More than 5.5 million seniors in the U.S. do not have enough nutritious food to eat – a problem far too prevalent in Memphis, Tenn.
The city has the highest rate of senior food insecurity in the country among large metropolitan areas, according to a Feeding America study. The study found more than 17 percent of all Memphis seniors are food insecure.
To address this critical need, UnitedHealthcare’s Empowering Health initiative recently awarded a $90,000 grant to the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA). The funds allow an additional 130 Memphis-area seniors to receive hot meals through MIFA’s Meals on Wheels program.
Sixty UnitedHealthcare employee volunteers helped MIFA deliver meals and provide companionship to homebound seniors in the Memphis area. Volunteers also packed bags with items such as games and reusable lunch bags donated by UnitedHealthcare that will be delivered to meal recipients celebrating a birthday.
“We are committed to improving the health of our most vulnerable seniors,” said Keith Payet, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee. “By working with nonprofit organizations like MIFA, we are better able to address the socio-economic challenges many Memphians face while making a lasting, positive impact on the health of the community.”
In addition to providing nutritious food, the Meals on Wheels program helps to reduce feelings of loneliness and improve health outcomes while also serving as a way to check on the well-being of seniors. When seniors can live independently at home, it also reduces health care costs. Meals on Wheels can serve a senior for an entire year for the same cost as one day in the hospital or 10 days in an assisted living facility.
“This program is so important because these are some of our frailest older neighbors,” said Sally Jones Heinz, MIFA president and CEO. “Many of them are homebound because of a health issue, and they really do not have access to food. To get a meal delivered to a senior in their home fills that need for nutrition and prevents isolation by having a volunteer visiting every day.”
The MIFA support is part of a larger $1 million grant awarded to seven Memphis-area nonprofits through the Empowering Health program, a UnitedHealthcare initiative focused on redefining health access and addressing the social determinants of health through investments, innovation and volunteerism.
In addition to UnitedHealthcare’s support in Memphis, the company has launched similar community initiatives and public-private collaborations nationwide. It has invested more than $400 million in affordable-housing communities, partnered with food banks and meal-delivery services, and recently joined with the American Medical Association to standardize how social determinant data is collected and used to create more holistic care plans.