IGA Store Replica Helps Hospital Patients with Rehabilitation

Aug 29, 2018

You’ve heard of people engaging in “retail therapy” but at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Florence, S.C., they are taking that literally.

Working with KJ’s Market IGA, which has 45 stores across South Carolina and Georgia, Encompass created a replica of an actual grocery store within its hospital. The 650-square-foot KJ’s Cares “store” is stocked with real food and will serve as a valuable tool in helping people who have suffered strokes, traumatic brain injuries and other serious setbacks in their recovery. For these patients, even simple tasks like making a grocery list, counting out change or walking around a store can pose challenges.

The idea for the project started with the patients themselves, said Ashley O’Sullivan, business development director at Encompass.

“Even though patients were physically ready for return to the community independently, they didn’t always feel that way, and there was anxiety around doing everyday activities, like going to the grocery store,” she said.


Encompass CEO Brian Nunn had seen REAL (Realistic Environment Applied Learning) Therapy spaces being used in other parts of the country and gave the idea the go-ahead. From there, the obvious partner was KJ’s, said O’Sullivan. “Knowing that KJ’s IGA is local and focused on being a community partner, we reached out and set up a meeting with KJ’s President Philip Payment,” she said. “Philip listened to our ideas and was on board when he heard how this would help so many patients in returning to our community. He worked with every department in our hospital to find out how the KJ’s Cares Market could best be tailored to meet the individual needs and followed the project through completion.”

While on a tour of the hospital, Payment immediately saw the benefits of the project and its many practical applications. “I could see the passion that the hospital has for its patients and that it would be worthwhile work,” he said.

Payment and his team were given full license to design and execute the project. “We provided the space in our hospital and Philip and KJ’s did the rest—planning, measuring, designing, time, money, supplies and food. They were amazing and so gracious,” said O’Sullivan.

According to Payment, the simulated store contains many common foods and household items and is designed to look and feel like the real deal. The project took 3 months from start to finish to complete and officially opened last Thursday, Aug. 23. Encompass patients have already started using the space, with various exercises planned to help engage them physically and mentally. Examples range from planning meals and creating shopping lists to finding the items on the shelves and lifting them into the cart.

The key aspect of the store is the hospital’s therapists can tailor the tasks based on the patient’s individual needs.

Rehabilitation2-533x324IGA retailer Philip Payment and South Carolina Congressman Tom Rice at the opening

"One of the gentlemen that was in here picking up a case of water, some Ensure and a gallon of Gatorade said that 10 days ago he couldn't walk,” Payment said at the ribbon cutting event. “He did a great job picking the product up, putting it in the buggy and then putting it back on the shelf, so it's a testament to their work that they do here and we're glad to be a part of it."

Paul Sullivan, an occupational therapy assistant at the hospital, agreed, saying: “It allows patients to experience a real world functional activity within the confines of the hospital.  It provides an excellent test of endurance, balance, and functional reach, among others, while practicing an activity of daily living.”

Patients also work with dietitians on reading nutrition labels and making sure they are sticking to specific diet plans after their hospital stay.

“Having the Real Therapy Space has given our patients the satisfaction of being able to meal plan, make healthy choices to affect their lifestyle, and allow them to shop in a simulated environment to lift their spirits,” said Occupational Therapist Gretchen Chappell.

While it may seem like a small step to most people, for patients recovering from life-threatening illnesses or injuries, it is a big leap into transitioning back into a “normal” life.


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