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Analysis

Coronavirus: Open Hospital Grocery Stores to Support Healthcare Workers

By Christopher Cheney  
   April 21, 2020

For healthcare workers, hospital grocery stores are a welcomed convenience during the coronavirus pandemic.

CommonSpirit Health is opening grocery stores at the organization's hospitals to help support healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many healthcare workers are under intense pandemic pressure, including work under stressful conditions in areas of the country where coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients are surging, reassignment to critical care settings, and fear associated with possibly bringing the virus home to their families.

Chicago-based CommonSpirit, which operates hospitals and other healthcare facilities in 21 states, opened its first hospital grocery store on March 30. Since then, grocery stores have opened at two dozen CommonSpirit hospitals, and 22 more are set to open by the end of the month.

Deisell Martinez, PhD, MS, leader of nutrition services at CommonSpirit, says the health system launched the grocery store initiative to help support healthcare workers during the pandemic. "They were so strained and a lot of them found it hard to go to a grocery store at night. A lot of times, when they got to a grocery store, many of the items were gone."

Having grocery stores in hospitals also reduces possible exposure to the virus while shopping and helps address bias against healthcare workers, she says. "One nurse told me that when they get off work and go into a store in scrubs, they get looked at in a strange way. People feel they are bringing the virus with them."

Photo Credit: CommonSpirit Health

Establishing hospital grocery stores

The hospital grocery stores have been a low-cost venture for CommonSpirit because the stores have opened in existing cafés or dining areas, Martinez says. "These sites already had refrigeration, so we didn't have to bring in anything new."

The hospital grocery stores are financially neutral, she says. "What we are doing is taking our cost and transferring it to our employees. We are not making money or losing money. This is not about money. This is about fulfilling our mission. We have a mission of making sure we support our frontline healthcare workers."

CommonSpirit made three primary steps to establish hospital grocery stores, Martinez says.

1. The first step was ensuring there was a viable supply chain to stock the stores. "It started with making sure that we had a supply chain that would be able to sufficiently support the stores, so that the staff would not be disappointed with empty racks," she says.

2. Hospital food and nutrition service directors were contacted to see whether they were interested in providing the grocery store service. St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix volunteered to pilot the initiative.

3. A "playbook" was developed to help guide CommonSpirit hospitals through the process of opening and operating a grocery store.

Martinez says the offerings at the hospital grocery stores vary from site to site, but common items include toilet paper, disinfectant, paper towels, eggs, milk, pasta, tomato sauce, canned tuna, rice, flour, and sugar.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

When healthcare workers go to community grocery stores at night, many items are often missing from the shelves.

The first step in establishing a hospital grocery store is ensuring there is a viable supply chain to stock the store.

At CommonSpirit Health, hospital grocery stores are financially neutral—employees buy items at the procurement cost.


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