Free nutrition education, referrals, breastfeeding support, counseling, and healthy foods are available to low-income families through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC. However, historically, only about 50 percent of those in New York State who are eligible take advantage of it.
Open Door Family Medical Center, in partnership with both The Hudson Center and MVP Health Care, has been awarded an 18-month grant of $423,715 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase participation in and access to the WIC program. This grant is for one of just 36 projects around the country, and the only one awarded in New York State.
“We know there are many people enrolled in Medicaid who need the kind of support WIC provides, but aren’t getting it simply because they don’t know about the program,” said Lindsay Farrell, President and CEO of Open Door. “The impact of reaching a large percentage of these people, who never before had access, is huge.”
Open Door and its partners will establish a secure, HIPAA-compliant web-based referral application that will inform Medicaid enrollees of their eligibility for the WIC program and increase awareness, enrollment and retention. In New York, although Medicaid and WIC eligibility overlap, the programs are administered separately. The lessons learned in this project are also expected to help other WIC agencies in New York and in other states that separate the two programs.
According to Gina DeVito, WIC Program Director of Open Door, “We want to create a sustainable system for managing eligibility data and referrals to increase WIC enrollment and participation. It’s about building awareness and developing a system change. Right now, there is no structured referral system between WIC agencies and other public health programs such as Medicaid, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), and this disconnect is a major impediment to enrollment and participation.”
Increasing WIC enrollment and participation will allow more families to learn about eating well and living active, healthy lives. Ellen Pospishil, a registered dietitian at Open Door, also appreciates that the WIC program staff has access to all the unique wraparound services available at Open Door. “We’re laying the foundation for the rest of our patients’ lives by teaching them how to eat properly,” she says. “I know we’re making a difference.”