For most people, comfort food is all about eating homestyle favorites. To patients discharged from a central Florida rehabilitation center, comfort food means peace of mind at home. It’s all thanks to the hospital’s “Food for the Soul” program, which provides three days of free meals for every patient returning home.
Pork Carnitas. Chicken Alfredo. Penne Bolognese. Beef Pot Roast. Those are just some of the meals patients receive as they leave the 120-bed Orange City Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. It’s a lifeline that allows recovering patients to get settled after spending weeks away from home.
“Many of these folks are older—70s, 80s or 90s—and there’s no food in the refrigerator and nobody’s gone to the store for them. When they get home from rehab, they need food so they can even eat supper that first night,” says Kevin Copley, the center’s Nutritional Services Director.
As they exit the rehab center, patients get two cloth bags filled with three complete breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The meals include selections from the lineup of Gordon Food Service Tastefully Balanced meal, a portion-sized to-go meal that combines flavor and nutrition in a convenient heat-and-eat container. There’s also shelf-stable milk and juices, plus serving ware.
Getting the ball rolling
The Orange City rehab team also sends home a resource manual to help with nutrition during recovery. There’s information from choosemyplate.gov, a packet on modified diets from Hormel Health Labs and a listing of area food delivery services.
Since launching in March 2019, the Food for the Soul program has taken off. It’s being put in place at all 42 Southern Health Care Management hospitals in Florida and North Carolina. All it took was seeing the need and recognizing the benefits.
The catalyst was an 84-year-old hip-replacement rehab patient. He was the primary caregiver for his wife, who has dementia. While the man was in rehab, a daughter provided care at home. But when he left rehab and the daughter returned to her home out of state, getting meals was a challenge. Mobility issues made it hard to cook, and driving to get food was not an option.
“We were all pretty upset about it, but we didn’t have anything to support him,” Copley says. “Then I learned about the Tastefully Balanced meals and learned how they could be used to help our patients.”
It took about two weeks to develop a proposal. Copley determined three days of free food—about $50 per discharged patient—was what he could afford, averaging 45 discharges a month. His goal is to expand the free meals to five days or even a week, possibly within a year.
Easing the transition home
When the word comes in that a patient is being discharged, Copley’s team gets a call and fills bags with frozen meals and dry products and presents the food as patients exit. Preferences are taken into consideration when bags are packed. A vegetarian, for example, isn’t given meat products.
“It’s a gift … we don’t bill anybody for it, not the patients or their insurance,” Copley says. “This is a gift from our community to them.”
Patients benefit because the first day is critical. Home health care often doesn’t start immediately and support from family or neighbors is not always available.
The hospital system also is seeing positives. “This is part of what supports keeping people nutritionally stable so that they don’t go back to the hospital for dehydration or lack of nutrition,” Copley notes.
At a presentation to Florida Hospitals, which sends many patients for rebab services, discharge planners loved the Food for the Soul idea and its positive approach to recovery.
“That helped me realize what it could do and the potential it had for making a difference,” Copley says. “I knew whether anyone else did this, we were going to do it. Because it’s just the right thing to do.”
Comfort food indeed.
To learn more about the Tastefully Balanced Meal Program, contact your Gordon Food Service Sales Representative.