Addressing the social factors that affect health

When basic needs aren’t met, health care choices suffer. UCHealth is working to address both.
September 11, 2019

Food insecurity, or lack of access to affordable, healthy food on a consistent basis, is a concern in physician offices across the United States.

Women stocks cooler at a food pantry in Fort Collins.
Tasha Marchant, with UCHealth FMC, stocks its food pantry recently. Photos by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.

Physicians know that patients with food insecurity often have to choose groceries over prescription medicine, or groceries over vaccinations or a wellness checkup with a doctor. It’s hard to make good health decisions when basic needs aren’t met.

“We all know that lifestyle dramatically impacts health, and if people are struggling to simply find food to eat or are competing with paying for a medication or paying for food, their health will suffer,” said Dr. David Marchant, medical director of the UCHealth Family Medicine Center in Fort Collins.

Beyond medicine

To address basic needs for patients, UCHealth has created innovative ways of connecting patients to more than just health care.

The UCHealth Family Medicine Center opened a food pantry adjacent to the clinic in Fort Collins in 2017. The move demonstrates how a health care office can take proactive measures to tackle social factors that affect overall well-being.

“Food insecurity forces suboptimal health choices,” Marchant said. “By addressing food insecurity, we empower people to make better health decisions, which leads to a happier and more fulfilling life for themselves and their families.”

Food pantry in Fort Collins

Through a partnership with the Food Bank for Larimer County and donations from local retail stores, the pantry offers healthy foods and family meal ideas to the community almost daily. The pantry is stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, canned and packaged staples such as beans and pasta and refrigerated foods.

organic breads sit on a shelf at a food pantry in Fort Collins.
The UCHealth Family Medicine Center opened a food pantry adjacent to the clinic in Fort Collins in 2017.

In 2018, the pantry served 1,607 households. Open Tuesday through Friday, the pantry averaged 52 visits per day and distributed 2,500 pounds of food each week, 37% of which was produce.

“I frequently have shoppers who rave about how they can make meals with vegetables in it that their kids will actually eat, or how excited their kids are that they get to take fresh fruit to school,” said Laura Elliot, the food pantry program coordinator.

A community need

The Family Medicine Center is a primary care and residency-training practice that serves about 150 patients a day, 70% of whom are low-income and Medicaid-enrolled. Almost 60% of all the center’s patients expressed the need for the pantry service in 2017.

A 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment from UCHealth showed that 13% of Larimer County and 9% of Weld County residents said they lacked adequate access to food.

bananas and potatoes sit in bens with can goods behind them at a food pantry in Fort Collins.
Through partnerships and donations, the FMC food pantry in Fort Collins is stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, canned and packaged staples such as beans and pasta, and refrigerated foods.

“It’s in a good area. It’s always running nice and smoothly and it’s not crowded,” said Bonnie, a once-a-week pantry visitor. “I try to eat healthy. Coming here, plus food stamps, makes that doable.”

Visit the food pantry in Fort Collins

The Family Medicine Center food pantry in Fort Collins, 1025 Pennock Place, suite 109, is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Thursday. It is not just for patients, but the entire community.

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.