Visitors seeking free groceries from Feeding Tampa Bay will soon have access to health care services and the option of being screened for diabetes and heart disease.
That’s courtesy of a new health education center that BayCare Health Systems will operate at the food bank’s Tampa warehouse at 4702 Transport Drive.
There, visitors can be screened for chronic illnesses, take CPR classes, and have an onsite nutritionist evaluate their diet. The center will also be staffed with nurse practitioners and patient navigators who can help uninsured visitors enroll in a range of health insurance plans available to them.
The center held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday and health services will start Tuesday. The facility will operate two to three days per week at first but will eventually expand its hours, said Feeding Tampa Bay President and CEO Thomas Mantz.
“Food drives people into the social service network more than any other need,” he said. “Then we said, ‘what else do they need?’”
Mantz said the center will open the door for some community members to take necessary first steps towards improving their health, from getting physician referrals to enrolling in a BayCare weight loss program. He hopes to expand services based on feedback from the community, and will eventually welcome the food bank’s volunteers to use it as well.
The facility will also have a Higi station, a device that allows people to check their weight, blood pressure and heart rate. They are also available in grocery stores and BayCare hospitals across Tampa Bay. Users can use the Higi app to record their biometrics when using the machine and spot consistently high or low numbers, said Keri Eisenbeis, BayCare’s president of government and community relations.
The hospital system said each machine costs $4,000 per year to operate.
BayCare and Feeding Tampa Bay made a joint investment of about $100,000 to fund the project, Mantz said, which covered the cost of building the center and running it for a year.
The hospital system and food relief agency deepened their partnership in 2019 to address the health impacts of food insecurity. Aside from the new center, the two entities also supported 18 public school food pantries in low-income neighborhoods through BayCare’s $450,000 investment, Eisenbeis said.
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BayCare identified addressing food insecurity as a priority in 2019 after completing the Community Health Needs Assessment, Eisenbeis said, which is done every three years with leaders and social service agencies in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk and Pasco counties to identify key issues that demand community attention.
Between 2019 and 2022, BayCare focused on food insecurity, barriers to access health care, and mental health and substance use. Eisenbeis said they are currently working to identify issues for the next three years.
Feeding Tampa Bay, an arm of Feeding America, distributes groceries and provides free meals at its full-service restaurant to low-income families. The organization also brings meals to after-school and summer school programs and helps eligible individuals apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.