— Sometimes Eunice Andrews tries to imagine what her life
would be like had she known about the importance of healthy
eating sooner. Would she still have the use of both her legs?
Would she still need medication to control her diabetes and
high blood pressure?
get depressed just thinking about it," she said recently.
she realizes things might be worse if it weren’t for the
nutritious meals she gets every other day from Open Hand, a
local non-profit that delivers medically-tailored meals to
metro Atlanta’s chronically ill.
is among hundreds of thousands of chronically ill residents
here and across the country driving the growing demand for the
to data released early this month by a national coalition of
nonprofit food and nutrition service agencies, the surge —
nearly 50 percent in the last few years — at a time when
more healthcare providers and doctors are starting to see the
benefits food and nutrition in managing critical illnesses but
at the same time are challenged with exactly how to provide
that service to their patients.
nutrition is fundamental to preventing and treating chronic
diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular
disease," said Dr. Shealynn Buck, medical director of the
DeKalb Medical Wellness Center. "Food really is
the surge in demand across the country, funding for
home-delivered medically tailored meal services is still
largely dependent on private donations.
benefits of medically tailored meals are clear, but the
challenge right now is to better integrate these types of
programs into the overall healthcare system," said Matt
Pieper, executive director of Open Hand. "Too often
patients battling a host of serious illnesses, such as cancer,
heart disease and renal failure, are without access to any
type of meals programs once they leave the hospital."
demand for medically-tailored meals, he said, has jumped 20
percent in Atlanta area in the past three years.
year, we were producing about 4,300 meals a day," Pieper
said. "We’re currently up to 4,800 meals and by
midyear, we project we’ll be preparing as many 5,300."
in 1988, when the HIV-AIDS epidemic was raging, Open Hand has
long recognized the important role nutrition plays in keeping
years of feeding those caught in Atlanta’s HIV-AIDS epidemic
from the basement of St. Bartholomew, Pieper said the agency
expanded its efforts to include seniors and others with
chronic health conditions.
was a time when diabetes was exploding across the country and
the state," he said. "Seniors living below poverty
level were going blind, their organs compromised."
said the agency set out not only to elevate the nutritional
standards but to help people understand the connection between
healthy food and good health. It launched a nutrition
education and counseling program and hired a registered
dietitian, who helped design the program and ensure menus
either met or exceeded standards set by the American Diabetes
Association, American Heart Association and the Academy of
Nutrition and Dietetics.
the need, Open Hand launched Good Measure Meals, expanding
access to healthy gourmet meals to the paying public and
diverting 100 percent of the proceeds directly to supporting
the non-profits’ charitable mission.
philanthropic fundraising, the revenue we generate from Good
Measure Meals as well as contracts that we have with
community-based and government agencies, we have become one of
the largest community-based nutrition agencies in the
country," Pieper said. "We’ve been growing as the
community’s needs have grown."
is to produce meals that have balanced macro-nutrients,
meaning the optimal ratio of health-promoting carbohydrates,
protein, and fat — the three energy sources that our bodies
need to survive. Nearly all of the meals are made in-house in
order to limit preservatives that typically increase sodium
and sugar content in the foods we eat.
hours and hours and years of work, we’ve developed a variety
of menu plans that meet the needs of a multitude of
people," Pieper said.
addition to providing healthy meals, dietitians facilitate
fun, interactive community workshops about the importance of
healthy food and help clients establish attainable goals like
weight loss or remaining independent.
disease is the leading cause of death in this country, and if
we don’t make effort to improve nutritional standards, we’re
only contributing to our healthcare challenges," Pieper
year, in an effort to achieve better outcomes for their
patients, Open Hand began offering healthy meals and nutrition
therapy and counseling to clinic partners such as AID Atlanta,
DeKalb Medical and Emory Midtown.
a 66-year-old amputee, was a patient at DeKalb Medical when
she found out about Open Hand.
recent Wednesday, volunteers delivered a breakfast of chicken
sausage with banana bread and a pear and baked chicken breast
with spinach and pumpkin custard for dinner.
are always very wholesome meals," Andrews said. "I
enjoy them plus they help a lot because 90 percent of the
meals are exactly what I need. I don’t know what I would do
if it weren’t for Open Hands."
addition to the meals, Andrews receives nutrition counseling
so that on the days the meals aren’t delivered she can still
create healthy meals and cook them with the help of an aide
who comes to her home.
strays sometimes, she admits, so she still has to take
blood pressure is excellent but my diabetes is another
subject," she said. "When I eat just what they send,
my sugar is fine."
offering a medically-tailored meal program, Buck said that
hospitals are bridging the gap between when the patients is
discharged from the hospital and returns homes.
of chronic-disease patients having to figure out how to get
the meals, we’re partnering with Open Hand to connect the
dots for them," she said.