A caregiver holding someone's hands

Why I Will Be in Line for A Flu Shot This Year

For many years, Ann Himmler of Monroe County, was required to get a flu shot every year because she was a Hospice volunteer. “I was 100 percent on board with the requirement,” said Ann, “because in addition to the patients I would be spending volunteer time with, my family had also been providing care to a senior parent with compromised health issues who lived in our home.”

Ann knew that older adults and people with certain medical conditions, including a weakened immune system, are among those who are at high risk of serious complications from the flu. “It was important that our entire family receive the flu shot as well, not only to protect ourselves from getting sick, but also reduce the risk of transmitting the flu to our relative who depended on us for their care,” said Ann.

How Dangerous A Virus Can Be

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness of how dangerous a virus can be and how important it is to have an effective vaccine. “In 2019, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates between 39 million and 56 million people got sick with the flu and between 24,000 and 62,000 people died of flu complications,” said Dr. Stephen Cohen, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield senior vice president and corporate medical director.

For the very young, the very old, women who are pregnant, and individuals with compromised immune systems including many patients on chemotherapy, catching the flu can place them at high risk for serious complications, including death. “Fortunately, we have a flu vaccine in hand for this year’s strains that can provide a level of immunity or reduce the severity if you do get sick,” said Dr. Cohen.

Don’t Wait to Get a Flu Shot

The flu vaccine is now available at most major pharmacies, many physician practices, and other sites in our community. With rare exceptions, the CDC recommends it for everyone ages 6 months and older. Most health insurance plans cover the flu vaccine in full, and you usually don’t need an appointment to receive it at a pharmacy.

“The flu season will last until May, but it is important to get vaccinated sooner than later to help establish a level of immunity in our community,” said Dr. Cohen. “It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to provide protection.”

Older adults should consult with their health care provider to see if they recommend the high-dose flu vaccine that is approved for people ages 65 years and older. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that the high-dose vaccine was 24-percent more effective in preventing flu in adults 65 years and older relative to a standard-dose vaccine.

Keeping Our Community Healthy

Because of COVID-19, it’s even more important to do everything that you can to keep yourself and your family healthy this flu season. “That’s why even though it’s not required for me now, I will be in line for a flu shot again this year,” Ann said.

 

To view or download an educational flu poster, visit ExcellusBCBS.com.

Small Steps to Prevent Big Falls: Protecting Older Adults from Injury

I had a reunion of sorts with some old friends from high school. Once we adjusted to seeing each other as “seasoned” adults, we caught up on the past 30 plus years since graduation.  We chatted about the highlights: families, careers, travel, and memories from high school.  As we settled in, our conversation turned toward our current stage of life: retirement, grandchildren and aging parents.

Since my parents passed away fairly young, I haven’t dealt with the caregiving challenges and issues that impact many older adults.  As I listened to the conversations, I was amazed that every person talked about a parent who had fallen and the tremendous impact it had on their family.

The Leading Cause of Injury Among Older Adults

I shouldn’t have been so surprised. In upstate New York, more than 1 in 4 adults over age 65 reporting falling at least once, according to research from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

View ‘Protect Yourself From Falls’ infographic

Even more eye opening was to hear that my friends’ parents had been hurt or had to enter a nursing home because of the fall. Unfortunately, this is quite common.  In fact, research shows that 60 percent of seniors in New York state who were hospitalized for a fall ended up in a nursing home.

Taking Steps to Avoid Falls

But falling doesn’t have to be an accepted part of the aging process. There are simple things you can do to help reduce the risk of a fall and promote independent and active lifestyles among older adults.

One friend actively involved in the care of her aging father shared her strategies to help him avoid a fall. She installed grab bars in his shower and removed throw rugs to help him avoid slipping and falling.  She routinely de-clutters his home to reduce his risk of tripping.  It helps that she’s a nurse, and assists her dad in managing his medications. There are certain medications, such as sedatives or some over the counter drugs, which can affect balance.

Since I’m not getting any younger, I’m taking note.  Thankfully, I’ve always been active.  In the past few years, I’ve become a big fan of yoga, which has helped me improve my flexibility and balance.  Exercise is a good investment because physical fitness can help prevent the incidence of falls and minimize potential injury.  I don’t want to be a statistic (not a bad one, anyway), so added to my long-term to do list is: continue to stay active and clean up the mess in my house.

