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Encouraging healthy living

Hospital creates grocery store

For several years now Truman Medical Centers (TMC), a two-hospital system based in Kansas City, Mo., has been finding ways to encourage healthy living for its high proportion of patients in the community with chronic health problems like diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure and obesity. TMC’s latest effort? A healthy foods grocery store.

It all started three years ago when TMC began running a farmer’s market at its Hospital Hill and Lakewood locations in Kansas City. The market is open once a week from April until November and sells up to 4,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables from local farmers to 600 local customers each week, said John Bluford, president and CEO of TMC.

Then last summer, TMC began running a weekly mobile produce market, called the Healthy Harvest Mobile Market, out of a specially-outfitted and revamped Kansas City Area Transportation Authority bus. The bus stops at several specific sites across the city, such as at the public library and several community centers, at designated times, and sells fresh fruit and vegetables.

And now, TMC is on its way to realizing the creation of its $11.5 million healthy foods grocery store.

Why a healthy foods grocery store? Many chronic diseases have strong nutritional components, Bluford said. Out of the 100,000 patients TMC treats each year, 56,000 of them have one or more chronic conditions, such as diabetes, congestive heart failure or sickle cell disease, said Bluford, and since many of these diseases have a strong nutritional correlation, TMC sees the creation of a healthy foods grocery store as an extension of its service delivery.

“If we truly want to get into wellness and prevention, it starts with the delivery of healthy foods,” said Bluford. “A strong percentage of our patient base comes from zip codes designated as ‘food deserts.’ So really, we think, why haven’t we done this sooner? Some of our physicians are actually writing prescriptions to their patients to go to our farmer’s market.”

TMC plans on keeping the costs of the food down so that shopping there will be affordable for everyone, Bluford said. “…even if we are only making a 1 percent margin, that’s enough for us.”

While the goal of the store is improving the health of the community, Bluford said the store will have secondary benefits because it’ll create a micro-economy through its “local first” approach.

The “local first” approach is part of TMC’s strategic plan for the grocery store. The first step was to acquire the land. Working together with the Hospital Hill Economic Development Corporation (HHEDC), TMC recently finalized the transfer of land in downtown Kansas City from the City of Kansas City.

According to HHEDC Chairman and TMC Lakewood Chief Operating Officer Charlie Shields, the acquired land will become a 35,000-square-foot one-stop grocery shop that will include extensive produce, meats and dairy items, as well as specific ethnic foods relevant to the culture and lives of the customers.

The store will partner with the community to employ a "local first" approach to include local businesses, urban farmers and community gardens that will provide much of the products available to customers. The store will also include a bakery, floral department and preassembled and pre-prepared meals.

“This all started as a concept for our organization because most of our patients come from urban areas with high levels of chronic conditions, which a lot of this is food-related or related to economic issues, and what could we do to change that?” said Shields. “It became apparent to us that this was one thing we could do – improve health and the economy in the area.”

Shields said TMC is in the fundraising stages for the grocery store with plans to break ground by the fall and an anticipated opening in the early summer of 2014.

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