Central Indiana hospital converts cafeteria into employee grocery store

Coronavirus

HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. — Administrators at Hancock Regional Hospital are taking steps to make life a little easier for employees who are working long hours during the COVID-19 crisis.

During the first weeks of the coronavirus response, the hospital converted its cafeteria and dining area into a makeshift grocery store for employees.

“Really when our cafeteria had to shut down because we’re considered restaurant, people eating in the same common area,” Hancock Regional spokesperson Jen Cox said.

Food services director Ty Hunt lead the effort to transform the cafe into a small grocery store, offering essential food supplies for employees to bring home to their families.

“We have fresh produce delivered everyday. We have dairy, we have fresh meats, we have enough stuff in there to make homemade chocolate chip cookies,” Cox said. 

“Just last Friday, we got an email that fresh ribeye steaks were coming in for the weekend because we could grill out.”

The idea is to give hospital employees the option of skipping a trip to their regular stores after finishing a long shift.

“We are working around the clock on any given day, and it also allows us to get things here to spend a little bit more time with our family, which is very important,” Cox said. “It’s something that keeps us going.”

Hancock Regional Wellness Coach Stephanie Swann says the small store has made a big difference to her family.

“It’s such a convenience. You can’t put a price on,” Swann said. “If I don’t have to run and stop by a Kroger store and deal with the traffic getting in and waiting in line to get in, there’s limited number of people, wearing a mask to get in, making sure they have enough of what I need. This is wonderful.”

Cox said the store inside the hospital also reduces the need for employees to shop in public.

“We have to try to avoid being contaminated and bringing the virus into the hospital, so this keeps our associates out of mass grocery stores,” Cox said. “They’re doing everything they can there, but there’s that risk we could bring that into the hospital.”

“Just makes it easy,” Swann added. “I can run in there and grab it before I head home, I’m home within 15-20 minutes, and we have more family time that way.”

“There’s a lot of angst going on, not only from our jobs, from our family, from our community,” Cox said. “But if this is one thing that can bring a little bit of peace and calm to our world, I think it’s a great thing.”

Some other area hospitals are offering similar options for their employees. IU Health spokesperson Jeff Swiatek said the health network has food markets for team members in most of its 16 hospitals around the state.

“They sell food and supply essentials, plus some sell prepared meals,” Swiatek said. “The on-site markets are for the convenience of team members and allow them to limit their exposure to the virus that happens when shopping in public.”

Eskenazi Health also offers a grab-and-go grocery store for employees. Spokesperson Tom Surber said the “Fresh for you Market” has been available for Eskenazi employees for several years.

Cox said Hancock Regional will continue operating its grocery store until restrictions are lifted and the cafeteria can return to normal operation. However, it’s not clear when that may happen.

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