By offering healthy groceries and nutritional services, could all hospitals practice what they preach?
Credit: Photos courtesy of Market on the Green / Facebook.

ProMedica is a hospital and healthcare system based in Toledo, Ohio that’s providing more than just routine healthcare to its patients—it also opened up a non-profit grocery store called Market on the Green. The hospital is extending its mission to educate patients about nutrition with a shop located on the ground floor of the Ebeid Institute for Population Health. It's been so successful that ProMedica is expanding the concept elsewhere.

The hospital system's decision to open a full-fledged grocery store was discussed at length in a Supermarket News feature published this week. The director of the ProMedica Ebeid Institute, Anthony Goodwin, told Supermarket News that the hospital's neighborhood "was not only a food dessert...Its residents had poor health outcomes, high emergency room utilization readmissions, and recent chronic illnesses."

For nearly three years, Market on the Green has provided local patients access to fresh, healthy groceries at affordable prices, with a focus on hyperlocality. Much like other traditional retailers, Market on the Green operates in a spacious 65,000-square-foot store, and it sells produce, poultry, beef, fish, frozen products, dairy, and even pharmacy items and beauty products. “We also have a dollar aisle, carry some general merchandise, and some pet supplies," Branden Ludwig, the store's general manager, told Supermarket News.

Market on the Green also takes time to educate both staff and customers about nutrition—they hire a dietitian to run cooking classes as well as grocery store tours, where shoppers are given healthy cooking tips and are educated on shopping for seasonal produce and reading nutrition labels.

The supermarket staff also offers a public class called "Cooking Matters," where students enroll in a six-week course taught by a professional chef and the dietitian. There, students learn how to cook healthy recipes for a family of four, with ingredients costing less than $10 total. Each participant receives a book of 100 recipes at the end of the course.

“We’re trying to break the stigma that it's too expensive to eat healthy and feed a family,” Goodwin says.

More special programs changing the way we view healthcare:

And because the hospital system owns the grocery market, all of the grocery workers are enrolled in ProMedica's job training program, which focuses on training individuals with barriers to employment (such as the lack of a GED). Supermarket News reports that ProMedica offers resources like educational stipends and professional development programming. Employees spend as little as six months in the program before ProMedica considers them for other roles.

“We connect them with a position within another ProMedica department—nursing, dietary, security, whatever interests them—or with an external partner,” Goodwin tells Supermarket News.

Why would a hospital focus on opening accessible grocery stores, you may ask?

"We think it’s the right thing to do to address poor health outcomes. Our CEO is really visionary," Goodwin says. "While most healthcare systems continue to put more and more money in the 20 percent with the most healthcare costs, he believes we should focus on the rest of the population or we're never going to see these health outcomes improve.”

Because of Market on the Green's initial success over the last three years, the hospital group is opening new outposts in more ZIP codes. In late 2017, ProMedica launched the Mobile Market, which is a 20-foot truck loaded with fresh groceries making stops at more than 25 low-income and senior apartment complexes in the suburbs of Toledo. Goodwin tells Supermarket News that Market on the Green is also launching online order services to bring home delivery to three more areas around Toledo.

With doctors focusing on educating patients about wholesome nutrition in order to prevent chronic illnesses—and in some cases, actually prescribing healthy groceries after visits—the concept of opening a health market on the ground floor of a hospital seems promising.