BUCKHANNON – What if, instead of only writing prescriptions for medicines to treat diseases, doctors and physicians’ assistants also wrote them for fresh fruits and vegetables – i.e. food that would help people manage their conditions through diet?
That’s the idea behind the FARMacy pilot program, which launched in July with 13 participants.
Physician Assistant Jenna Ward brought forward the idea to start the program in Rock Cave after a friend of hers started it in Wheeling.
“The FARMacy Program is a program that was designed to meet multiple needs of patients in rural areas,” Ward said. “It started with a Health Right group, which was run by a colleague of mine, Amanda Cummins, and she found that there was a really strong correlation between patients with major health issues like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and poor health literacy, as far as how to manage their chronic health conditions and food.
“She realized if we made a connection between teaching people how to access fresh produce and how to utilize it, it would positively impact your health conditions.”
Ward writes a prescription for the 13 participants of the program for $20 worth of fresh produce each week, and every Tuesday, Green Acres Farm sets up a stand of produce at Community Care.
“The other thing that they identified was food insecurity as a major issue for our patients’ health out here, in our rural community,” Ward said. “We have one grocery store, but even some patients can’t make it that far regularly to get food, so we’re trying to make it just a little bit more available to them. We’re doing that by utilizing the growers at Green Acres Farm just up the road so we’re also helping local agriculture.”
So far, all the participants are patients of Community Care and to qualify, patients had to have an A1C over 7.5 or have a high insulin load to control their diabetes.
“This initial pilot phase will last 12 weeks, but we hope to become much larger than that and be able to serve any number of patients that have chronic health conditions in general,” Ward said. “The main focus is diabetes because we’re able to really closely link the two things together, food and blood sugars. The other things that are impacted are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. So, I’d love to see all those improve as well and hopefully to extend out to more people on in the future.”
The program is also partnered with Becky Kniley with the WVU extension office to help teach patients how to properly prepare and cook the fresh produce and offer new recipes and ideas.
“They’ll also learn about how to make a grocery list to prepare for meals, ways to make food last longer, just skills that will help them overall,” Ward said. “That’s really the focus, the $20 of produce is nice, but learning what to do with this is the important thing.”
Ward said the program will be considered successful if it reaches two goals. The first is to see what participants have learned during the program and the other is measuring their A1Cs.
“Part of determining whether it is successful is subjective because part of it is really based on how much knowledge the patients feel like they’ve gained as a result of the education and the various pieces of literature that they’re being provided and that is success in itself,” Ward said.
“The other piece will be specifically measuring their A1Cs, so we’re checking their A1Cs at the beginning of the program, and they’re typically seven and a half to eight or higher. We would like to see a decrease of something like half a percentage point; that would just be phenomenal and we hope to continue to see more improved blood sugars.”