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How Bronson Hospital is changing the stigma of hospital food

KALAMAZOO, Mich-- A newly-opened grocery store is making it more convenient to buy fresh and locally grown food, but it's tucked away in a space you might not expect-- a hospital. There, you'll find color and quality. Not only in the people, but in what they eat.

Bronson Methodist Hospital's new Micro Market, 601 John Street, opened downtown in the hopes of improving work-life balance and health as a whole, while changing the way we view hospital food.

"We're really good at helping those who are already sick but over the last decade or more and we've seen healthcare shift and we’re beginning to address the factors that can help people stay healthy and out of the hospital," said Grant Fletcher, the Assistant Director of Healthy Living and Sustainability.

A 2016 study from the American Nursing Association shows only 56 percent of nurses across the country have access to healthy food at work. Marci Melnick-Butler, a nurse practitioner, works 12+ hours a day and knows having access to and eating healthy food is a key contributor to her overall health.

The micro-grocery store offers the typical gift shop favorites, plus a variety of fresh, locally-grown and produced foods like meat, cheese, veggies and fruit.

"It definitely will help maintain our energy level, mental clarity and we want to be good role models for our patients were taking care of as well," she said. "I think it is a fabulous idea, there are so many of us that work long shifts we don’t have time to stop at a regular grocery store on the way home," Melnick Butler said.

Around 45 percent of the food served at the market is grown locally, thanks to Bronson's partnerships with the KVCC Food Innovation Center.

"It's been a really incredible partnership that's helped lift up the value and emphasis of the role food plays in human health," Fletcher said. "They're growing some of the herbs we have for sale, aggregating produce from our local farmers, minimally processing it and packaging it and were selling it here in this retail environment."

It's a small grocery store with a goal of keeping people out of the hospital, at least the part with all of the beds, fluorescent lights and white sheets.

Jeff Burnett, the Foodservice Operations Manager said the idea seemed crazy when it was first proposed.

We're told there are a couple of other healthcare systems that have done similar work both inside of their hospitals and out in the community, but Bronson is the only one in the West Michigan area.

"The feedback has been better than we expected," Burnett said.

It's bringing relief to an area many call a food desert.

"The notion that time and money are two of the most valuable resources we have and the opportunity to give both of those resources back to the people we work alongside every day has been a really awesome feeling and experience," Fletcher said.

The grocery store's hours are Monday through Friday 7:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. and weekends 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. Free parking is available in the Vine Street parking ramp.

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