To learn more about preventing falls, talk with your doctor or visit ExcellusBCBS.com. You might want to explore local falls prevention classes to help the older adult in your life stay healthy.  Here are two organizations that offer classes in upstate New York:

Lifespan (Rochester area)

Building Better Balance (Broome County)

Note: Classes may be on hold or held virtually due to the pandemic.

5 Ways to Reduce Caregiver Stress

When I was in high school, there were several years where my mom devoted herself to taking care of my grandparents. We lived in Syracuse, but my grandparents lived in Watertown, so my mom would regularly travel the hour or so north up I-81 to be with them. Back then, and for years after, she would often say how glad she was to be able to be there for her parents during that time. Despite the gratification caregiving brought her, I know it was hard for her to balance helping her parents while taking care of me and my sisters and working a full-time job.

Caregiving can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be very stressful. You may be experiencing caregiver stress if you’re feeling overwhelmed, alone, or are often worried. Whether you’re providing hands-on care or helping from afar, here are some tips from fellow caregivers to help reduce caregiver stress.

Take a break

Recognize that providing care for someone is an important job. Like all jobs, it’s important to seek a well-deserved break when you can. Don’t be shy about asking others for help. Jan Caster, a caregiver from Onondaga County, says that when someone offers to help, it’s important to “be specific about what the individual can do for you. Suggest choices like respite care, preparing meals or providing transportation.”

If you’re a long-distance caregiver, offer what you can to help the caregiver who is local. You can help research community resources or even give a small gift card to help give the other caregiver a break. That kind of help can be “a better gift than any ‘thing’,” says Jan.

There are also more formal respite services available to help give you a break and reduce caregiver stress. These services include:

  • In-home care: regular or periodic in-home care can provide someone to help with personal care, providing medical services and respite care.
  • Programs for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE): these programs provide both medical and social services to individuals who live in the community.
  • Adult Day Care Centers: provide your loved one with some socialization while giving you an opportunity to work, run errands or take a break.
  • Nursing homes: many communities have nursing homes or other residential care facilities that can provide short-term overnight care if you need to go out of town.

Check with your local Office for the Aging and NY Connects to learn more about these and other respite services available in your community.

Communication is Key

Having open and honest conversations with your loved one can help to take the burden off of you, the caregiver. It’s helpful to understand the wishes of your loved one and make sure everyone is on the same page. Jim Redmond, a caregiver from Monroe County, says that when you’re a caregiver “you may need to have difficult conversations with your loved one…but you can still maintain a level of respect and help them preserve as much of their independence as possible. Part of having a difficult conversation is helping your loved one determine realistic goals based on their condition and the way it is changing.” Resources like AARP offer tips for having those difficult conversations.

It’s also important to establish open communication with other family members. “We have an on-going group text with my siblings and our spouses,” says Jim, “It helps everyone get the same information at the same time”. It’s one way to include everyone, even if they live out of town.”

Do Something You Enjoy

When you’re caring for someone else, you often prioritize your loved one’s health over your own. It’s important to remember to take care of your own health too to help you provide your loved one with the best care.

While it can be hard to do, Jan says it’s also helpful to “do something for yourself that you’ll look forward to.” You could watch a movie or take an exercise class. Jan enjoys a yoga class as one way to take time for her health. Finding time to rest or nap is important too, as many caregivers struggle with sleep. “Sleep is not overrated!” adds Jan.

Seek Support

Feeling isolated can be a challenge for caregivers. When you’re feeling alone, talking with others can help you to cope, whether it’s with a counselor or with a few good friends. My aunts were a main source of support for mom. They were helping to take care of my grandparents too. I remember the long phone calls my mom would have with them late into the night. Like with many of life’s challenges, it helps so much just to know you’re not alone.

Support groups are another great resource for caregivers. They can provide a safe space for venting frustration or sharing struggles. To find an in-person or online support group, contact your local Office for the Aging.

Keep Things in Perspective

It’s easy to become overwhelmed when caregiving, whether it’s with your loved one or with the situation in general. Jim says it helps to “maintain perspective” and remember that “everyone will have good days and bad days.” Many fellow caregivers say that when providing care for a loved one, it’s helpful to focus on what’s really important and not sweat the small stuff.

When all else fails, take deeps breaths and give yourself credit for doing one of the toughest jobs that there is. Jan adds, “Trust yourself when it comes to your loved one’s care – you know them better than anyone.”

