Food plays a powerful role in a patient’s ability to heal both in the hospital and out. But many seniors—especially those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or congestive heart failure—are discharged once their health stabilizes without consistent and reliable access to healthful meals at home.
“Too often, at-risk seniors rely on fast food or other unhealthy options once they leave the hospital,” says Tom Thaman, director of food and nutrition at Eskenazi Health, in Indianapolis. “Many of these individuals come from low-income households with limited access to transportation to get to and from a grocery store.”
Poor nutrition can lead to further complications, especially for those with heart conditions. This results in a higher rate of readmission.
Turning the tables on this trend, Eskenazi Health announced an important pilot program aimed at reducing hospital readmission rates among Central Indiana at-risk seniors. Eskenazi partnered with Meals On Wheels (MOW) and together the two will provide three square meals a day to at-risk seniors once they are discharged from the hospital. Dubbed Head Start Nutrition Program for Seniors, the program is made possible by a one-year $25,000 grant from the Central Indiana Senior Fund.
“We want to study whether or not reliable nutrition helps to reduce the rate of readmissions,” says Thaman, who has been with Eskenazi for over a decade. “We will encourage at-risk patients to participate so that they have access to the support they need to continue to improve their health at home.”
Currently, hospital readmission rates are about 22 percent. Eskenazi and MOW officials hope this intervention could reduce that to as low as 8 percent.
“Not only will the program provide seniors with meals but it will assure they follow any physician-devised nutritional requirements by tailoring the meals to the dietary needs of each patient,” Thaman says.
The study will last for six months and include roughly 60 patients.
“We already have a very strong relationship with MOW,” says Thaman, who also sits on the organization’s board of directors, and notes that currently Eskenazi provides 20 percent of the meals the organization distributes. “This will expand on that partnership. We will prepare and package all of the food and they will deliver it to our patients.”
With the infrastructure mostly established between the two groups, Thaman is hoping for a seamless launch and an immediate impact.
“We are planning to keep the sample group small enough to monitor accurately, but large enough to get a better understanding of the effect nutrition has on discharged patients when they live independently,” he says. “We’re hoping that after six months, we have enough results to obtain additional funding and continue the program.”
As the senior population continues to age, this partnership could become a model for hospitals nationwide.
Another important benefit: Reduced readmission rates also helps hospitals with meeting Affordable Care Act requirements.