The program launched at Bellevue Hospital in 2019 and is now available at NYC Health + Hospitals Jacobi, Woodhull, Kings County and Elmhurst. The program will be available at NYC Health + Hospitals Lincoln and Gotham Health, Vanderbilt, in the coming months.
Dr. Michelle McMacken, executive director of Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals, told QNS that then-Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams was instrumental in creating a program that focused on improving the health of New Yorkers because of his journey with diabetes and the lifestyle changes he made to transform his health.
“[Mayor Adams] really advocated for there to be a program in the public healthcare system that would help people with lifestyle change; to really support people and making healthy changes,” McMacken explained.
The program aims to improve the physical and mental health of qualifying New Yorkers with pre-existing conditions like Type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and health concerns related to excess weight.
“We found that patients were improving their blood sugar, their blood pressure, their cholesterol, their weight,” McMacken said. “There was a huge demand for the services. At one point, we had a list of more than 850 people who wanted to join.”
McMacken was excited that the nine-month program, which can accommodate 48 new patients each month, was now available in all five boroughs. It includes between six and nine one-on-one counseling sessions with a physician, nurse practitioner, dietitian, health coach and psychologist, 14 weekly group classes and eight weekly exercise classes.
“So, with that whole team, we’re not only helping people change their lifestyle, we’re helping address some of the barriers that are very real that many people face whether it’s difficulty accessing healthy food, or not having a safe place to exercise,” McMacken said.
Patients will also receive six free monthly deliveries of seasonal fresh produce and “Health Bucks,” which they can use at farmers markets to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Culinary skills videos and a plant-based cookbook teach patients how to whip up healthy and delicious vegetarian meals.
Helen Arteaga Landaverde, CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, was “super excited” that Elmhurst was part of the program.
“This program is not only going to change lives; it’s going to change the perception of how we see our food,” Arteaga Landaverde, a vegetarian, said. “And what better way to show equity in the work that we do for our communities of sharing food together.”
Dr. Ted Long, senior vice president for Ambulatory Care and Population Health, shared that one of his patients was afraid he would die after he was diagnosed with diabetes.
“For people like him and for a lot of our patients, being able to look them in the eye and say, ‘Not only am I going to be able to help you, but if you want to enroll in this program uniquely at Elmhurst Hospital, I can actually literally cure you for your diabetes,’ it really is a really powerful feeling for me,” Long said.
Yvonne Rachmat is one of the participants in the Lifestyle Medicine Program at Elmhurst. Rachmat takes two medications for diabetes, but her A1C levels are still too high.
“So far, the Lifestyle Medicine Program has encouraged me to go for longer walks and use resistance bands to build my strength,” Rachmat shared.
The program also taught Rachmat about portion control. So far, she has enjoyed the program and would recommend it to her friends.
“I’m eating less rice now, and I have my salad with avocado instead of dressing,” Rachmat said.
With support from the City, NYC Health + Hospitals will commit $3 million this year and approximately $5 million annually in future years to fund staffing and programmatic services for the Lifestyle Medicine Programs.
At the same time, the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy works to increase food security and promote access to and consumption of healthy foods, among other policy measures.
Lauren Drumgold, policy advisor at the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, shared that her office provides strategic direction to advance food security and promote healthy access to food.
“We know that food and health go hand-in-hand, as food is truly medicine,” Drumgold said. “You at Elmhurst Hospital are now equipping patients with the knowledge that they have the power to control a portion of their health destiny. And as the mayor says, ‘It isn’t in your DNA. It’s your dinner.'”
Drumgold told QNS that her office had ongoing conversations about providing low-income communities, which often lack neighborhood supermarkets, access to healthy and affordable food.
“We’re having talks about how can we not only support access to food physically, but what are ways that we can address food insecurity,” Drumgold said. “Having a physical location is good, but we have to think about if it is affordable. We’re having ongoing conversations about how we address that piece of it as well, especially, as you know, food prices are increasing. Having a physical location isn’t always enough.”
Current patients of NYC Health + Hospitals can get a referral to the program from their provider and people who are not yet patients of NYC Health + Hospitals can see if they qualify to enroll in the program by contacting 347-507-3695.