Reducing Caregiver Hunger During Pediatric Hospitalization

Pediatrics. 2023 May 1;151(5):e2022058080. doi: 10.1542/peds.2022-058080.


Background and objectives: Pediatric hospitalizations are costly, stressful events for families. Many caregivers, especially those with lower incomes, struggle to afford food while their child is hospitalized. We sought to decrease the mean percentage of caregivers of Medicaid-insured and uninsured children who reported being hungry during their child's hospitalization from 86% to <24%.

Methods: Our quality improvement efforts took place on a 41-bed inpatient unit at our large, urban academic hospital. Our multidisciplinary team included physicians, nurses, social workers, and food services leadership. Our primary outcome measure was caregiver-reported hunger; we asked caregivers near to the time of discharge if they experienced hunger during their child's hospitalization. Plan-do-study-act cycles addressed key drivers: awareness of how to obtain food, safe environment for families to seek help, and access to affordable food. An annotated statistical process control chart tracked our outcome over time. Data collection was interrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic; we used that time to advocate for hospital-funded support for optimal and sustainable changes to caregiver meal access.

Results: We decreased caregiver hunger from 86% to 15.5%. A temporary test of change, 2 meal vouchers per caregiver per day, resulted in a special cause decrease in the percentage of caregivers reporting hunger. Permanent hospital funding was secured to provide cards to purchase 2 meals per caregiver per hospital day, resulting in a sustained decrease in rates of caregiver hunger.

Conclusions: We decreased caregivers' hunger during their child's hospitalization. Through a data-driven quality improvement effort, we implemented a sustainable change allowing families to access enough food.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Caregivers*
  • Child
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Hunger
  • Pandemics