Woman standing in a forest

Maintain Your Summer Weight into The Fall And Beyond

With lawns to cut, golf to play, decks to stain, and sweat to… be sweated, summertime is when many people are at their most fit and trim.

“Now that we’re into the fall season, commit to building on that momentum,” encourages Nicholas Massa, M.D., senior medical director for clinical services at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Come up with a plan to keep feeling the burn throughout the fall and winter months when you might easily lapse.”

Physical Activity: More than A Seasonal Activity

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 60 percent of adults do not achieve the recommended amount of regular physical activity. The CDC defines a moderate amount of physical activity as using about 150 calories of energy per day, or 1,000 calories per week.

“Being active shouldn’t be a seasonal thing, and activity doesn’t need to be strenuous to achieve health benefits,” says Massa.

Among the CDC’s suggestions for moderate fall fitness activities are raking leaves for 30 minutes, washing windows for 45 minutes, gardening for 30 minutes, and shoveling snow for 15 minutes.

Health Benefits of Physical Activity

According to the CDC.gov, regular physical activity improves health in the following ways:

  • Reduces the risk of dying from heart disease.
  • Reduces the risk of developing diabetes.
  • Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure.
  • Reduces the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Helps control weight.
  • Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints.
  • Helps older adults become stronger and improves balance.
  • Promotes psychological well-being.

As we head into the indoor months, Massa recommends adopting a more structured personal fitness plan that utilizes equipment in your home and virtual classes. “You won’t be cutting the lawn every week, so use that time to take a weekly fitness class,” he said.

Most health insurers have a section on their websites with information about rewards and incentives to join a gym or purchase equipment. Massa advises Excellus BlueCross BlueShield members to visit ExcellusBCBS.com and click on the Health and Wellness tab.

“Whatever the season, always keep your fitness goals S.M.A.R.T – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely,” adds Massa. “And remember to have fun!”

Picture of a physical therapist

Expert Q&A: Physical Therapists – Who They Are and How They Help

In honor of National Physical Therapy Month, we sat down with Carly Costanza, physical therapist with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, to learn more about the benefits of physical therapy.

What can you tell us about the history of physical therapy?

(Costanza) Physical therapy has been around since ancient times! Many cultures used exercise, water, movement and massage as therapeutic treatment for a variety of ailments. The earliest documentation of the scientific profession of physiology – or physical therapy – dates back to Per Henrik Ling, the “father of Swedish gymnastics,” who founded Stockholm’s Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics in 1813 for manipulation and exercise. His methods of medical gymnastics influenced later institutions and systems.

Reed College in Portland, Oregon was one of the first institutions in the United States to adopt physical therapy as an area of study in 1914. When Walter Reed General Hospital opened in 1909, the Surgeon General of the Army determined physical therapy should be included in patient care. Mary McMillan was appointed to start the United States’ first physical therapy program there, training “reconstruction aides.”

Given that physical therapy was primarily a female profession at that time, McMillian became known as “the mother of physical therapy.” In 1921, she organized the first physical therapy organization in the US, the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association, currently the American Physical Therapy Association.

What does a physical therapist do?

Physical therapists play a very important role in providing rehabilitation and habilitation services, as well as prevention and risk reduction training. They are movement experts who improve quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care and patient education. Physical therapists treat people of all ages and abilities and empower them to actively take part in their own care.

In 2019, it was estimated that 258,200 physical therapists were practicing in the US and that number is expected to grow 18 percent by 2029.   All states require physical therapists to be licensed and new graduates now receive a doctoral (DPT) degree and must pass a national licensing exam before they can practice.

The American Physical Therapy Association classifies 19 distinct specialty sections ranging from Sports Rehabilitation to Cardiovascular/Pulmonary to Research. Physical Therapists may also be involved in other areas of health and wellness.

Physical therapists work closely with a team of other medical professionals, like doctors, nurses, and occupational therapists to support patients, depending on the care setting in which they are working. Physical therapists work in various care settings:

  • Outpatient clinics
  • Private practices
  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation Facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Patients’ homes
  • Sports and fitness facilities
  • Schools
  • Occupational settings
  • Government agencies
  • Research facilities

Why Physical Therapy?

Depending on the reason for treatment, the benefits of physical therapy include:

  • Improved mobility and maximum movement
  • Recovery from injury or trauma
  • Recovery from stroke or paralysis
  • Fall prevention
  • Improved balance
  • Management of age-related medical problems
  • Personalized care that meets your needs
  • Care where you need it
  • Participation in one’s recovery
  • Pain management with reduced need for opioids
  • Surgery avoidance

To learn more about physical therapy and how it may benefit you visit: Choose PT!

Did you know?

Excellus BCBS has a team of physical therapists that works within the Utilization Management department.



