Forward thinking and fast execution have allowed Caron Renaissance in Boca Raton, Florida, to continue making grocery shopping a part of the recovery process for its residential patients.
Late in the winter, as the coronavirus was fast becoming a serious threat in the U.S., Caron Renaissance leaders engaged in planning sessions for various scenarios. One of the biggest questions, executive director Ryan Hanson, MA, CAP, says, was how to mitigate potential exposure to the virus for patients and staff.
Public grocery stores were identified as uncontrolled, high-traffic environments. Hanson says Caron Renaissance executives worked through several potential alternatives to taking residents grocery shopping, including ordering meals and catering, before settling on a solution: If it’s no longer safe to take patients to the grocery store, bring the grocery store to them.
In a span of less than two weeks, Caron Renaissance staff members built an on-campus bodega just for residents.
“The creation of the market was the most clinically consistent solution with what we are trying to accomplish,” Hanson tells Behavioral Healthcare Executive.
In less than 10 days, Caron staffers repurposed a space previously used for small gatherings, installing chest freezers, double-door refrigerators, and shelves. The project also required the installation of electrical junction boxes and other rewiring. Caron Renaissance worked with Sodexo, a food services and facilities management company, through a partnership with Lynn University to stock grocery items.
“We’re thrilled to support this important initiative at Caron,” Sodexo said in a company-issued statement to BHE. “We understand and value the importance of mental health and substance use disorder treatment.”
Since the project was first announced, patients and families have been “overwhelmingly appreciative and grateful” of the consideration shown for their safety, but some initially wondered about the kinds of food that would be available, Hanson says.
“A few families and patients expressed concerns about what we would have in there. I think the initial fear was—I was thinking back to my dorm at college that had a little snack bar, and I think that’s what people were worried they were getting, some junk food and options they didn’t really want,” Hanson says. “After we sent the first group through, though, it was all over. Everybody said, ‘This is great. We love it.’ ”
The organization designed its initial inventory based on patients’ grocery receipts from the previous month. In the weeks following launch, Caron Renaissance has accommodated patient requests for items such as lentil-based pasta and more frozen fish, Hanson says.
Patients shop in the market two at a time, wearing face masks and accompanied by a counselor assistant. The market is regularly disinfected following CDC guidelines.
Hanson says it is unlikely Caron Renaissance would have built an on-site grocery store had the organization’s hand not been forced by the pandemic.
“We had developed a system that we had used for many years and were comfortable with it,” he says of allotting patients a budget to shop in public stores while accompanied by a sober mentor or buddy. “It met some treatment goals for us—helping people budget, helping people learn about healthy food options and the life skills involved with cooking. Those are some of the core components of what our patients need to learn.”
The on-site store is creating a reasonable facsimile of that experience now, but will it continue post-pandemic? That is to be determined, Hanson says, weighing the pros and cons.
“We like some of the control we get by doing this,” Hanson says. “The only thing we lose in not taking our folks to an external grocery store is a small component of the real-life application. Our grocery store does not contain a wine aisle, for example. Some of our folks need to have the experience of walking past that—or not walking past that as the case may be.”
Photo submitted by Caron Treatment Centers