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"Food Rx" Pairs Good Health, Good Nutrition

PHOTO: "Food prescription" in hand, the Food Rx pilot project helps Oregon Health Plan enrollees improve their diets by offering a $15 voucher to purchase healthy foods. At some locations, a grocery trolley is parked right at their medical clinic. Photo courtesy CareOregon.
PHOTO: "Food prescription" in hand, the Food Rx pilot project helps Oregon Health Plan enrollees improve their diets by offering a $15 voucher to purchase healthy foods. At some locations, a grocery trolley is parked right at their medical clinic. Photo courtesy CareOregon.
May 30, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. – It isn't every day that you find a trolley car sitting in the parking lot of a doctor's office, but that's been the case in some Portland neighborhoods in May. The trolley is decked out as a miniature grocery store.

The trolley visits are happening during a CareOregon pilot project, "Food Rx," to encourage more people on tight budgets to make healthy food choices. Their doctor appointment includes a $15 food prescription, a voucher that can be used right outside to buy food at the trolley, called My Street Grocery.

Tom Wunderlich, public policy manager at CareOregon, says the response so far has been encouraging – and has even prompted a few tears of gratitude.

"It's kind of a breakthrough for a lot of people,” Wunderlich says. “You know, they've gotten advice or education on nutrition and that kind of thing before, but having their doctor right there – having it be right at the clinic – really helps underscore the importance of it, and what it means for them."

He describes Food Rx as a conversation-starter between health professionals and their patients about good nutrition. It is a six-week pilot project, after which CareOregon will analyze the results and decide how best to continue or expand it.

For nurse practitioner Rachael Postman, it's been a fun addition to patient visits and a new angle to discuss chronic conditions like diabetes.

She says most people don't think twice about running to the grocery store, but for many people on low or fixed incomes, mobility is a struggle, and it isn't always a medical issue that limits their access to healthy food options.

"A lot of our folks don't have cars, you know,” she explains. “A lot of them are either working multiple jobs to get by; a lot of them are single moms with several kids. And so, it can be really hard to physically get to the grocery store."

Postman's Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) Family Medicine clinic in the Richmond neighborhood also has invited farmers to sell produce in its parking lot, but she says the trolley is a convenient way to offer more types of food.

The trolley visits are not specifically part of Food Rx, and will continue after the pilot project has concluded.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR