state's future physician and health care professionals through our partnership with the University of Maryland School of Medicine and University of Maryland, Baltimore professional schools (Nursing, Pharmacy, Social Work and Dentistry) in Baltimore. As one of the largest private employers in the State, the health system's more than 29,500 employees and 4,000 affiliated physicians provide primary and specialty care in more than 150 locations, including 13 hospitals and 9 University of Maryland Urgent Care centers. The UMMS flagship academic campus, the University of Maryland Medical Center in downtown Baltimore, is recognized regionally and nationally for excellence and innovation in specialized care. Our acute care and specialty rehabilitation hospitals serve urban, suburban and rural communities and are located in 13 counties across the State. For more information, visit www.umms.org