The first thing I do when a friend or family member is sick, is going through a difficult time, or just added a child to their family, is deliver food – often a hearty soup, salad, and my homemade chocolate almond clusters. Food comforts. It shows we care. It is always the answer. This is the premise on which Project Angel Heart was founded—meals with love.
Over time, our expertise has evolved. What was once a few Post-it notes on our church kitchen cabinet–reminding our chef that Judith can’t eat pork and Joe needs to avoid spice–are now stringent dietary standards for all modified diet groupings, refined by our registered dietitian, and a mind-blowing 18-20 menu variations every single day.
As our expertise has grown, so has the impact on those we serve. More than 90 percent of clients report that they are better able to live independently and adhere to their health care regimen when receiving our meals. This is huge! Clients who weren’t taking their medications, were using the emergency room instead of regularly scheduled dialysis, or were unable to tolerate aggressive chemo regimens are now able to stick with their prescribed treatments, and stay in their homes rather than bouncing in and out of the hospital, rehab, or assisted living.
Health care providers are taking notice. At North Suburban Medical Center, a Denver-area hospital participating in our Meals For Care Transitions pilot program, case managers have noted ZERO hospital readmissions within 30 days from COPD and congestive heart failure (CHF) patients who received Project Angel Heart meals after being discharged from the hospital. This is in contrast to national average readmission rates of 23 percent for COPD patients and 25 percent for CHF patients. And we often hear from dialysis techs who see improved bloodwork from patients who receive Project Angel Heart’s kidney-friendly meals.
Research shows that when patients are well-nourished their hospital stays are three times shorter, with readmissions half as likely, as patients who are malnourished.
We’ve always been known as a respected nonprofit… a food service provider that knows we are making an impact.. But now it’s time for us to step out of our comfort zone and into new territory as an expert in food as medicine… a health care partner that is proving the impact of food as medicine.
While providing ‘meals with love’ will always be core to Project Angel Heart’s service and identity, here is what you’re going to see more of from Project Angel Heart in the future…
- An increased focus on data, including sharing relevant, national research and assessing our own outcomes and impact. We’re looking at health outcomes, medical expenses, hospital readmission rates, and other factors to show the impact of medically tailored meals.
- Partnerships with area hospitals and other health care organizations through Meals for Care Transitions, our health care partnership program.
- An organization-wide drive to build and share our expertise around food as medicine. We are focused on learning all we can about the impact of food as medicine and sharing what we learn to improve health in our community.
It’s time for food and nutrition to be recognized as a key component of health care planning, especially for those coping with a critical illness. If we’re not going to make that happen, then who will?
Erin Pulling is president and CEO of Project Angel Heart, where she has served in a variety of roles since 1995. In addition to providing leadership and strategic direction for the organization, she serves on the boards of the Colorado Nonprofit Association and the Dining Out for Life International Association. She is the recipient of a Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Livingston Fellowship, the Colorado Restaurant Association’s 2012 Outstanding Professional award, and the Denver Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 honors in 2008. Erin lives in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood with her husband and their three children. Erin enjoys late-night, random cooking projects that often go horribly wrong, early morning runs, backpacking, and playing ridiculous and imaginative games with her kids.