Picture of a mom holding a baby up over her head

Celebrating Black Breastfeeding Week: August 25-31

Making the decision to breastfeed can be a complicated and daunting process for many women. Health experts recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for about the first six months. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breastfeeding disparities exist, with fewer Black infants being breastfed compared with White and Hispanic infants. There is also a lack of diversity in the lactation field.

When factors such as unique cultural barriers and a complex history connected to breastfeeding are combined with food desert-like conditions in many urban areas where women may struggle to access healthy food, it brings to light the importance of a week devoted to Black Breastfeeding.

This week – August 25-31, 2020 – is celebrated by many who wish to bring attention to the topic, including Syracuse Community Connections’ Maternal and Family Health Program, which provides pregnancy, birth and parenting support to families that are expecting a child and/or have children up to 18 months old.

Connecting the Community

According to Rachel Johnson, Maternal and Family Health Program Director at Syracuse Community Connection, their home-based services are free to families residing in the Syracuse area. These services include a Doula Program, a Fatherhood Program and Baby Talk classes. Black Breastfeeding Week is one of many opportunities this organization takes to educate the public on topics and issues that impact women and families in their community.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Black Breastfeeding Week is meant to highlight and celebrate the Black women in our community that have chosen the complex journey of breastfeeding,” she said. “Our goal is to create visibility for and celebrate Black women who are currently breastfeeding; de-mystify breastfeeding, while providing the opportunity for individuals to share their real and raw experiences; and provide education to the community and support systems that enhance confidence to encourage a positive breastfeeding experience.”

Bridging the Gaps

Creating representation and transparency for Black maternal health helps to bridge gaps in our community in order to work towards reducing health disparities that are largely influenced by race, gender, and income status, says Latoya Mallory. Latoya manages Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s SafetyNet Member Care Management Program, Bright Beginnings.

“We offer services that support what our friends at Syracuse Community Connections are doing,” Latoya explains. “We offer programs that go hand-in-hand, including Bright Beginnings, which works with pregnant or new mothers to manage appointments and visits to the hospital and pediatrician, and provides breast pumps and pregnancy education.”

The Bright Beginnings program helps support Black Breastfeeding Week by providing education to Excellus BCBS members about the benefits of breastfeeding – a standard set forth whenever care managers like Emily Georger, RN, work with women in the community.

Bright Beginnings

Emily recently helped a new mom through the breastfeeding decision-making process, which can sometimes be daunting. “This member had planned to breastfeed, but was not fully educated on what to expect,” she explained. “I was able to provide education and help talk through some common misconceptions about breastfeeding.”

The member was also connected with other services that would help her in this decision including a lactation consultant with Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Medicaid free breast pump benefit, and virtual parenting classes offered by local community agencies.

“The member, who delivered a healthy baby girl this summer, was pleasantly surprised, as she was unaware of the additional services available to her… It’s our job to help connect those dots,” Emily said.

Thanks to the work of these organizations and a week that draws attention to this important health issue, an impact can be made.

“We want Black women to know that they are being seen and heard,” Rachel said. “We want them to know that they are not alone and that they have a safe space to share their stories.

Learn More

Syracuse Community Connections’ Maternal and Family Health Program

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield – SafetyNet Program

  • Phone: 1-844-694-6411
Woman sitting on the step with her granddaughter

7 Ways To Stick To Your Hydration Goal

During the summer – and year-round – our bodies crave water. There’s no way to live without it.  In fact, about 60 percent of your body is made of water. It plays a role in keeping your body working well.  We lose water even when we’re at rest, and when we breathe and sweat. It’s important to hydrate throughout the day and not just during physical activity.

There are so many great benefits to staying hydrated. Drinking water:

  • Helps the heart more easily pump.
  • Helps your muscles work efficiently.
  • Keeps your body cool.
  • Lubricates and cushion joints.
  • Helps improve sleep quality, cognition, and mood.

How much water do you need?

Always talk to your physician about how much water you should drink if you are taking medications or are diagnosed with a new medical condition. Some illnesses may require more or less water consumption.

