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Project Open Hand to lead CA meals effort

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Project Open Hand CEO Mark Ryle. Photo: Jane Philomen<br>Cleland
Project Open Hand CEO Mark Ryle. Photo: Jane Philomen
Cleland  

San Francisco-based Project Open Hand will lead a statewide pilot project that will offer meals to people living with HIV/AIDS and others to see what impact there is on people's health.

Governor Jerry Brown recently approved the $6 million, three-year project to help low-income people with chronic illnesses. It will support a Food Is Medicine Coalition that includes Project Open Hand, Ceres Community Project and Food For Thought in the North Bay, the San Jose-based Health Trust, and other organizations. The money will target chronically ill Medi-Cal patients who have diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, and diabetes.

In a news release, Project Open Hand CEO Mark Ryle said, "This is an exciting time for our agencies and those very vulnerable, critically ill Californians we serve. ... California is once again leading the nation in implementing low cost/high return medical interventions to improve the health of our most marginalized and underserved citizens."

The funding for the pilot is included in Senate Bill 97, which Brown signed into law June 27.

Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), who pushed for the bill, stated, "The bottom line: We believe, over the next three years, we'll demonstrate enhanced health outcomes for chronically ill Medi-Cal patients and save millions in health care costs."

San Francisco Democratic legislators Assemblymen Phil Ting and David Chiu, as well as state Senator Scott Wiener, were among the bill's other strong backers.

Use of the project and health outcomes before, during, and after it's ended will be tracked closely. At the end of the program, the Department of Health Care Services will check its impact on emergency room use, hospital re-admissions, and decreased admissions to long term care facilities. The findings will be reported to the Legislature.

In an interview, Ryle said, "I hope we learn how better to access these marginalized clients." He also hopes that people will eventually be able to have the "Food as Medicine" intervention prescribed.

A key factor in getting funding for the pilot project was the UCSF/Project Open Hand "Food Is Medicine" research study that examined the impact of a medically tailored meal program for San Francisco and Alameda County residents who had HIV, Type 2 diabetes, and/or dual diagnosis.

Earlier this year, the Journal of Urban Health published the results, which demonstrated a 63 percent reduction in hospitalization, a 58 percent decrease in emergency room visits, and a 50 percent increase in medication adherence.

Project Open Hand will be the master contractor and subcontract funds to the other agencies.

The program is modeled after efforts by the organization Manna in Philadelphia. A pilot project there demonstrated that after delivering three medically tailored meals each day for six months to 65 patients with chronic diseases, their health care costs dropped from $38,937 a month to $28,183 a month.

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