The COVID-19 pandemic revealed in stark relief the significant health disparities faced by underserved communities, and particularly communities of color. Salem Hospital, a member of Mass General Brigham and one of the community hospitals hardest hit by COVID-19, has reenergized efforts to address these health disparities on the North Shore.
Now screening patients for social determinants of health, such as access to safe housing, food, and other necessities, Salem Hospital has quantified food insecurity as a key issue in the community. To address this vital public health need, the hospital and its colleagues in North Shore Physicians Group (NSPG) are launching a new Community Farm Pilot Program on the former Union Hospital Campus in Lynn. Funding for the pilot program is being raised through the Salem Hospital 2021 Golf Classic on September 13.
“The Community Farm Pilot Program is an important way we can help patients and residents nourish themselves with sustainably grown produce while helping to rebuild a sense of community after the social isolation of the pandemic,” says David J. Roberts, M.D., Salem Hospital president and co-chair of the 2021 Golf Classic.
From 2019 to 2020, local food pantries in Lynn reported a 400 percent increase in membership, as many in our community lost jobs and income due to the pandemic. A recent survey in the city reported that one in five Lynn residents faced food insecurity at some time over the past year.
“People experiencing food insecurity get sick more often, are more likely to be hospitalized, and have higher rates of obesity, depression, and chronic illness. Many of these conditions are the same pre-existing health conditions that have proven to put individuals at higher risk of COVID-19 complications,” says Dr. Christine Valdes, a family medicine specialist at NSPG. NSPG primary care physicians screen patients for food insecurity and other determinant of health and where indicated, connected them with community support resources.
Currently, Salem Hospital is working to secure a farm management partner who will help the organization design and manage the project which will open to the public in the spring of 2022. The goal is to create a space in which residents can grow their own fruits and vegetables on individual plots free of cost, with a surplus of produce harvested to be donated through community partners to those in need.
The launch of the hunger relief pilot will be funded by money raised through Salem Hospital’s 2021 Golf Classic. Individuals and North Shore businesses, including presenting sponsor Commonwealth Radiology, will participate in the one-day fundraising event, set for September 13 at Salem Country Club, to raise $35,000. To support the Community Farm Pilot Program and make a donation, residents can visit nsmcgiving.partners.org/golfclassic/.