Treating the Cause, Not the Illness

By David Bornstein

In 1965, in an impoverished rural county in the Mississippi Delta, the pioneering physician Jack Geiger helped found one of the nation’s first community health centers. Many of the children Geiger treated were seriously malnourished, so he began writing “prescriptions” for food — stipulating quantities of milk, vegetables, meat, and fruit that could be “filled” at grocery stores, which were instructed to send the bills to the health center, where they were paid out of the pharmacy budget. When word of this reached the Office of Economic Opportunity in Washington, which financed the center, an official was dispatched to Mississippi to reprimand Geiger and make sure he understood that the center’s money could be used only for medical purposes. Geiger replied: “The last time I looked in my textbooks, the specific therapy for malnutrition was food.” The official had nothing to say and returned to Washington.
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