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St. Anthony’s, BayCare tackle food insecurity in Pinellas County

Margie Manning

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St. Anthony’s Hospital is working to ensure patients and schoolchildren have access to nutritious food.

The hospital is expanding a screening tool to ensure patients get medically tailored meal programs, and is sponsoring food pantries at local schools in a partnership with Feeding Tampa Bay, St. Anthony’s president Scott Smith told the St. Petersburg City Council.

“Food insecurity is more prevalent than anyone would believe,” Smith said. “We also recognize that we think it’s a significant component of overall health care and overall disease management and the ability to facilitate healing.”

Scott Smith

As part of an update report to Council members, Smith presented an overview of the community benefits St. Anthony’s, a 393-bed hospital in St. Petersburg, and its parent, BayCare Health System, provide in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.

In 2019, BayCare, the largest local non-profit healthcare provider, reported about $461 million in community benefits in 2019 and about $445 million in 2020. St. Anthony’s provided about $49.5 million in community benefits in 2019 and $46.4 million in 2020 The decline was due to a drop in patient volume during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Community benefits include traditional charity care, Medicare and other means-tested programs, and unbilled community services.

“Unbilled community services are dollars that would normally translate into profit for other health system and hospitals. But we hold ourselves accountable to say, instead of all those translating to profit, what can we do to support our community? What can we do to intentionally meet the underlying health needs of the community we serve,” Smith said.

The hospital conducts a community health needs assessment every three years and then creates an implementation plan. Exercise, nutrition and weight is one of the three priority areas in the current plan.

“We originally were looking at a food insecurity screener that we could embed in to ask patients and identify those patients who were food insecure, so we could then create medically tailored meals and emergency food for specific targeted disease processes,” Smith said. “We started with disease processes and then we said maybe we haven’t cast a big enough net. So, beginning in the next 30 days we will begin asking those food insecurity question in screening questions to all of the patients who interact with us at St. Anthony’s. Those that trigger the food insecurity question will be given supplies of nonperishable foods and high-protein, high-energy foods as well.”

The hospital also is working with Feeding Tampa Bay, a nonprofit that provides food throughout West Central Florida.

“Feeding Tampa Bay is helping us with our medically tailored meals and the food distribution that we’re doing inside of our campuses. But we’re also looking to partner with elementary schools and schools in the local community,” Smith said.

BayCare has pantries at Woodlawn Elementary and Boca Ciega High in St. Petersburg, as well as Eisenhower Elementary in Clearwater, Dunedin High and Tarpon Springs Middle schools.

“We’ve looked at Pinellas and these are the schools targeted to create food pantries in each of these schools so children can have access to whatever food is required, again in conjunction with Feeding Tampa Bay,” Smith said.

Other priorities include behavioral health and access to care.

In the behavioral health area, BayCare is supporting Tampa Bay Thrives, a nonprofit that will provide help to those struggling with mental health and substance use issues.

St. Anthony’s is funding an advanced practice registered nurse who staffs WestCare and St. Vincent DePaul facilities to bring healthcare services to vulnerable people. The hospital also has a registered nurse who will join the St. Petersburg Police Department PATH (Police Assisting The Homeless) team.

There’s a 50-bed behavioral health hospital embedded in St. Anthony’s, which is the only Baker Act receiving facility in south Pinellas County, and as part of a new BayCare initiative, the hospital will be getting 15 additional behavioral health providers for outpatient services, Smith said.

BayCare is focusing on access to medications as part of the access to care priority. “About $1.6 million in medication expenses have been saved for patients by aligning them with pharmaceutical companies to get their medications at a reduced rate,” Smith said.

St. Anthony’s has registered nurses at Pinellas Hope, a Catholic Charities program that provides emergency shelter and services to the homeless, as well as at Daystar Life Center, an organization that focuses on low-income individuals and families.

Overall, St. Anthony’s Hospital has a $700 million total economic impact on the region, he said, and a $152 million construction project for a 90-bed patient tower is bringing more jobs to the area.

The expansion is running ahead of schedule, Smith said.

“It is running about two months ahead of its originally scheduled completion date, which will be sometime in April 2022,” Smith said. “We also looked at how the facility interfaces with the community. We frequently make the community go to very inaccessible places in the building. We moved all of the forward-facing elements of the campus to the first level so it will have the greatest access to the community. The kitchen and cafeteria will move up to first floor by end of July of this year.”

A rendering of the 90-bed patient tower planned at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg

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