Teresa’s Grateful for Her Gift of Life

After Teresa Arnold’s 12-hour liver transplant surgery, her doctor told her husband, “It’s amazing she was still alive. Her liver was a small, hard rock.”

Teresa emerged from the operation looking pink after years of having a yellow cast to her skin.

Her husband, David, burst into tears of relief. He had been her primary caregiver for the previous two years while working full-time.

“It was a crazy, crazy time,” Teresa said of her five years waiting on the transplant list. Liver failure had caused her to develop encephalopathy. The brain disease not only turned her sleep/wake cycle upside down, but also adversely affected her memory and balance.

Teresa, a registered nurse, believes she contracted hepatitis C during the 1970s before the health care profession adopted universal precautions.

At 3 a.m., two days after Christmas 2006, she received a call informing her that a donor’s liver was available. Soon, she and her husband were on the road to Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital for the surgery.

Teresa checked out of the hospital in a record seven days post-op. Although she would undergo yearlong chemotherapy for hepatitis C, she felt well enough after three months of recuperation at home to take on a new job. In 2007, she started working at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in Syracuse as a Utilization Review Coordinator.

“I love my job. I still get to be a nurse,” she said. Until her illness forced her to quit, Teresa had been nursing director at Syracuse Community Health Center. She also had worked in a Wyoming hospital for 10 years before returning to upstate New York with her husband and son. Her son now lives in Oregon with his family.

Her current position is Care Coordinator.

“It’s probably the best job I’ve ever had,” said Teresa.

How do I give back?

In the years since her surgery, Teresa often has wondered why she — of the thousands of people waiting for a donor organ — was lucky enough to receive a 40-year-old man’s liver.  Through the transplant coordinator, she wrote a thank-you letter to his family, but didn’t hear back.

She contemplated how she could repay the gift the universe had bestowed on her.

A Buddhist, Teresa believes in the interconnectedness of all life. She turned to her teacher for answers.

“What am I supposed to do now that I’ve been given this gift? How do I give back?”

Her teacher answered, “Just live.”

Organ donation statistics

Here are some organ donation statistics provided by Mary Jane Milano, Community Development Manager at the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network. The Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network is a nonprofit, federally designated organ procurement organization that serves 20 counties in the Finger Lakes, Central New York and upstate New York regions.

 

In the United States

  • Every 9 minutes, someone is added to the national transplant waiting list.
  • On average, 17 people die each day while waiting for a transplant.
  • More than 5,600 people died in 2020 while waiting for an organ transplant (or within 30 days of leaving the list for personal or medical reasons).
  • There were more than 12,500 deceased donors in 2020, a 6 percent increase from the year before.
  • One donor hero can save up to eight lives through organ donation and could improve the lives of up to 75 more through tissue and cornea donation.

Approximate Waitlists (the number of people waiting for a life-saving organ transplant

  • National: 108,000
  • New York state: 8,880
  • Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network service area: 860 (listed at Strong Memorial Hospital or SUNY Upstate Medical University)

Donor registry enrollment rates (the percentage of people registered as organ, eye and tissue donors)

  • United States: 60%
  • New York state: 43%
  • Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network area: 56%

The only restriction to signing up for organ donation in New York state is that enrollees must be at least 16 years old.

If it’s your wish to pass life on to others through organ donation, you can easily enroll through the electronic New York State Donate Life Registry.

Visit DonorRecovery.org to learn more about organ donation in New York state. If you live outside of New York state, visit OrganDonor.gov to learn more about organ donation in your state.

Sources:

  • Health Resources and Services Administration / U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
  • United Network of Organ Sharing
  • New York State Donate Life Registry 
Boy giving a high five to doctor

Why Are There So Few Flu Cases This Year?

The prevalence of flu in New York state is way down compared to this time last year. That’s according to an analysis of health tracking data by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. As of January 9, 2021, there were 2,326 confirmed cases of flu and 386 patients hospitalized with flu. At this time last year, the state reported 43,895 confirmed cases of flu and 7,633 patients hospitalized.

There’s a good explanation for that, according to Stephen Cohen, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer at Excellus BCBS.

A Proven Approach for Flu

“We have a proven three-pronged approach to challenging the flu virus: We have a flu vaccine that’s safe and effective and widely available, we have buy-in from much of the public to get the flu vaccine, and we have everyone practicing common-sense behaviors that can reduce the spread of a virus,” said Cohen. “The success of this approach in reducing the impact of this year’s flu virus is the template for reducing the impact of COVID-19.”

