Gilead Sciences generously awarded three members of the California Food is Medicine Coaltion (CalFIMC) a multi-year grant to provide a medical nutrition intervention to high risk HIV positive individuals who are 50 years of age or older. Member organizations that are a part of this grant include Project Open Hand, Project Angel Food, and Mama's Kitchen. Using the collective experiences of all three organizations, 2019 was spent planning and developing a shared model and intervention across three counties that would best serve the population being targeted. This included more time and counseling with a Registered Dietitian, referrals to other community resources, and of course, 12 weeks of medically tailored meals. The program was officially launched in November 2019. Unfortunately, months into the launch, COVID-19 caused major disruptions in outreach, engagement, and referral efforts. After a few months of constant changes during the pandemic, the program is starting back up.
Very early results show that this intervention has had a positive effect on the clients. 90 percent of clients reported that they maintained or improved their adherence to medication as a result of participating in the program. Additionally, older adults tend to experience increased social isolation and compounded with COVID-19, the impact could be greater for those individuals. For clients on the program, 60 percent experienced decreased social isolation. Some have attributed this to their time spent communicating with a registered dietitian and the friendly delivery drivers that stop by once a week.
“Mentally and physically, the intervention brought me back to life. The dietitian taught me how to eat properly with the right portions because I could only afford Top Ramen and fast foods,” Project Open Hand client Toni said. “I had a better adherence to my medication, and I feel like I have more energy. Also, having a delivery driver come by helped when I was isolated at home – he was nice and just having that social interaction meant a lot to me.”
Another aspect of the grant includes looking at other potential sources of funding beyond the traditional Ryan White funding source. CalFIMC has been actively engaged in legislative efforts, including an exciting demonstration project called the The Medically Tailored Home-Delivered Meal Demonstration Pilot Act of 2020 (H.R.6774). This bill would establish a Medicare pilot program to address the critical link between diet, chronic illness, and the health of older adults. This proposal will ensure that medically vulnerable seniors get access to a lifesaving medically tailored meals in their home, while providing the outcomes data we need to build a more resilient and cost-effective health care system.
“It’s exciting and unprecedented legislation at the federal level, and has great potential to elevate the importance of MTMs, to benefit thousands of vulnerable people throughout the country,” said Director of CalFIMC Ann Thrupp
Gilead has been a great partner during this time and proactively reached out to all of their grantees with the understanding that while programming may be impacted as a result of this unprecedented pandemic, grants would not change. They also were aware of other financial losses and impacts on their grantees and awarded each of the CalFIMC members additional funding to support each organization through this transition.
"Gilead has been a tremendous supporter of Project Open Hand and CalFIMC and our efforts to deliver food as medicine. Not only does this program provide a medical nutrition intervention for high-risk individuals that are HIV positive and age 50 and over, but it also helps relieve the emotional toll of social isolation especially during the times of COVID when many are forced to stay indoors,” Project Open Hand CEO Paul Hepfer said.
Project Open Hand and our CalFIMC partners have helped the HIV/AIDS population for so many years. As this population ages, many are now dealing with additional health issues such as diabetes and heart disease. So, it’s important that we continue to service this population with nutrition that will help them maintain their good health while dealing with multiple, underlying health conditions.”