Your individual water needs depend on many factors, including your health, how active you are and where you live.  You can get water from both food and other liquids. The Institute of Medicine (IOM)  recommends about 91 ounces/day for women (about 11 cups) and 125 ounces (about 17 cups)/day for men. The easiest thing to do is pay attention to the color of your urine. Pale and clear means you’re well hydrated. If it’s dark, drink more fluids.

Water is best

Water is the best thing to drink to stay hydrated. It’s calorie-free, inexpensive, and usually readily available. Sources of water also include foods, such as fruits and vegetables which contain a high percentage of water. It’s also best to limit consumption of drinks containing caffeine, to a moderate amount, i.e. 1 – 2 cups of coffee/day. Caffeine is a mild diuretic and large amounts could affect your hydration status.

7 tips for staying hydrated

  1. For a twist on water, try sparkling water (without added sugar).
  2. Try water at different temperatures – a cup of hot water with lemon in the morning is a good way to start the day.
  3. Use a straw – this can increase consumption. Choose a water bottle with a built-in straw or try a reusable straw such as stainless steel.
  4. Eat your water – eat foods with high water concentrate such as watermelon or cucumbers.
  5. Invest in a cool new water bottle. Just like having a new workout outfit, a new water bottle could motivate you to drink more water.  Make sure you look for one with a secure lid to protect your electronics.
  6. Regularly sip water. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already behind in fluid replacement.
  7. Track how much you drink – maybe use an app or put a few rubber bands around your water bottle. Every time you finish a bottle you get to remove a band.

So, drink up if you haven’t already! See how much better you feel after giving your body the hydration it needs.  Here’s to you and your good health! Cheers!

Picture of a mom standing by her baby

Taking Care of Your Mental Health

Lisa’s world was turned upside down a few months ago. As with many of us, the pandemic changed nearly everything about her daily life overnight. The mother of three had only been back to work at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield for about four months following maternity leave, when her job shifted to work from home and her two older kids’ school transitioned to online. “I know it’s a cliché that the only thing constant in life is change, but so much change, so quickly, has really affected my mental health,” said the mother of eleven-month-old Alessandra, six-year-old Elias, and 10-year-old Sophia.

Cutout picture of three children

Lisa sent this picture cutout to her mother who was missing the children during social distancing. (photo courtesy of Lisa)

Lisa’s work is rewarding, but stressful at times. Add working from home to the mix, a breastfeeding baby who wants to be held, and the two older siblings attending school via Zoom, and you’ve got a perfect storm.

Be Patient and Kind

Growing up, Lisa was aware of the prevalence of mental health issues in her family. Five years ago, she also began experiencing nervousness and anxiety, which led her to seek help from a behavioral health professional who taught her coping skills and prescribed medication to help alleviate her symptoms.

“Taking medicine, doing deep breathing exercises, and scheduling regular physical activity such as walks with my family have helped me adapt to my new normal,” said Lisa. “I’ve also learned to be patient and kind with myself, and others, when I’m feeling stressed or panicked.”

Family Date Night

Lisa found that doing things with the family that were fun, and that gave them something to look forward to each week, improved the entire family’s mental health. “We now have a themed family date night every Saturday,” said Lisa. “One week it was a sports team theme, while another was a fancy dress up dinner.” Daughter Sophia has started to help in the kitchen and, according to mom, “makes a mean risotto!”

Picture of two children raising a glass to cheers over dinner

Saturday Night Date Night Dinner Fun at Lisa’s house (photo courtesy of Lisa)

Lisa is quick to add that support and check ins from her leaders at work have helped her to strike a work-life balance that allows her to manage stress and maintain perspective. Her supervisor has been very supportive, and sends weekly emails to their team that are funny or helpful, and keep everyone feeling connected.

“I’ve learned that your emotional well-being is just as important as your physical well-being,” said Lisa. “Taking care of your mental health is no different than going to the doctor when you are sick, so don’t be afraid to ask for help or lean on others when you need to.” A conversation with your doctor can be a good place to start with getting help.

Tips for Managing Anxiety

 The New York State Office of Mental Health provides the following tips for managing anxiety in an anxiety-provoking situation:

Practice good self-care, including exercising, eating healthy foods, and sleeping an adequate amount at night. If possible, spend some time outside. Avoid staying up late to
monitor the news.

Virtually reach out to different types of support networks, such as family, friends, colleagues, faith-based communities, and social organizations to strengthen your overall
feeling of connection. Isolation and loneliness feed anxiety.

Find or create spaces that are not focused on COVID-19. Start a social media thread about other topics, ask friends to discuss other topics, or watch your favorite TV show or movie.

Savor small positive moments, amplify positive stories, and stay optimistic. Try to cultivate a mental wellness practice, such as writing in a gratitude journal, or talking
nightly with your family about moments during the day that were fun or enjoyable.

Take an opportunity to practice mindfulness when managing anxiety. Mindfulness tools such as grounding exercises, sensory modulation, and deep breathing may be helpful.

If you are experiencing any urgent mental health concerns, there are resources such as Lifeline 585-275-5151 and the Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255.

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.

Picture of a bike wheel

Pedaling Towards Better Physical and Mental Health

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.” – John F. Kennedy

A few months back, the snow started to melt and we headed out to the Erie Canal for our family walk/bike ride. My son, Matthew, asked if I wanted to ride his bike for a few miles so he could rest.

I laughed at the idea.

A bike? Me?

At age 42, I hadn’t been on a bike since I was 16 – no, that isn’t true. I was on a bike while at the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland a few years ago, but it was one of those beach bikes that holds four people and has a basket in front. Does that even count?

Anyway, I agreed. I got on the bike and wobbled a little at first. But then after about a mile, I realized… I love this feeling!

And this is how my biking obsession began. I worked out the details to purchase nice bikes for my husband and me that we could use on the roads and trails near our home in Chittenango, and within days we had our very own Trek bikes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Bike riding: I’m not alone

What I have learned since that day in March is that I’m one of many people who have this love for the freeing, stress relieving qualities of riding a bike.

As I take to the roads and trails every day with my husband and children, we pass dozens of biking enthusiasts. Some are sporting fancy gear and riding the cream-of-the-crop bikes, others are simply wearing their protective helmet and peddling a not-so-fancy bike like mine.

Take my friend and coworker Erika Gruszewski, from Monroe County, for instance. Since the pandemic started, she, her husband and their daughter have gone bike riding together as a family, which is a fun way to explore their neighborhood and get some activity at the end of the day.

“We also have a push-along trike for my toddler – she can’t reach the pedals yet, but she loves ringing her bell and wearing her helmet,” Erika said. “Pushing her around the neighborhood in the trike or the stroller is an almost daily activity for us. Getting out and moving in the fresh air always improves my mood!”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As many people, especially families like Erika’s with young children at home, are looking for lockdown-compliant ways to get outside and keep everyone as healthy and happy as possible, we’re all enjoying this physical activity, outside in the fresh air.

In fact, research shows that a growing wave of New Yorkers are embracing cycling and that it’s a booming method of exercise and transportation in larger cities. According to PeopleForBikes Foundation, “affordable recreational bikes and practical models for commuting and errands are in high demand right now.” During May and June of 2020, bike sales throughout the nation were up substantially from last year — 65 percent greater than year-to-date 2019.

A Bicycle Built for Sunday Funday

Lilac Inthavong-McEvoy, who resides in Monroe County, said it’s easy to understand why the popularity of cycling has grown.

“It’s a fun, easy way to get outside, spend time with others, and get exercise,” she explained. Lilac spends her Sundays traveling bike trails and roads throughout Rochester with her coworkers at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield on what she calls “Sunday Funday.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“On any given Sunday, we could have as many as 16 people – coworkers, their spouses, their kids – who meet and ride,” she said. “It’s a way to be together and spend quality time in a safe, socially distanced way.”

Connect, Reflect, and Recharge

Co-worker and friend, Melissa Gardner, who also resides in Monroe County, has benefited from Lilac’s cycling Sundays.

“In most aspects of my life I am an introverted person who is very self-motivated to accomplish any goal I set,” Melissa said. “That isn’t true for fitness, though. Any time I missed a goal or broke a fitness streak, I would borderline give up and allow too much time to pass before picking back up healthy habits.”

For someone like Melissa, who wasn’t a fan of group fitness classes or anything that felt competitive, cycling has given her the outlet she needed to connect with others, reflect and recharge.

On the weekly rides, Melissa says she enjoys the fact that she “can meet-up with riders for great energy and be completely by myself – all while burning calories and exploring our community.”

Benefits of getting on a bike and peddling

Not only do biking and other forms of outdoor activity allow families to get exercise, they also provide valuable peace of mind during stressful times, said Nicholas Massa, MD, medical director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

“Being able to go outside and spend quality time with the family, while getting the physical activity that we all need makes getting on a bike an easy solution to maintaining your health.”

According to Massa, we should follow these physical activity guidelines for Americans.

“Adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week,” he explained. “Adults also need to engage in strength-based activities (lifting weights, push-ups) at least 2 days each week. Following these guidelines can improve overall health and decrease the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes.

There are also physical activity guidelines for children age 17 and under:

  • Children ages six to 17 need at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity every day. They should also include both aerobic activity (biking, walking, running) and strength-based activities (climbing on the playground, jumping rope).
  • Preschool-aged children should be active for at least 3 hours per day to support growth and development.

Tips and Tricks for a Safe Bike Ride:

  • Wear a helmet.
  • Be seen. Dress like a fluorescent peacock—wear bright colors and reflective clothing, especially in the early morning, late at night, or on cloudy days.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. Wear sunscreen, especially on the back of your neck, and sunglasses
  • Know the weather forecast. Wear waterproof gear as needed.
  • Be alert. Never ride with headphones or an earpiece. You need to hear everything you possibly can.
  • Ride with a buddy. Two cyclists will be more visible than one. Plus, if something happens to you, your buddy may be able to facilitate the emergency response process (and vice versa).
  • Get creative with your route. Choose roads that are extremely wide or have dedicated bike lanes. Opt for quieter neighborhood roads over high-traffic ones.
  • Always carry a patch kit. Learning to patch up your own flat tire can prevent you from being stranded in an unsafe or remote location.
  • Carry a cell phone and ID. If you don’t have a patch kit and need a ride, your cell phone will come in handy.
  • Bring drinking water for longer rides.
  • Ride with traffic, never against it.
  • Always be ready to yield. What you can do is go slowly enough that you could stop or give the right of way at a moment’s notice.
  • Be vigilant at intersections. When coming to a stop, hang left in the lane so the drivers behind and in front of you can see you.
  • Be on the lookout for loose gravel, ice, sand, puddles, and other road hazards.
  • Take bike-specific trails, whenever possible; follow the rules of the road; use bike line if there is one.
  • Don’t share water bottles.
  • Practice good cough etiquette by coughing and sneezing into your arm, not your hand.
  • Wash hands with soap and water after any possible contamination, before eating and after using the bathroom (or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable).
  • Consider bringing hand sanitizer or wipes to use after portable toilets.
Picture of a woman getting her blood pressure taken

Schedule Health Care Screenings You May Have Postponed

As medical practices open for patient visits, it’s time to reconnect with your doctor to discuss care or screenings you may have postponed. That includes screenings for breast, cervical, and prostate cancers. But those aren’t the only screenings to check on.

Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in New York state. There are about 9,000 new cases of colon cancer each year in our state and about 3,000 deaths.

Colonoscopy is the most thorough screening test and is proven to prevent the disease. Removing benign or pre-cancerous polyps found during colonoscopy can not only prevent colon cancer, but also can reduce deaths from the disease for years.

Learn about Lynn’s colon cancer story by watching the video below:


Prediabetes is serious, common, and reversible with lifestyle changes. One in three adults has prediabetes, but 90 percent don’t know it because there aren’t always symptoms. A simple blood sugar test can show if someone has prediabetes. African Americans, Hispanic and Latino Americans, American Indians and Native Alaskans are at higher risk for having elevated blood sugar levels.

Learn more about prediabetes by watching the video below:


Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The current estimate is that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.  More than five sunburns in a lifetime can double a person’s risk for melanoma.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, Caucasians and men older than 50 have a higher risk of developing melanoma than the general population. However, skin cancer can affect anyone. Skin cancer in persons of color is often diagnosed in its later stages, when it’s more difficult to treat.

The American Academy of Dermatology encourages everyone to perform regular skin self-exams to check for signs of skin cancer, including new and changing moles. Individuals with a history of melanoma should have a full-body exam by a board-certified dermatologist at least annually.

Learn more about preventing skin cancer below:

Tips for protect your skin from the sun

Screening Saves Lives

The best option for medical care is to see you provider in person. With many practices now welcoming patients, it’s time to reconnect with your provider to discuss care or screenings you may have postponed. Screenings save lives!

For more information and resources to help you reconnect with your provider, visit ExcellusBCBS.com/reconnect.

Close up picture of salmon

Don’t Fear The Fat

We used to think that low-fat eating was where it was at for weight control and good health. But as a fat-phobic society, we went overboard eating low-fat foods and we piled on the pounds. Low-fat does not necessarily mean low-calorie, nor does it give us permission to eat excessively. Instead of reaching for a sleeve of low-fat cookies, we are better off having our favorite cookie, eaten slowly and enjoyed.

Whether eating high-fat or low-fat foods, it still comes down to moderation and portion control. While too much fat is related to heart disease, some cancers, diabetes and obesity, the right types and amounts of fat in the diet can help with preventing some of these chronic conditions.

The Benefits of Fat

Fat is an essential nutrient for our bodies. Fat helps add flavor to foods and keeps hunger at bay by helping us feel satisfied longer.   Even though fat is a concentrated source of calories and is considered fattening by some, adding fat to your meal makes it more flavorful and satisfying. If the meal tastes better and keeps you full longer, you will end up eating less overall.

Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are dissolved in fat and are carried in food and into your bloodstream. These fat-soluble vitamins require dietary fat to fully nourish your body.

Fat on your body has several purposes – cushioning your organs, protecting your body from injury and offering insulation.

Sources of Healthy Fat

When it comes to fat, it’s important to focus on eating more beneficial or “good” fats. Sources of healthy fat include fatty fish, nuts, and olive oil.

  • Salmon and other high-fat fish have the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Nuts have a healthy fat in them and are a great portable, quick snack to satisfy you until the next meal. If you buy a container of almonds for example, divide it into several snack bags. Keep them in places where you have the snack attack: your glove compartment of your car, at your desk, in your briefcase, etc. Enjoy nuts in one of our favorite trail mix recipes.
  • Drizzle some olive oil sparingly on your vegetables and enjoy the taste and the heart health benefit of olive oil.

We need a certain amount of fat in our diet and on our body for health and wellness. So instead of fearing fat, enjoy some in moderation.

Mother sitting with her two children in front of a computer

Don’t Let Distance Get In The Way of Connecting

You’ve likely heard this before: staying connected is important for our health.  But have you really thought about why and how, especially during this time of physical distancing?

“We are wired for social connection,” said Amy Hernandez Gamboa, BSW, a medical services care management trainer with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Our new way of living has tested our ability to go long periods of time without seeing friends, family, being able to hug, or enjoy physical gatherings,” Amy said.

That lack of social connection can have a negative impact on how we feel both physically and mentally. “Right now we are feeling the barriers that are getting in the way of the benefits,” Amy said.

The Benefits of Social Connection

Science backs up the importance of social connection. In fact, social ties might be the single most important predictor of wellbeing.