The Importance of Vaccines

The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October, peaks between December and February, and can last as late as May. “Each year brings a new formulation for the flu vaccine to reflect the different strains that are expected, so it’s important for everyone to get the flu vaccine each year,” said Cohen.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 192.5 million doses of this year’s flu vaccine have been distributed nationally, to date (as of 1/1/21), compared to 174.2 million doses in total for the 2019-2020 flu season. A 2020 survey of 2,000 upstate New York adults commissioned by Excellus BCBS and conducted by One Research found 60 percent of adults believe it is important to get a flu vaccine.

But It’s More Than Just Vaccines

“And as we’ve learned this year, there’s more to practicing personal responsibility than simply coughing into your elbow. We need to wear masks, practice social distancing, and wash our hands effectively and often to protect ourselves and others,” said Cohen.

To view or download an educational flu poster, visit ExcellusBCBS.com.

Picture of woman in mask opening door

Helping Small Businesses in High-Need Neighborhoods Stay Healthy

Ify Azogi’s African and Caribbean Central Market has seen a decline in customers since the pandemic began.

The owner of a small business in one of Monroe County’s poorest neighborhoods, she’s doing her best to keep the doors open.

“People feel afraid. They’re scared of coming out,” she said. “I’ve been here since 10:30 this morning and the store has been mostly empty.”

Hit hard by the pandemic, many small businesses are struggling – especially those in minority neighborhoods with high infection rates.

Business owners like Azogi and their employees put themselves and their families at great risk every day so we have access to the services and goods we need.

“This pandemic has put many local small businesses at risk,” said Jim Reed, president and CEO-elect of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “It is important for our community’s businesses to have the personal protection equipment they need to safely stay open and continue serving their customers.”

Personal Protective Equipment –essential for essential businesses and workers

Personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer have been essential tools throughout the pandemic, protecting businesses, workers and customers from infection and the spread of the virus.

On a Saturday morning in early December, owners of 200 small businesses turned out to receive kits containing personal protective equipment (PPE) to help keep their employees and customers safe. The kits contained a digital thermometer, face masks and shields, disinfectant, hand sanitizer and paper towels.

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Excellus BCBS provided $40,000 to Monroe County to purchase and distribute 400 PPE kits to essential minority and women-owned businesses in the county’s neediest zip codes. Regional Distributors packaged the PPE kits and delivered them to the distribution sight.

Safety…

Azogi said the PPE helps her customers feel safe. “Before, if a customer came to the door without a mask, I couldn’t let them in,” she said. “Now, I can gladly give them one. Customers are grateful. They say, “oh, I can have one?! Thanks! And I don’t have to turn anyone away.”

…and peace of mind

Lorna Underwood is using the PPE at her family-owned Caribbean Heritage Restaurant.

After years in the catering business, she and her husband, Jerome, opened the restaurant in March 2019 and, in March 2020, they had to close. Two weeks later, they reopened for take-out only.

“We’re not as busy. We lost business, but we keep going. We’re doing everything we possibly can,” she said.

She’s been putting the disinfectant to good use, cleaning and wiping down counters and door handles. “And masks, especially,” she said. “If someone doesn’t have one, I can hand them one with a reminder they need to wear a mask. Especially the young people, the invincible ones!”

Receiving the PPE, she said, gives her a great deal of peace of mind, helping with customer and employee safety, as well as some financial relief. “Otherwise we would have had to find money to buy it,” she said.

Picture of Adam Bello

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and volunteers distribute PPE kits.

“We want to ensure that essential retail and other businesses have the tools they need to better serve their customers and keep our neighborhoods safe,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “I am grateful to Excellus BCBS for their generous grant, and to Regional Distributors for stepping up to help us with this important initiative.”

Underwood is optimistic. “We’re not going to close our doors. Customers are glad we’re open and this helps us find a way to stay open. In the meantime, we’ll stay the course. We do what we can to help our customers. Hospitality is who I am – it’s still working out.”

Picture of Adam Bello

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and volunteers distribute PPE kits.

Picture of a pill bottle

Your Questions About Medication Adherence Answered

The following article was written by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield SafetyNet Medical Directors Sudha Bakshi, MD, and Saba Abaci, MD

Often when patients are given a new prescription medication, they wonder why it’s being prescribed, how often they should take it, and what side effects to expect. Taking a medication as prescribed, also known as medication adherence, is especially important for prescription medications designed to treat mood disorders such as depression or anxiety. Questions about these medications are common, and it’s important for you, if you do have questions, to get the answers you need.

