A pilot delivers meals to people with high-risk pregnancies

meals from open arms food shelter, open arms, high risk pregnancy, food insecurity, nutrition status, patients receive food delivery

Imagine struggling with a high-risk pregnancy and having an organization offer to deliver meals free of charge for you and the rest of your family. Hennepin Healthcare is partnering on a pilot program to do just that.

Earlier this year, Hennepin Healthcare started a partnership with Open Arms and UCare to improve maternal and child health outcomes by addressing food insecurity and nutrition status. Hennepin Healthcare would recruit 25-30 patients with high-risk pregnancies who were on the UCare Pre-Paid Medical Plan. Open Arms would deliver meals to them and up to three additional family members. All the patients would need is a refrigerator to store the meals and a microwave or oven to heat them.

“In the last few years I’ve noticed more people saying they run out of food,” said Registered Nurse Kristen Brown, who was excited to hear about the program starting. “There seems to be more of an issue with food insecurity. In the last couple of years, groceries have gotten a lot more expensive.”

The numbers show that Kristen is right. In 2021, the United States Department of Agriculture estimated that 10.2% of U.S. households were food insecure, and that number has only gone up with recent cuts to SNAP benefits. A pregnant woman on bedrest because of a high-risk pregnancy might struggle to get groceries or cook for her family. Food insecurity during pregnancy can also lead to poor birth outcomes, and having medical risk factors increases that risk.

Population Health Advisor Christine Melko says healthy meals can remove one barrier for patients in meeting their healthcare needs: “It’s important for them to have access to healthy food so that babies can have a healthy start.”

How the partnership worked

Hennepin Healthcare team members took on the task of finding and screening patients to participate, then handed them off to UCare to complete an application. Kristen reached out to patients proactively, starting with an eligibility list and calling them to interest them in the program. She tried multiple outreach methods to reach busy patients—calling in the evening, sending MyChart messages, and leaving detailed instructions in her messages so patients could understand the next step.

After the application, UCare would then hand them off to Open Arms to coordinate the food delivery—up to 56 meals a week for four family members, with fresh, healthy ingredients and a nausea pack if requested.

Open Arms of Minnesota is a nonprofit that prepares and delivers medically tailored meals free of cost to critically ill Minnesotans and their loved ones. They’re currently looking at the possibility of making high-risk pregnancy a qualifying condition, which led to this pilot program and our partnership with them.  The organization saw a need for culturally inclusive menu options so they worked with culinary consultants to gather recipes from the community. In June, they added a menu for Hmong families. They’ll add menus for Latinx and East African families in the coming months.

Watch Fox 9 video of the story on how Open Arms added a menu for Hmong families.

What patients said

One patient, who agreed to share their feedback on the program anonymously, said, “I was pre-diabetic. I was stressed out and would overeat and I needed healthier options.”

The patient said that the meals helped: “It made me less stressed out and made me eat differently. I didn’t have to figure out what I was going to fix [to eat]. The type of pregnancy I had – I have arthritis, and a hernia – not having to figure out what to eat made it so much easier. [I] didn’t have to grocery shop, make lists. [It] was so convenient.”

The program continues not just through the pregnancy but two months into the postpartum stage. “With the healthier option it was easier for me to eat [and] that helped with recovery,” the patient said. “It gave me more time with my baby because I didn’t have to go to the store.”

What’s next for the program?

The program is now in evaluation mode, and the team is learning both from those who participated and those who canceled. Christine says, “What an awesome opportunity to explore with external agencies in the community, to really push forward and expand the resources that are available to our patients.”

This program is funded by Open Arms of Minnesota, UCare, and a generous Hennepin County Maternal and Child Health grant.