Some of the positive impacts of social connection on physical health:

  • Strengthens the immune system;
  • Quicker recovery from disease;
  • Increases longevity;
  • Sharper memory;
  • Can help reduce stress and blood pressure when pregnant

There are mental health benefits of social connection as well:

  • Lower rates of anxiety and depression;
  • Higher self-esteem;
  • Greater sense of empathy;
  • Improved mood;
  • Increased trust and cooperation;
  • Increased ability to support others

Quality, Not Quantity

Social connection looks different for everyone, but there are four key elements, according to Amy:

  1. Having meaningful relationships. It’s about quality of relationships, not quantity.
  2. Making regular connections. For some, that may be a daily connection and for others, it is less often.
  3. Feeling a sense of belonging. Have you heard the expression “find your tribe?”
  4. Having shared experiences. Sharing experiences with others can enhance that feeling of connection.

5 Ways to Encourage Connection

“If you’re like me, you may find yourself missing your connections and needing to find creative ways to stay connected,” Amy said. “Social connection can occur without physical connection.”

Amy recommends five themes and thought-provoking questions to consider in order to encourage connection:

  1. Grace – be forgiving of yourself and others. Find time and make it a priority to stay connected. Social connection is going to look different today than in the past. Ask yourself: how can I let go of prior expectations and create space for myself and others to connect today? What are my one to two priorities today?
  2. Technology – it allows us to go places we may not have been able to go before via virtual tours, such as museums and zoos. Use social apps to connect for a virtual book club or virtual walk with a friend. Ask yourself: where do I want to ‘go’ today? When can I set up a video chat with a friend or relative today? Technology helps us break through the barrier of physical distance.
  3. Intention – be intentional in your connections. Who do you want to connect with and how today? Determine how you’re going to spend your time.  This can help address any barriers you may have. Think about a one-word intention that can help you strengthen connections this week, maybe it is “gentle” or “try.”
  4. Creativity – think outside the box. What creative idea can you share with a friend or family member today?  What inspires you today?
  5. Generosity – socially connect by thinking about others. Ask yourself: who might need to hear from me today or how can I support others?

Choose Your Own adventure

Choose to make your social connections an adventure.  This is especially helpful if negative thoughts begin to take up too much thought.  You can:

  • Remember the past. Reminisce on fun, shared experiences with friends or go through mementos.
  • Embrace the present. This allows you to appreciate today. A fun idea shared by Amy is to meet up for ice cream with a friend and enjoy from the safe distance of your cars.
  • Plan for the future. Make a bucket list. Think of all the future holds for you!

What ways have you stayed in touch while staying apart?

Share your tips in the comments section below.



Picture of someone in a hospital bed with medical professionals around them

COVID-19 Crisis Reveals The Importance Of eMOLST

Most people who are near the end of life lack the ability to make their own decisions about the life-sustaining medical treatments they wish to receive or avoid. For patients with advanced illness and frailty, the most important means of ensuring their preferences are honored is to have a properly completed and accurate electronic version of Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (eMOLST) available in their electronic medical records through connections with the New York state eMOLST Registry.

Peace of Mind For Those With Advanced Illness

eMOLST is for patients with serious health conditions who want to receive or avoid any or all life-sustaining treatment, who reside in a long-term care facility or require long-term care services, and/or who might die within the coming year. In New York state, eMOLST, and its predecessor, the hard copy MOLST, are the only authorized ways to legally document both nonhospital Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) and Do Not Intubate (DNI) orders that Emergency Medical Services can follow. eMOLST also documents additional specific medical orders that are recognized and honored in all health care settings, including preferences regarding hospitalization. In hospitals, hospice, nursing homes, and the community, eMOLST is used to issue orders concerning preferences for resuscitation and life-sustaining treatment.

COVID-19’s impact on the frail elderly illustrates the important role eMOLST has in the way preferences for care, recorded as medical orders, are communicated. The importance will be intensified if predictions for a second and third wave of the virus are realized. eMOLST allows frail older adults to write their own final chapter and relieve loved ones of any anxiety that comes with making end-of-life health care decisions on their behalf.

eMOLST is not intended for healthy people, or for people who have a chronic condition or multiple chronic conditions but have a long life expectancy. Those individuals should complete a health care proxy and discuss their wishes for care with family and loved ones.

