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Oncology Dietitians Tackle Food Insecurity

By Ian Rollins

Food insecurity, or limited access to food, is an issue for 13 percent of Oregonians, including individuals in the Samaritan service area. People undergoing treatment for cancer may experience a lot of stress, and if food insecurity is an issue for them, the situation is intensified. 

“These patients are exhausted from multiple treatments and may have a difficult time getting the food they need for themselves and their families,” said Athena Nofziger, a dietitian with Samaritan Hematology & Oncology Consultants. 

Nofziger and fellow dietitian Abigail Galbraith have initiated a screening process to improve patient care. In collaboration with Oregon Food Bank, the clinic staff have begun screening every patient to determine if they qualify as food-insecure.

The screening questionnaire asks whether the patient ever ran out of food, or was afraid of running out of food, during the past 12 months.

“Out of 688 patients screened, about 13% of oncology patients qualified as food-insecure,” Nofziger said. This aligns with the state and regional food insecurity rates. 

“When we identify a patient as food-insecure, we connect them with social workers, local food banks and gleaners, and other resources in the community,” Nofziger said.

In addition, Nofziger is developing a food-pantry initiative at Samaritan’s infusion centers in Albany and Lebanon. She has received funding from the Lebanon Community Hospital Foundation and Albany General Hospital Foundation to buy non-perishable food items for food-insecure cancer patients in these communities.

She puts together bags of non-perishable food for each patient. Each bag has a value of about $17.50 and her goal is for each bag to last three days.

“I have a list of food items that are easy to prepare and store,” she said. “Some of the items l will buy are applesauce, chili, canned peaches, oats, granola and canned vegetables.”

Nofziger has been invited to give a presentation on this program in May at the HealthInsight Annual Quality Conference in Salem. She will be one of several presenters vying for a $1,000 grant, which she would use to buy more food if her program is chosen.

“My ideal dream is to have a small pantry at Albany and Lebanon for patients with limited access to food who are too tired or too ill to acquire food,” she said.

Visit Samaritan Hematology & Oncology Consultants.