 

Start the Conversation

If you have questions about prescription medications for mood disorders, having a conversation with your health care provider is the right place to start. Your provider knows you and your medical history best and can determine if any symptoms you are experiencing are indicative of a mood disorder. Common symptoms of mood disorders include extreme sadness, loss of enjoyment, changes in sleep, changes in appetite, and difficulties with motivation and attention. Often, these symptoms are severe enough that they impact a person’s ability to function effectively in their daily lives. The goal of mood disorder treatment is to help improve those symptoms and, sometimes, that treatment involves prescription medications.

Being on a prescription medication, and for how long, depends on the condition you are experiencing. There are different medications for different diagnoses. Your provider will work with you to develop the course of treatment that is right for you. For example, the typical recommendation for depression is to take the prescription medication for nine months to a year. Some individuals may need to take medication longer.

 

Ask Questions and Speak Up About Side Effects

It is very important to take medications for a mood disorder exactly as prescribed. Before leaving your provider’s office, make sure you know how to take the medication safely, including the correct dosage (how much) and frequency (how often). It is also important to ask about potential side effects you may experience while taking the medication.

Side effects have been cited as a reason people stop taking their prescribed medications. Depending on the medication, side effects may include changes in sleep, appetite, mood, anxiety, energy, and sexual function. Talk with your provider about any changes in behavior or physical symptoms that are new and/or difficult to manage while taking a medication. It is also important to be aware of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning of a new and sudden onset of negative or self-harming thoughts. These can be addressed by your provider and may require changes in the medication or dosage.

 

Keep the Conversation Going

After starting a medication for a mood disorder, you may not feel better right away. Mood disorders impact the neurochemical nature of the brain over time. Therefore, typically, you’ll need to take your medication for four to six weeks before your provider can assess your true response to it. However, for some, there can be a reduction in symptoms within the first two weeks. Taking your medication as prescribed can help you better manage your condition.

As your treatment continues, your provider will continually monitor and evaluate your progress. If you have additional questions or concerns related to prescription medications, talk with your health care provider.

For more help with taking medications, visit ExcellusBCBS.com and click on the “health and wellness” tab in the menu.

gingerbread house

Surviving The Annual Holiday Food Fest

Holidays and food go hand in hand, or more accurately, hand to mouth. This time of year can present a challenge to even the most disciplined among us to stick to a healthy diet and enjoy the treats of the season in moderation.

On average, Americans gain one to two pounds during the holidays, and research shows these pounds tend to stick, accumulating year after year. This year, our new normal of COVID-19, shutdowns, and social distancing, add stress eating to the mix to make keeping to a healthy diet an even greater challenge. Here are some tips to make it through the holiday season with your waistline intact, and to jump start resolutions to eat better in the new year.

 

Tips for the holiday food fest

  1. Focus on portion size and be aware of what you are eating. Stick to healthy eating habits such as filling half your plate with fruits and veggies and making half of the grains you consume whole grains.
  2. Keep to a consistent sleep schedule, and avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bed.
  3. Make it a habit to go for an after-dinner walk, whatever the weather. It’ll get you away from the table and the temptation to keep picking at the food.
  4. With social distancing, there’ll likely be fewer mouths to feed, so cook what you need, and nothing more. Sending doggy bags home with guests is not an option this year.
  5. And, when it comes to holiday gift giving, Salzer suggests subscriptions to healthy eating or healthy cooking magazines. They serve as a fun monthly reminder to stay focused on healthy eating and portion control. It’s a gift that’ll be enjoyed throughout the year.

Find information on nutrition, healthy cooking, and more, online at the Health & Wellness page at ExcellusBCBS.com.

Picture of a scale

Maintain, Don’t Gain: Take Charge of Your Weight this Holiday Season

Did you know that the average American gains 1-2 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s? “While this may not sound like a lot, most people never lose it, so that weight accumulates over the years,” said Amanda Shanahan, RD, Employee Wellbeing Manager, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “By controlling holiday weight gain and adopting a healthier lifestyle, risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke and lifestyle-related illnesses can be decreased. This holiday season, make a pledge to Maintain, Don’t Gain!”