How to Complete eMOLST

Patients should ask their providers if eMOLST is right for them, and if so, complete the electronic form. If a hard copy MOLST already exists, the COVID-19 crisis would dictate that it be reviewed and updated and converted to eMOLST so that it is in the registry. If a patient lacks the ability to make end-of-life decisions, the health care agent or surrogate should speak with the provider. The tools and features in the eMOLST system ensure that a standardized process is used for conversations, and the completed eMOLST is 100 percent accurate.

Licensed physicians and nurse practitioners have the authority and accountability for accurate completion of MOLST and eMOLST under the Public Health Law. As of June 17, 2020, physician assistants also will have that authority and accountability. Only licensed physicians can complete MOLST and eMOLST orders for patients with intellectual or developmental disabilities who lack capacity to make medical decisions and cannot complete a health care proxy.

When an authorized health care practitioner signs the eMOLST, a copy of the medical orders and the discussion automatically become part of the statewide eMOLST Registry that is available as a public health service in all settings, as patients move from one care setting to another across New York. The physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant also will print a copy of the eMOLST on prominent, bright pink paper that will physically travel with the patient.

Additional Resources and Education

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield led the development of two free community websites.  CompassionAndSupport.org has information on advance care planning, free downloadable health care proxy forms and instructional videos. MOLST.org has COVID-19 guidance on MOLST, how to have thoughtful MOLST discussions, and instructions for obtaining urgent access to eMOLST.

Picture of an unmade bed

When Counting Sheep Doesn’t Work: Tips for Calming a Busy Mind and Getting Sleep

It was while I was lying awake at 3:00 a.m. again that I realized something was not right.  I am usually an early riser, but 3:00 a.m. is really early, even for me! The pandemic had brought about a lot of changes to my life, including a significant reduction in sleep!

A Vicious Cycle

I work as a Workplace Wellness Coordinator at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. My job is to educate others on the importance of sleep, but I am not immune to having issues myself.  I know how detrimental inadequate sleep can be, with problems ranging from impaired memory, to obesity, to greater likelihood of car accidents. That knowledge only raised my stress levels! And like a vicious cycle, the more I stressed about not sleeping, the less I slept.

I decided to get help

One night, stuck in another vicious cycle of not sleeping, I decided to get help. I was already registered with MDLIVE, the telemedicine service affiliated with my health insurance. I decided to schedule an appointment with a Licensed Social Worker, who was available within a couple of days.

During my appointment, she explained that I was feeling so stressed that my brain was too “busy” to shut down and sleep properly.  She gave me some activities to try such as meditation and breathing techniques.  She told me to work to make small improvements, even an extra 20 minutes at night is a start.

6 Habits for Better Sleep

Sleep problems are common, according to Greg Carnevale, M.D., chief medical officer and sleep specialist with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “There are 50-70 million people in the U.S. that suffer from one or several sleep disorders that result likely in not getting enough sleep. The cause and solution can vary for each person,” Carnevale said. Health experts recommend getting at least seven hours of sleep each night.

“As a society, we need to recognize the dangers of trying to get by with fewer hours of sleep and wake up to the health benefits of a good night’s rest,” Carnevale said. He offers the following tips for improved sleep:

  • Keep bedroom quiet, dark and cool.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bed.
  • Stick to a consistent sleep schedule, including on weekends.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed.

Seek Help When You Need It

I’ve been listening to the advice of the social worker and thankfully, it is helping. I really wish I had called sooner. But, it is never too late to seek help.

“There are sometimes very easy and simple steps to improve on your sleep, and sometimes you need a professional, such as your doctor, to help,” Carnevale said. “Trying to navigate the misinformation out there alone can have deleterious effects to you and your health.  Don’t wait to seek help,” he added.

View and download an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield infographic on ways to improve sleep at ExcellusBCBS.com. For more help with sleep, talk with your doctor or sleep specialist.