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Healthfirst partnerships increase food access during Covid-19 pandemic

The Challenge: More than 80% of Healthfirst’s 1.8 million members faced socio-economic challenges during the Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic also shuttered many social service organizations, making it even more difficult for members to access food resources.

Our Goal: Our goal during the pandemic was to reduce food insecurity on two fronts. The first being to increase food supply to food deserts — urban areas in which it is difficult to buy affordable, quality, fresh food, such as Southwest Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and parts of Harlem. The second was to increase awareness of available food resources for Healthfirst members and the New York Community at large who live in areas with the highest levels of food insecurity. Our methodology for identifying and stratifying food insecurity and resources needed to be replicable to continuously support the people of New York.

The Healthfirst Solution: The project launched at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. First, we identified 16 service area zip codes with the highest levels of food insecurity, covering approximately 200,000 Healthfirst members. Then, we reached out to 130 community-based organizations to create a network of pop-up distribution locations throughout the targeted zip codes. Using a combination of case management, self-service digital tools, and municipal hotlines, we connected members to our growing network of food resources. We also accelerated the rollout of our member-facing app in 2020, which included a platform that gives members the ability to find personalized community resource recommendations close to home. Additionally, we sent members text messages with information on how to connect with Healthfirst and to find food resources over the phone.

Population Health Improvements: We increased available food resources by over 10% in our member areas. With City Harvest, we worked to coordinate a biweekly pickup of 400 food boxes from an emergency relief site in Brooklyn to address underserved communities. Our collaboration with community-based organizations and faith-based organizations, delivers 8,000 pounds of fresh produce bi-weekly to food deserts.

Takeaway: Covid-19 exacerbated food insecurity, which has a significant impact on member health. Coming together with community partners and leveraging technology and data analytics enabled Healthfirst to address food insecurity swiftly and effectively during the pandemic. Our robust food resources database continues to be used by our members and care navigators to address food insecurity.