New Program Helps Keep Patients Out of the Hospital

When a patient returns home from the hospital after surgery or serious illness, the prescription for recovery is usually lots of rest and a slow return to activities. There’s another factor that is often overlooked yet critical to recovery: Good nutrition. Lee Memorial Health System is now offering healthy meals delivered directly to patients’ homes to help continue their recovery after leaving the hospital. It is offered to patients who meet criteria indicating risk for malnourishment or undernourishment.

The four-week meal plan bears the Flavor Harvest brand of nutritionally balanced foods developed by Lee Memorial Health System’s Food and Nutrition Services, and prepared by Culinary Solutions by LeeSar. A week’s worth of nutritionally balanced meals and snacks are delivered to program participants including fresh fruit and vegetables, ready-to-eat entrees and frozen meals.

A study by The John Hopkins’ University School of Medicine revealed 30-55% of patients who are acutely ill are at risk for malnutrition upon admission to a hospital. Patients ages 65 and older are at increased risk for hospital readmission if they are undernourished or malnourished. “Patients do not always realize the impact nutrition has on their health. The obesity trend has in a way overshadowed malnutrition in the U.S. As dietitians we are always overjoyed to hear that patients are improving after completing the meal program; we rarely get to see what happens after patients leave the hospital,” said Adriana Ramnarine, a Registered Dietitian who also helps coordinate meal deliveries to patients.

Larry Altier, System Director of Food and Nutrition Services, says good nutrition isn’t just eating three times a day, but eating a balanced diet that includes sufficient calories, macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) needed by the body to recuperate and sustain good health.

“When we’re not feeling well, cooking or shopping for nutritious food may become difficult, and it’s easy to fall into unhealthy habits of eating too much processed food, depriving the body of the nutrients needed to recover, and patients newly discharged may not be physically able to eat properly. Having fully prepared, nutritionally appropriate meals can be a great help in recovery,” says Altier. Problems associated with malnutrition include, but are not limited to, fatigue, muscle weakness, disinterest in eating, and poor wound healing.

Malnourished patients are two to three times more likely to develop surgical site infection or post-operative pneumonia. Data from the 2010 Healthcare Cost and Utilization project (HCUP), the most current nationally-representative data describing U.S. hospital discharges, found malnourished patients spent an average of 12.6 days in the hospital, compared to 4.4 days for other patients. Nutritional support at home can prevent readmissions, and is a low-risk, low-cost approach to improving patients’ health status.

While in the hospital, patients are assessed for insufficient energy intake, weight loss, loss of fat, loss of muscle mass, fluid accumulation and diminished ability to function or perform everyday tasks. Patients identified as “at risk” are educated on their therapeutic diet during the hospital stay by a Registered Dietitian and offered the meal home delivery program. A dietitian is also available to provide nutritional support regarding the patient’s diet if they have any questions or concerns during the course of the program.

The Flavor Harvest @ Home program has been offered free to qualifying patients discharged from Cape Coral Hospital since May, and a select group of patients at Gulf Coast Medical Center.

Grants from Bank of America and The Allen Foundation, which supports nutrition research programs, provide funding for the meals. The funding was granted for two years and supports about 60 patients a year through the Flavor Harvest @ Home program. Altier says the meals would average about $840 per person for four weeks, including liquid nutritional supplements and snacks when prescribed, without the grants.

For more information about the home delivery program, visit LeeMemorial.org or call 239-343-8904.

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