COVID-19 has affected the health of our communities in many ways – including increased food insecurity, according to Coastal Healthcare Alliance, in a news release.
Coastal Healthcare Alliance (CHA), which includes Pen Bay Medical Center, Waldo County General Hospital, physician practices, Quarry Hill, Knox Center and Penobscot Shores, has responded with a $50,000 gift to help with the extra demand local food pantries are seeing due to social distancing policies and the economic fallout from a wave of layoffs.
“By forcing school closings and layoffs, COVID-19 has increased the chances that families and individuals will not have access to the food they need to live healthy lives,” said Rachael McCormick, director of community health improvement for PBMC and WCGH. “The goal with this gift is to make food more accessible by helping food pantries expand their hours, acquire more food or increase their outreach efforts.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as having limited or uncertain access to adequate food. Experts consider it a primary social determinate of a community’s health, especially when people facing hunger are forced to choose between spending money on food and medicine or medical care. Numerous studies have shown associations between food insecurity and adverse health and educational outcomes among children, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Nationally, the rate of food insecurity was at 11.1 percent in 2019, according to the USDA. In Maine, 13.6 percent of households were food insecure in 2019. COVID-19 has made the situation worse.
One example frequently discussed in the news involves young students who received free meals at school. Often, these were the only nutritious meal they would eat all day. When COVID-19 forced schools to close, school districts scrambled to find ways to continue delivering food to the students at home.
This is a critical effort, said Susan Dupler, RN, of Belfast Public Health Nursing Association.
“Picture a child not knowing if they are going to eat breakfast or lunch or dinner,” Dupler said. “Food insecurity can lead to high stress and low energy, and this can affect the brain’s ability to learn.”
The other glaring example of COVID-19’s impact on food insecurity is the dramatic increase in unemployment as businesses shutdown under state orders. Before COVID-19, Maine boasted a historically low unemployment rate of 3.1 percent. Today, the state’s unemployment rate hovers around 9.3 percent.
“I go to the soup kitchen daily to help distribute food to individuals in need,” Dupler said. “I continue to have more and more people asking for food.”
In Knox County, grant recipients include: Bread for the Journey Food Pantry, Camden Food Pantry, Come Spring Food Pantry, Friendship/Cushing Food Pantry, Knox County Homeless Coalition, Rockland Salvation Army, St. Bernard Catholic Parish Soup Kitchen, Thomaston Food Pantry, Waldoboro Food Pantry and Washington Food Pantry.
In Waldo County, the CHA gift was boosted by a $20,000 donation from the Belfast Rotary Club. Recipients included: The Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine, Belfast Soup Kitchen, Little River Baptist Church, Greater Belfast Area Ministerial Food Cupboard, No Greater Love Food Pantry, Searsport Congo/Methodist Food Cupboard, Northport Food Pantry and Jackson Food Pantry.
“The importance of food insecurity to our community is evident by the number of agencies coming to the table to address it,” said McCormick. “It certainly is part of our mission at PBMC and WCGH. We say that our goal is to make our communities the healthiest in America. We do that, in part, by addressing the social determinates of health such as food insecurity. We’d rather keep people healthy than treat them when they’re ill.”
About Pen Bay Medical Center
Pen Bay Medical Center is part of MaineHealth, a not-for-profit integrated health system consisting of eight local hospital systems, a comprehensive behavioral healthcare network, diagnostic services, home health agencies, and more than 1,600 employed and independent physicians working together through an Accountable Care Organization. With more than 19,000 employees, MaineHealth is the largest health system in northern New England and provides preventive care, diagnosis and treatment to 1.1 million residents in Maine and New Hampshire. For more information, please visit pbmc.org.
Waldo County General Hospital
Waldo County General Hospital is part of MaineHealth, a not-for-profit integrated health system consisting of eight local hospital systems, a comprehensive behavioral healthcare network, diagnostic services, home health agencies, and more than 1,600 employed and independent physicians working together through an Accountable Care Organization. With more than 19,000 employees, MaineHealth is the largest health system in northern New England and provides preventive care, diagnosis and treatment to 1.1 million residents in Maine and New Hampshire. For more information, please visit wcgh.org.