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National Conference Highlights SHARe Program

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Albany dietitians Suzanne Watkins and Heidi Graham recently introduced their innovative SHARe (Stop Hunger to Accelerate Recovery) program to dietitians around the nation at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE).

FNCE brings together leaders in the nutrition and dietetic industry to address key issues affecting health. More than 10,000 attendees attended to learn about food service, community nutrition and clinical topics like cancer and diabetes.

Watkins had the unique opportunity to present the SHARe program during a session about food insecurity. The program, which allows patients – who may not normally have access to nutritious food – to leave the hospital with a food box that will last seven days, is creating conversations across the country. Since her presentation, Watkins has received several follow-up questions from attendees asking about the program.

“I actually had an individual tell me that I inspired her to look at similar projects in her community,” said Watkins. “That was one of the best compliments.”

“Part of the reason it has been so successful is because of Linn-Benton Food Share, who financially supports the program, assembles and delivers the food boxes,” said Graham. “We are lucky to have this unique partnership within our community.”

With the community partnership and help from hospital staff, the duo has registered 79 patients for the SHARe program at Samaritan Albany General Hospital and helped expand the program to patients at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital.

“We work with hospital staff on how to navigate tough conversations about food security and build rapport with patients,” said Watkins. “Many individuals are embarrassed about their inability to purchase food.”

Feedback gathered from patients who have participated in the SHARe program has been overwhelmingly positive. Hospital readmission data is currently being collected and evaluated, and Watkins and Graham hope to publish their research.

“We can educate individuals about how eating affects their health, but without access to healthy food, it does no good,” said Graham. “The basic call to action from the session is that as dietitians, we should be addressing food insecurity. It is not outside of our job.”

Graham, Watkins and Nutrition Services Manager Jessica Davis all attended the conference thanks to a scholarship provided by the Albany General Hospital Foundation. Not only were they able to showcase their innovative programming, they also brought home knowledge that they immediately put to work.

“Within minutes of being on the medical/surgical floor, I had a conversation with a physician about a new nutrition practice that was applicable to her patient,” said Graham. “We hope to put our newly learned knowledge into practice, and educate others.”