Community Health Programs has received $350,000 from MassHealth, via the Berkshire Fallon Health Collaborative (BFHC), to expand a successful nutrition program focused on patients with diabetes and those at risk of the disease.

This award more than doubles the 2020 program funding and includes the purchase of CSA farm shares for eligible participants.

What do the funds provide? 

The funds provide nutrition support and education for pregnant women and postpartum individuals with infants up to age one who have limited access to nutrition education and healthy foods.

Who can take advantage of the program? 

Administered by CHP’s Family Services team, the Flexible Service Program is open to patients covered by BFHC, the MassHealth Affordable Care Organization in the Berkshires.

What does diabetes look like in the Berkshires? Is diabetes a serious issue in our county? 

Diabetes is a community priority in Berkshire County. The CHP health care network counts more than 1,800 of its patients, aged 18-75, living with the condition. Overall, the Berkshire region’s death rate from diabetes, 18.7 per 100,000, well exceeding the statewide average of 14.9.

“Diabetes is a serious public health issue around the U.S. and here in the Berkshires as well, and it’s a dangerous underlying condition for people with COVID-19,” said Ashli Minor, lead nutritionist and program coordinator for CHP. “But regardless of COVID-19, diabetes has far-reaching impacts on health and community well-being.”

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What is being done to reduce the above numbers? 

The diabetes management program supports BFHC members by providing healthy, fresh foods not typically available through SNAP, WIC or other benefit programs. The program also helps clients build skills to incorporate these new foods into their home cooking routines in realistic and sustainable ways.

The 2021 program builds on the success of its 2020 pilot program, in which BFHC saw an 80% increase in the number of members who reported reduced food insecurity challenges. This program includes:

  • Nutrition counseling, including educational YouTube cooking videos and weekly check-ins with the CHP nutrition team.
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm shares through Berkshire Grown.
  • Vouchers for formula and food packages to support infant nutrition.
  • Access to the CHP Food pantry.
  • Transportation and screening supports.

In 2020, in the midst of COVID-19 crisis, CHP distributed 30,000 total food bags (up from 15,000 in 2019), including 708 Flexible Services food bags. In 2021, CHP anticipates a 40% increase in this service growth due to COVID-19, and projects 42,000 food bags will be distributed, of which 6.1 percent will benefit nutrition program participants.

How often are the funds distributed? 

These program funds are disbursed annually by MassHealth and are directed towards evidence-based approaches that address a plan member’s health-related social needs with the goal of improving health outcomes and reducing the total cost of health care for the member. This is the second year in a row the plan has received funding. For the initial investment, CHP oversaw the $150,000 allocation for program resources.

The pilot program, during 2020, served 72 participants and provided additional COVID-19 related services to 102 individuals. This year, the program is expected to serve 130 participants; COVID-19 related assistance will support an additional 200 individuals.

Comments from the Experts

“We are so pleased that MassHealth is putting funding behind diabetes management prevention by addressing lifestyle and nutrition education,” said Lia Spiliotes, CEO of CHP. “This program improves individual and community health, reduces health care costs and improves the lives of people at risk of a preventable disease.”

“Fallon Health recognizes it is challenging for members to meet their wellness goals when they are experiencing food insecurity and other social issues that impact their health," said Linda Weinreb, M.D., Medical Director of Medicaid programs and ACOs for Fallon Health. "We are encouraged by the positive impacts this program is already having on members, and are pleased to have the chance to continue working to address social issues that impact health.”

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