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FRANKLIN COUNTY (AUG. 13, 2019) —  Employees from WellSpan Summit Health traded in their scrubs and white coats for jeans, T-shirts and boots. In a series of gleaning events, they went from the exam room to the farm to help patients with little access to fresh vegetables get the nutrition they need.

“Everyone is pumped about this project,” said Tammy Seville, human resources director for WellSpan Summit Physician Services. “I’m really proud of everyone who is participating. I think it gives them a feeling that we’re part of the bigger picture. We’re not just caring for the community in the exam room, but outside of it, too.”

Groups of 20 volunteers have gone out into the fields, each time gathering about 1,500 pounds of sweet corn. The harvested corn is part of The Gleaning Project, an initiative of the South-Central Community Action Program. The project reduces food loss on local farms while increasing access to nutritious food for those who need it.

“Employees are making it a family event and the kids take it very seriously. They understand that the food they are getting is going to help people; it is amazing,” said Seville.

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The Veggie Prescription

Dr. Ryan DeCort volunteered two evenings after work gleaning sweet corn with knowledge of how important proper nutrition is for his patients.

“A balanced diet with the proper amount of fresh fruits and vegetables can help reduce a person’s risk for diabetes, heart disease and a number of other serious health conditions,” said Dr. DeCort, of WellSpan Internal Medicine. “Unfortunately, we do see some patients that need help in accessing the right food to promote health and wellness.”

A Community Health Needs Assessment released in June indicated eight percent of people in Franklin County are living in poverty.  The report shows 32% have experienced at least one economic hardship in the last year. And 17% have experienced stress related to worries about food, shelter, health care and transportation.

Given those facts, WellSpan Health in Franklin County started asking patients about their access to fresh produce during office visits. If a patient does not have proper access to fresh food, coordinators write a “prescription” for vegetables. Patients then can use it to get free produce from The Gleaning Project. 

WellSpan Summit Physician Services’ community health workers are also delivering the produce to some patients. And volunteers are supporting the SCCAP food stand a few weekends this summer.

“It is rewarding as a provider to not just tell patients they need to eat more fruits and vegetables, but be able to go out into the field and pick it for them,” said Dr. DeCort. “This is a wonderful example of the great things we can do for our patients outside of the clinical setting.”

The SCCAP Partnership

WellSpan Summit Physician Services understands that health does not just happen in the exam room. Making sure patients get the right amount of care, at the right time, in the right setting is also important.

Niki Hinckle, WellSpan Summit Physician Services VP, said without the right food and nutrition, providers work often falls short.

As Franklin County is a robust agricultural area, generous farmers allow SCCAP and volunteers to pick unused or unneeded crops. WellSpan providers and staff help the harvesting efforts, sometimes on short notice to ensure food is as fresh as possible.

“Our partnership with SCCAP is one of our first steps in starting to better understand how we must work closely with community agencies, using the expertise and resources of each organization to come together to provide some of our most vulnerable residents with a safety net for their care and support,” said Hinckle.

More Information: 

For the last few years, The Gleaning Project has been a recipient of grant money from the Summit Endowment.  For more information about the Summit Endowment, visit https://www.summithealth.org/summit-locations/summit-endowment

To learn more about SCCAP and the Gleaning Project, visit https://thegleaningproject.org/

To learn more about Healthy Franklin County, visit www.healthyfranklincounty.org/

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