Amanda suggests these tips to avoid those extra holiday pounds:

Keep Moving

Exercise can help you beat stress, boost energy and burn off all those homemade cookies. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day of exercise. If you currently aren’t active, start with 5-10 minutes and build up to 30. Any exercise is better than none. One way to make sure you are getting the exercise you need is to track it. You can use the American Heart Association’s free Activity Tracker to track your activity. Pick an activity that you enjoy, make a plan and stick to it.

Add Lots of Color

Eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables can help with weight management. They are low in calories and loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which helps you feel full. Try to make half of each meal vegetables and fruits.

Go Low

Swap low- or nonfat Greek yogurt for sour cream in dips, appetizers and casseroles. Instead of full-fat cheese, choose low-fat cheese. For dishes that call for lots of butter, like stuffing or sweet potatoes, use half or two-thirds the butter called for – you will cut calories without affecting the taste.

Know When to Stop

Still hungry? Remember, it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you’re full. So if you think you want second helpings, take a break for 20 minutes, then ask yourself if you’re still hungry.

Set a Goal and Celebrate Your Successes

Making exercise and healthy eating a regular habit takes commitment and planning. Set an achievable goal and then celebrate your success. Then set a new goal, and soon you will have lots of new healthy habits!

For more information on weight management, check out the CDC’s Healthy Weight website.

Picture of Karen Goossen

Good Health Begins with Good Food

When the pandemic forced Karen Goossen to close the doors of her business this spring, she knew her income was at risk. She didn’t realize the economic fallout would also put her health at risk.

Goossen, of Monroe County, had been following her doctor’s advice to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to her diet to help manage her heart health. However, with her income limited, those healthier choices became luxuries.

“I had to find a way to stretch my dollars,” she said, “so sometimes I had to do without fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Food Insecurity

The ability to earn a paycheck and feed a family are at risk for many people because of the pandemic and this is leading to a growing number of people experiencing food insecurity.

A recent study by Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, showed food insecurity in the 10-county area including Monroe County is expected to rise 45 percent this year due to the pandemic.

Loss of income, poverty, a person’s environment, education levels, and discrimination can all contribute to health risks. Known as social determinants of health, these factors can have significant impact on a person’s quality of life and well-being.

“I had been working hard, trying to eat healthier to improve my health and when I had to close the doors of my business, I had to limit the types of food I could buy,” she said. “I never thought I would be in this position at this point in my life. It’s an unusual and challenging time.”

Healthier Diet = Health Care Goals

This summer, Goossen’s nurse care manager contacted her about a new pilot program designed to help her and others who have health care needs and are at risk of food insecurity. The “Fresh Account at Curbside Market” program provides monthly vouchers to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

The program was developed in partnership with her health insurer, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield and local food bank, Foodlink. The Curbside Market is Foodlink’s mobile farmers market, which provides affordable and convenient access to healthy foods in underserved communities.

Picture of a food market truck

Foodlink Curbside Market Truck

“You need a healthy diet to improve and maintain good health,” said Dr. Brian Steele, vice president medical affairs, clinical services at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. This seemed to be an area where we could intervene.”

“The Fresh Account program helps people access healthier foods and celebrates making the healthy choice the easy choice,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink.

Farmers Market on Wheels

Participation in the program helps Goossen extend her food budget and meet her health care goals. “My first visit to Curbside Market I purchased peaches, nectarines, corn, celery, cherry tomatoes, grapes, onions, white and sweet potatoes – they had more than I anticipated!”

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The wide variety gave her the opportunity to try some new foods. “I love to cook, so I’m finding new recipes and making creative meals. It’s been helpful to me. I’m learning more about the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables I normally wouldn’t purchase.”

The best part?

“I’ve already lost 20 pounds!” She gained 50 pounds during the pandemic and credits her healthier diet for her weight loss. “Now I’m grabbing more fresh fruits and vegetables for a snack instead of something that will put weight back on and negatively affect my health.”

Staying Positive

Goossen says she’s concentrating on staying positive.

Picture of Karen Goossen

Karen Goossen

“In the early ‘90’s, when my children were little, I benefitted from the WIC program and food pantries. I know what it’s like to have family go without,” she said. “When I was able, I gave back, volunteering to help others and providing Thanksgiving dinners for those in need – it’s nice to give back.”

Although she didn’t expect to be on the receiving end again, she’s grateful to have this resource. “It’s a great idea. There’s a need and people are benefitting and appreciative.”

She calls the program “a blessing. The timing was perfect. I really needed it. And when I’m able, I’ll give back again.”