Why Take the Road Less Traveled ?
We take this road because it is the only one that connects our mission to our vision. For 25 years we have served an ever growing population of those disabled by chronic disease—and there is no end in sight. We are facing an epidimic of chronic disease so big that it will completely undermine our healthcare system if something is not done differently—and soon.
There are three major barriers to solving this epidemic: a business model that compensates physicians for keeping patients healthy; lack of support services dedicated to prevention; and access to healthy foods. Open Hand has the capacity to directly address two of these three barriers—as do the other 4,000+ home-delivered meal services in the country. Every one of these organizations is overwhelmed with waiting lists—many are so long that patients die long before help arrives. Open Hand has never had a waiting list and we want to keep it that way by making a direct contribution to solving this problem.
Preventable chronic disease affects an astonishing 20% of our population and what is even more astonishing is that this population consumes 80% of our 2.3 TRILLION DOLLAR healthcare tab. Needless to say this affects each and every one of us—not just in our pocketbooks but in the health and wellbeing of our nation.
Our new mission and our business plan directly address prevention-based solutions but any meaningful contribution requires that we also create citizen advocates for our cause. We have a solid base of potential advocates in our clients, volunteers and donors who genuinely care about our work and the health of our country—and if you’re reading this I’m talking about you.
Public opinion is the real key to policy change and that requires an informed public. Open Hand and organizations like ours are working with the human toll of our healthcare crisis on a daily basis yet we often overlook our potential to serve as a catalyst for change simply by sharing what we observe through grassroots advocacy.
Regardless of the direction healthcare policy takes, it will be meaningless without a major focus on prevention; and prevention is what Open Hand and Comprehensive Nutrition Care (CNC) are all about. Open Hand’s staff and Board of Directors have demonstrated visionary leadership by breaking ground on this bridge connecting our service to prevention focused medicine but the job is not ours alone. We will need the support of the nonprofit sector, the insurance industry, agribusiness, the food industry, healthcare providers and most importantly, we need to add your voice to this cause. Using nutrition and other support services as tools for prevention addresses this problem at its source and will be the key to stopping the epidemic of chronic disease that is literally making America sick. Prevention focused healthcare is humane, cost-effective and achievable, but it alone won’t end the epidemic of chronic disease. Something is different about the foods we consume today which is definitely connected to the problem, and it is not a good thing.
We cannot have a conversation about health and wellness without talking about food. Open Hand spends over $3,000,000 a year on raw food products to produce healthy meals—the nucleus of Comprehensive Nutrition Care, so we care about food quality from both a consumer and a mission perspective.
Food technology has provided us with an abundance of inexpensive, high calorie, processed foods with little nutritional value. These foods are inexpensive to ship and distribute therefore have replaced more costly nutritious food in low income communities, and the consequences have been devastating. 70% of the low income seniors we serve have type 2 diabetes. Disability from the dual epidemics of obesity and diabetes is many times the national average for poor people of all ages. Compounding the problem is the common misconception that obesity among the poor is related to gluttony or lack of discipline. Nothing could be further from the truth— access to nutritious foods is the real culprit. This problem presents tremendous challenges to our nation’s food banking system which is dependent on contributions of food. This in turn affects organizations like Open Hand as we are unable to take advantage of a valuable resource intended to help us. This is a complex and insidious problem, fraught with political, economic and moral implications, and as usual, the victims are the people we exist to serve.
Problems like the chronic disease epidemic and the over abundance of processed foods are big and complex—and they are wreaking havoc on an already dysfunctional healthcare system. These are the causes of the problems our clients face yet most of our missions only address the consequences and, difficult though it may be, we can do better. We are stewards of public trust and as such we have a moral obligation to first acknowledge the source and magnitude of this problem—and only then will we be able to begin the difficult work of creating solutions.
Comprehensive Nutrition Care is Open Hand’s bridge, linking nutrition to primary healthcare and it is the direction for our future. The infrastructure supporting the bridge is a web-based information technology system that will also pave the way for many other social services to make a more meaningful contribution to the prevention or better management of chronic disease. Open Hand will continue to provide palliative nutrition support to the critically or terminally ill. The nucleus of our mission is still nutritious home-delivered meals and that is not likely to change. The only visible change will be more communication and information sharing between clients, our client/nutrition services team and our client’s primary care providers. The big deal is that these relatively small investments have enabled us to dramatically expand the purpose and value of our mission.
No doubt we could steer clear of difficult roadblocks like healthcare and the condition of our food supply but as Jackie said in her message, “addressing one but not the other two seemed shortsighted and limiting” and in the end that would just undermine our mission and completely contradict our vision. Our mission is our currency, without which we have no foundation and no future. It is the only currency that guarantees a sustainable future—if we provide the correct answer to only one question.
Are we doing all that our mission asks of us? Answering yes takes us down the road less traveled.