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Protein Program Helps Vulnerable Patients Heal

By Tricia Schug

A nutritious diet full of protein aids the body’s ability to fully recover after hospitalization. However, for those who are already malnourished and who lack adequate access to healthy foods, the path toward healing is a much steeper climb.

To help, Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital has started a new program called Protein Prescription. With this “prescription,” patients who meet the criteria receive six weeks’ worth of high protein foods to help them heal.

“We know that when an individual is malnourished, they have a much greater risk for infections and a higher risk of death. Data also shows that after a hospital stay, they typically return with even more problems than before,” said Alesha Orton, registered dietitian at SPCH. “We want to help prevent that in our most vulnerable citizens, those who are both malnourished and food insecure.”

On average, the hospital sees one person a week who is both food insecure and malnourished, according to national criteria. These individuals could be living on the streets or may have very limited incomes and are unable to purchase quality foods.

“These are people who, if they had to rely on the food pantry for protein it would be inconsistent,” said Orton, “Also, if they are having to go home from the hospital and try to also find meals, there is just no chance for a full recovery. This program gives them a leg-up on healing.”

Since the program started in November, the hospital has helped 26 participants with 90 grams per day of high-protein items such as eggs, cheese, beans, lentils, soups and tuna. The items are different depending on whether the individual has cooking facilities. Additionally, participants receive several weeks’ worth of a meal supplement beverage.

The program came about because hospital staff felt discouraged about sending people home from the hospital to vulnerable situations.

“It’s really hard to discharge people back to the streets. All of us hate that, especially if we know they don’t have food,” Orton said. “Our discharge planners at the hospital work to get people connected to food stamps or Meals on Wheels, but it’s often not enough. Because of cuts to the federal food stamp program in recent years, many people run out of food stamps mid-way through the month.”

To start the Protein Prescription program at the hospital, it took more than just a desire to help. Costs for the program, which are approximately $150 per person, had to come from somewhere, and the issue of food storage and distribution had to be worked out, too.

The Pacific Communities Health District Foundation stepped in to help with the financial piece, by securing an Elder Services Innovation Grant from the Oregon Office of Rural Health, and by leveraging contributions from hospital employees made through Samaritan’s Employee Caring Campaign.

“The main hold-up in getting started was how to store the food since our hospital kitchen is not big enough for that,” Orton said.

Hospital staff reached out to JC Market Thriftway in Newport for help. Owners Lyle and Diane Mattson agreed to not only store the food for the program at their facility, but to also purchase specific foods for the program at their cost. It was just the boost staff needed.

“We could not have done it without them,” Orton said. “I am so appreciative of the Mattsons. When they agreed to help us, the program just came together.”

While data is not yet available to determine the success of the program, Orton said she is receiving positive feedback, especially from participants.

“Patients are so grateful. When I tell them about the program, I can just see the relief come over them. It is really touching,” Orton said. “Though it feeds people for only a short time, it gives patients enough time to recover — and they don’t have to go home to nothing.”

Interested in building a healthier community in Newport?  Learn how you can get involved through Samaritan Foundations.