July 21, 2021

Paramount Advantage: Bringing Healthy Food to Ohio’s Food Deserts

For patients, especially those covered by Medicaid, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) meet a constellation of needs including primary medical care plus dental, behavioral health and optical services.

Thanks to innovative outreach by Paramount Advantage, a Medicaid Managed Care plan that is part of Toledo-based ProMedica, some FQHCs now offer an additional kind of care that’s essential to good health: nutritious food.

In Ohio, grocery stores supported by ProMedica and Paramount are bringing fresh, healthy choices to neighborhoods in Toledo and Marion that previously were considered “food deserts,” with little aside from gas stations and high-priced convenience stores within walking distance of many residents.

The Center Street Corner Market, offering fresh, healthy groceries at competitive prices, opened in downtown Marion in January in a renovated building that has over the past century-plus housed a cigar store, print shop, loan company and Marion County Republican Party headquarters. The circa-1900 building at the corner of Center and Main streets boasts a gleaming red roof and its new name across the entire front façade.

Inside, the $1.3 million renovation made use of restored vintage cabinetry and, in a nod to the building’s history, a collection of antique cigar and tobacco signs. Shoppers won’t actually find any tobacco products for sale, but the store does have some treats for occasional splurging such as chips and soda along with the fresh produce, meats, milk and other healthy basics.

The market came about after Cliff Edwards, chief executive officer of the Center Street Community Health Center, looked to Toledo’s Market on the Green, an extension of ProMedica’s Ebeid Center, as a model. ProMedica entered the market business with Market on the Green several years ago, after it could find no commercial partner willing to take the financial risk of opening a store in the neighborhood.

Tim Petee, regional director of operations for Paramount, offered Edwards not only advice but tangible support in the form of a business plan, operating model and plans for vendor selection, merchandising and staff training.

After a relatively quiet start at the end of 2020, the market doubled its sales by June, aided by the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and gaining authorization to accept federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) funds. Organizers hope soon to be able to accept Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) coupons, which will further expand the community’s access to the market.

Since the market opened, one generous supporter has donated two nearby buildings and Edwards plans to add a teaching kitchen, to help patients get the most out of the good food they now have access to, and a financial literacy program.

While simply having a real grocery store nearby with market prices is a significant improvement for many in downtown Marion, a recently launched collaboration with Marion Public Health offers a more direct intervention for some patients with diabetes. Patients in the program group are given coupons good for free produce and a nutrition educator helps teach them how to prepare and enjoy them.

“It’s been very well received,” Edwards said. “We’re excited about expanding the program.”

For vulnerable people in underserved communities, a lot of everyday life activities are harder. ProMedica and Paramount are seeing to it that, for people who live in downtown Marion, getting access to healthy food isn’t one of them.

Share this article:
Sign up to receive articles in your inbox: