Wellness centers to open in Giants

40 supermarkets to offer counselors, health screening

January 19, 2002|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

Now you'll be able to get your cholesterol checked while you pick up some milk and eggs - or, depending on the test results, maybe some skim milk and egg substitute.

Giant Food and US Wellness announced yesterday a venture to open "wellness centers" in 40 Giant supermarkets over the next year. Each center, staffed by a nurse, will offer more than 50 health screenings, lab tests and other services such as flu shots for a fee.

For Giant, which operates 185 markets in the mid-Atlantic region, it's "an extension of our pharmacy operation," said Barry F. Scher, vice president for public affairs. Also, he said, it's a chance to "differentiate" Giant from its competitors. "Food companies are pretty much alike," he said, and by offering additional services, "it's an opportunity to bring people into the store."

For US Wellness, a Gai- thersburg company with 30 employees, it's a chance to move in a new direction. For the five years of its existence, the company has been developing wellness centers for others to run, and doing one-shot wellness services for employers and retailers.

"We were doing mobile screenings at Giant for bone density - we had 8,000 screenings in May," said Tony Masso, chief executive officer of US Wellness. "A lot of women said to us, `What do we do after this? You should come here on a regular schedule.' So we thought we would approach Giant."

Scher said Giant found the idea consistent with its own wish to add services, such as the coffee shops it has in some stores. He said Giant has a "new ventures" department that will be adding other services.

Each wellness center is to be in a 200-square-foot area next to a pharmacy in the Giant store, staffed by a nurse employed by US Wellness. The health company plans to have nutritionists and other health professionals available. The center will be visible within the supermarket, but have a private room for patients who are being tested or counseled.

In addition to dropping in for screenings, Masso said, consumers will be able to get individual care management plans. A nutritionist might even walk through the store with the consumer, pointing out the skinless chicken or polyunsaturated cooking oil.

Wellness center customers who get prescriptions filled at the Giant will get $10 food coupons.

Masso said the centers will not make diagnoses, but will advise some customers to consult a doctor.

The centers will not take insurance reimbursement. Masso said that might discourage some customers who could get lab tests covered, but he thought even some with insurance would be willing to pay out of pocket because of the convenience. Most tests will cost between $10 and $50, he said.

Masso said his company might want to expand the concept eventually, but over the next year will concentrate on the Giant rollout.

Both sides declined to disclose financial arrangements. "We provide the space, and there are some financial benefits to Giant, but I can't go into detail," Scher said. Added Masso: "We will jointly share in the results. That's all I can say."

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