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4/25/2024 Senators tour Meals on Wheels, introduce legislation to pilot “Food as Medicine” interventions in Rhode Island
STATE HOUSE — Sens. Victoria Gu, Bridget G. Valverde, Sandra Cano, Alana M. DiMario and Jacob Bissaillon toured the headquarters of Meals on Wheels Rhode Island today to see its work providing essential food support programs to homebound seniors, expecting and postpartum mothers, and other people facing food insecurity. They also discussed how its work relates to legislation to create a Medicaid pilot program to allow medical professionals to prescribe medically tailored meals and “produce by prescription.”

“Tackling the root causes of health conditions, whether from poor diet or food insecurity, is an investment that makes sense,” said Senator Gu (D-Dist. 38, Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown). “Medicaid accounts for about one-third of our state budget. We need to find effective, evidence-based preventative health measures to save on the costs of medical care down the road.”

Said Senator Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, South Kingstown), “Meals on Wheels is already doing great work to address some of the social and nutritional needs of older Rhode Islanders right where they live. I am excited to support passage of this legislation that will allow Meal on Wheels and other agencies to explore expanding the critical work they do into providing evidence-based clinical nutritional solutions to those who might not otherwise be able to afford them.”

The legislation (2024-S 2592) sponsored by Senator Gu and cosponsored by Senator Valverde would direct the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to establish a one-year pilot program to provide coverage for evidence-based nutritional assistance for people with clinical needs. This coverage could take the form of produce prescriptions, vouchers or medically tailored meals, prescribed by medical professionals for persons with diet-related diseases or food insecurity. It could also include clinical nutrition education.

There is a growing evidence base across the country showing that these “food as medicine” programs improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

“Writing prescriptions for nutritionally tailored meals is an innovative approach to an old problem,” said Senator Bissaillon (D-Dist. 1, Providence). “When it comes to the health of Rhode Islanders, we should leave no stone unturned looking for solutions to improve community health.”

The EOHHS would fund the program first with federal dollars through a Medicaid 1115 demonstration waiver, using state funds only if federal funds are unavailable.

“Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island supports Senate Bill 2592 that would authorize the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to establish a program providing coverage for nutritional assistance,” said Meghan Grady, executive director of MOWRI. “The bill shows that Senate leaders recognize the contribution that access to healthy food makes to the alleviation and mitigation of hunger, diet-related diseases and health equity.”

Meals on Wheels Rhode Island is the state’s primary provider of home-delivered meals, delivering 381,049 meals to at-risk individuals in 2023, of which 7,897 were medically tailored meals and 14,215 were culturally responsive meals. MOWRI’s mission is to meet the nutritional and social needs of Rhode Islanders so they can maintain safe and independent lifestyles. Their current offerings include home-delivered meals from general wellness, medically tailored and culturally responsive menus, grocery delivery and food boxes tailored to the recipient’s diet needs and cultural preference and community health worker services.

“Meals on Wheels is doing the important work to develop and deliver culturally appropriate meals that tailor to the diversity of Rhode Island,” said Senator Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket). “I am happy to see they have expanded from a one-size-fits-all model of meals to one that partners with local community groups like the Center for Southeast Asians and Progreso Latino to develop meals in collaboration with our diverse communities that are healthy and culturally appropriate.”

Said Senator DiMario (D-Dist. 38, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham), “I am grateful to the whole Meals on Wheels team, who last year extended their deliveries to Block Island for the first time. The innovation and creative problem solving they applied to tackling the problem of delivering fresh meals and produce to Block Island is being put to good use with diverse populations across the state, and I look forward to seeing where they innovate next.”

IN PHOTO: From left, Sens. Victoria Gu, Bridget G. Valverde, Sandra Cano, Alana M. DiMario and Jacob Bissaillon and Executive Director of MOWRI Meghan Grady

For more information, contact:
Tristan Grau, Publicist
State House Room B20
Providence, RI 02903