Boston Medical Center’s pantry-by-prescription program recognized with national award

Food is medicine. That’s the basic premise behind the Preventive Food Pantry at Boston Medical Center.

Doctors at the hospital can write prescriptions for patients to visit the pantry twice a month. Just as for insulin or blood pressure medications, the prescription becomes part of the patient’s medical record, allowing them to return to the pantry to stock up on fresh vegetables and canned goods. A chef provides lessons in a demonstration kitchen about how to prepare healthy food.

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The program, which assisted more than 80,000 people last year, is being recognized with the James W. Varnum National Quality Health Care Award from Dartmouth-Hitchcock, named for the health system’s long-time president.

The pantry is supported by donations and is only available to people who have been referred by their doctor. Many of the patients served have diabetes, unhealthy weight, or food allergies directly affected by eating habits.

“The creative approach taken by BMC in making nutritious food and education readily available to patients is a terrific example of providing value at relatively low cost, putting patients on the road to a healthier lifestyle and helping prevent costlier care later in their lives,” said Dr. George T. Blike, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s chief quality officer.

The pantry is one of several programs at the Boston hospital focused on prescribing services that go beyond traditional medicine. With Health Leads , a program founded in the Boston Medical Center pediatrics department and now a nonprofit working in six cities, doctors write prescriptions for a family to visit volunteers who can connect them to home heating assistance, for example.

The award is given every two years and will be presented Nov. 27 at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. A video about the program will be presented to Boston Medical Center, as part of the award, to help publicize it.