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Patient Stories

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Solutions for a Healthier Community
JoAnn Edwards

What happens when healthy food becomes an option?

JoAnn Edwards struggles with each breath she takes. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, severely limits her lung capacity. After trying various medications and being put on oxygen, it was a prescription for healthy foods that finally seemed to make the difference for the 58-year-old. Her nurse asked about her diet and discovered JoAnn was not getting the proper nutrition she needed to help manage her disease.

Four out of five adults have chronic diseases that are affected by diet, yet they often don’t have access to the healthy foods they need. Spectrum Health’s Nutritional Options for Wellness (NOW) program helps by providing low income residents with the necessary resources to manage their diseases.

The Vision

It is well documented that proper diet can speed healing and reduce medical complications. Proper diet also can decrease the number and length of hospital stays, as well as the need for medications, surgery and other treatments.

NOW is a community partnership created to help low income Kent County residents who suffer from chronic diseases improve their access to healthy foods, health information and community resources. Members of the NOW partnership have identified the most common chronic illnesses affecting this population. These include: cardiovascular disease, COPD, diabetes, open wounds, pancreatitis, renal disease and sickle cell disease.

The Program

Participants in the NOW program receive an initial assessment by their health care provider to determine if they have limited or no access to healthy foods. Qualifying patients receive a food prescription that lasts from four weeks to three months. Patients have weekly appointments at one of nine participating food pantries. Patients also receive disease specific education, access to cooking classes and disease management classes.

The Results

Since the program’s inception in 2003, participants have improved triglycerides and cholesterol. Nearly 48 percent of participants needing to lose weight experienced a weight loss. Of those participants with diabetes, nearly 85 percent had a decrease in their blood sugar. Participants also are showing increased nutritional awareness and improved physical fitness. In addition, program data indicates participants have decreased their utilization of the emergency department and need for hospitalization.

For JoAnn, she now visits her doctor regularly and maintains a healthy diet. Since she started the NOW program, she says whole grains and fresh fruits are staples in her diet, and she is proud of the fact that she has lost 40 pounds. Most importantly, her breathing has improved, allowing her to be more mobile and less dependent on oxygen.

Partners of the NOW Collaborative:

  • Kent County Essential Needs Task Force Food Subcommittee
  • Food Pantries: Guiding Light Mission, North End Community Ministry (NECM), Covenant Christian Reformed Church, Central Reformed Church, South End Community Outreach Ministries (SECOM), Senior Meals Program, North Kent Service Center, United Church Outreach Ministry (UCOM) and Family Network of Wyoming
  • All County Churches Emergency Support System (ACCESS)
  • Grand Rapids Police Department’s Senior Volunteer Neighborhood Services
  • Area clinics, participating physician offices and Priority Health


To learn more about the NOW program, visit spectrum-health.org/now or call (616) 391-6144.


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