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La Clinica serves up improved health through better eating

Medford, Ore.— When La Clinica opened their Wellness Center in 2015, the kitchen was designed as a key aspect of serving patients’ overall wellness needs. Funding from CareOregon helped make it possible.

La Clinica kitchen Ana Maria Salaverry

“We’ve tried from the very beginning to keep this aspect of ‘the kitchen is the heart of our home,’” says Jillian Robinette, the Wellness Center practice manager. “It was really important in getting the funding to be able to open our kitchen and keep that mentality of a wellness center.”

Jackson Care Connect is CareOregon’s health plan in Jackson County, and coordinates health care for Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) members. Jackson Care Connect works closely with La Clinica to serve members’ physical, behavioral and dental health needs.

The kitchen offers classes that teach healthy ways to cook, shop and eat. Instructors focus on nutrition-rich food preparation that is also budget-friendly. The slate of classes is designed to address a variety of health needs:

  • Prescription Kitchen, designed for patients with chronic health conditions like diabetes.
  • Sugar Knockout, a 21-day detox class.
  • La Buena Vida, a class taught in Spanish that connects healthy eating to other aspects of overall wellness.
  • Healthy Eating for Kids, a bilingual class that helps kids and parents learn about healthy nutrition together.
  • The ACCESS mobile food pantry, which operates from the Wellness Center once a month. People pick up their food and get tips on how to cook healthy meals using staples from the pantry, like dried beans or bone broth.

Students who take part in classes often have measurable improvements in their health after participating in a class series. Patients have reported decreases in pain and digestive issues, and increases in life satisfaction.

The classes affect more than just the students who sign up.

“We understand that we treat only some members of the home, maybe not everybody in the home,” Robinette says. “So it’s really important to make sure that the whole family is aware of how that person is trying to change their eating.”

Robinette estimates about 100 people are served by the classes each month, with an additional 75 people served each month by the mobile food pantry. Over the three years since the kitchen has opened, she estimates more than 4500 visits to the kitchen by La Clinica patients.

Classes also address social isolation, as group participants often form communities of their own.

“As we started to incorporate social determinants of health into our screenings, we’re also inviting people who are really facing social isolation to some of those groups,” Robinette says.

Robinette also says La Clinica is always planning additional ways to reach new patients, have more celebrations, and increase access to the courses.

La Clinica partners with CareOregon and Jackson Care Connect in many ways to serve OHP members in Jackson County. The funding for the kitchen at the Wellness Center aligns with CareOregon’s emphasis on whole body health, and in helping members make healthy connections to improve their overall health and well-being.

In addition, Jackson Care Connect and CareOregon work with La Clinica to connect members to other Jackson Care Connect Strong Family wellness programs. This includes providing prescription pads for La Clinica clinicians to refer patients to subsidized memberships or wellness programs at the YMCA. Jackson Care Connect has also provided a limited number of members with discounted access to a community-supported agricultural (CSA) subscription. Having access to fresh produce has helped members make significant diet changes to improve their health. The classes at La Clinica’s kitchen are an essential part of the success that members have experienced.

From the initial funding provided for the kitchen, the benefits of the Wellness Center kitchen continue to ripple out beyond patients who participate in classes, to friends and family members of those patients, and to the community at large. That’s the CareOregon effect.  

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