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First Place Goes to

An initiative to reduce food insecurity for pregnant women took the top spot in the 2022 Penn Nursing Innovation Accelerator.

PROBLEM: Approximately 23 percent of Americans experience food insecurity each year—for food-insecure pregnant women, this is a path to a host of health issues, including anemia, low birth weight babies, and even death, especially among women of color. Pregnant women are dying because of health inequities, including food insecurity. Exacerbating the issue is the traditional approach to pregnancy care that typically includes limited perinatal health visits, delivery, and a post-partum visit, after which new mothers are no longer formally engaged with health care providers.

SOLUTION: Food for Health, an innovative program that partners with pregnant women, Community Health Workers, and nursing students, ad- dresses the many factors related to food insecurity. This enhanced approach, proposed by a team led by Sofia Carreno MSN RN, Nursing Community Engagement Coordinator at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), expands care for women across the continuum during and after pregnancy, through the engagement of Community Health Workers (CHW).

CHWs are pivotal parts of the care team, providing frequent connections with clients and assistance in identify- ing and accessing community resources. They also mentor nursing students who are focused on nutrition and community engagement, preparing them to better recognize and address inequities.

During the initial test model of the program, the Food for Health team de- veloped the HUP Food Pantry, solidified relationships with community partners, engaged the nursing student work- force, and acquired executive leadership support. The Penn Center of Community Health Worker’s IMPaCT program has shown proven results: 65 percent fewer hospital stays, 12 percent increased access to post hospital primary care, and 13 percent increase in care quality scores— benefiting patients, insurance payers, tax-payers, hospitals, nursing schools, and students.

Carreno says, “The funds awarded through the Innovation Accelerator will go toward establishing and formalizing our program. It is the collaboration and contributions across health sectors and community partners that will make this successful. It truly takes a village.”

Penn Nursing’s Innovation Accelerator program, now in its third year, prioritizes innovation and entrepreneurship, offering students and faculty an opportunity to compete for much-needed early-stage seed funding to move inventive and ambitious products forward. This year, all three projects that were pitched to judges were awarded some level of funding and will receive mentorship through the 10-month accelerator program.