Picture of woman holding her head in her hands

Domestic Violence: The Silent Epidemic

Lisa Haskins, of Monroe County, wished she spoken up sooner about how domestic violence impacted her family. She wished more people talked about it so that domestic violence victims don’t feel ashamed or are afraid to speak up.

Growing up, Lisa said domestic violence occurred in her family. Lisa said the cycle of abuse continued over generations. Her sister found herself in an abusive relationship as an adult, she added. After years of verbal and emotional abuse, nearly five years ago Lisa’s sister committed suicide.

Last year, Lisa broke her silence and shared a Facebook post in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.

Helping Those Who “Don’t Have a Voice”

“Today I take a stand, as I should every day…for those women who have lost their voice, their self-worth, their self-love, their self-compassion, their confidence, their hope, and for some their lives” she wrote in the post.

 “Domestic violence doesn’t always have visible bruises.  Sometimes there are signs, and sometimes we may see nothing.  For any woman suffering from domestic violence, dig deeper than you ever have in your life and know that you are worth loving.  You deserve joy and kindness and freedom to live.  There is help.  There is safety, even though it may not seem like it. 

 Every day I miss my sister.  She may have committed suicide, but domestic violence is what killed her.  I stand for those who no longer have a voice…like her.  We have to speak up because it might just save a life.  And one life can mean the world to someone.  I know.  I live every day without my sister.”

After speaking up, Lisa said she felt as if a weight was lifted from her shoulders.

“I feel as if we sit here and live in silence and worry that the abuser will come back and threaten us, but all that does is give him control,” she said. “That’s why domestic violence is so persistent. Many people fear taking the risk and speaking up.”

A Perfect Storm for A Domestic Violence Crisis

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced violence from a partner in their lifetime — and the risks to victims can be severe. During the COVID-19 pandemic, news outlets across the country have reported a rise in domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence face more social isolation in general, even when there isn’t a widespread pandemic. Abusers have more tactics at their disposal when victims can’t easily get away from home.

“With the numbers of people that continue to get sick, the growing unemployment rate, and an increase in anxiety and financial stress, this pandemic has created the perfect storm for an exacerbated domestic violence crisis,” said Dr. Sudha Bakshi, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield medical director.

Lisa: What Gives Her Hope

Lisa said knowing more about local groups that help domestic violence victims gives her hope. It is important for those in high risk situations to know that courts and many domestic violence organizations, phone hotlines, and shelters are available to help. Domestic violence organizations are also working to develop new strategies to support victims during the pandemic, by offering hotline services through online chats or texting, in case victims cannot call with an abuser at home.

Excellus BCBS is proud to provide support to these domestic violence organizations across upstate New York as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

Let Victims Know They’re Not Alone

Lisa said it can be challenging to convince domestic violence victims to speak up and get help.

The victim may fear the abuser, they may have a skewed sense of normal if they grew up in this environment, or after years of abuse start to believe that they’re just not worth it.

One option? Offer to accompany your friend or loved one to check out an organization that supports domestic violence victims. “That may help them consider getting help,” she said.

In the end, Lisa wishes that more people talked about domestic violence.

“Not talking about it adds to the stigma,” she said. “And, how else will victims know they’re not alone?”

If you or anyone else needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The lifeline is open all day, every day.

Picture of a woman walking her dog

October 16 is World Spine Day: Get Back on Track

When Denise Hull of Genesee County began working from home, she noticed quickly that her body felt different at the end of the workday. “I used to get in so many steps at the office without even noticing. While working from home, I noticed my movement had really decreased. I started to feel much more pain.  It was like the gears in my body seized up just by not being active. I felt like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz,” Denise said.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 80 percent of us suffer from lower back pain at some point in our lives, with around 20 percent of us developing chronic back pain (which lasts for 12 weeks or longer). The World Federation of Chiropractic estimates that one billion people worldwide suffer from spinal pain. For some, back and spine pain can become such a problem that it interferes with work and normal daily activities. With the challenges of the pandemic, we may be even more prone to back and spine pain since restrictions have led to a lack of physical activity.

Get Back on Track

Friday, October 16, 2020, marks the 9th annual World Spine Day coordinated by the World Federation of Chiropractic. This year’s theme is “Back on Track” and it’s focused on getting people back on track to revitalize their spines to restore their spinal health and wellbeing.

Get Back on Track

World Spine Day 2020

Moving the Gears Again

Denise recognized that unless she was intentional about moving more at home, she’d continue to be in pain. “I knew I needed to do something to get those gears moving again. If I was the Tin Man, walking was the oil can” Denise said. “When I first started, it was just up and down the driveway and I was in horrible pain. But slowly, day by day, I felt a little better and I walked a little farther. Now I’m out walking several blocks each day.” By taking intentional steps to move more, Denise has reduced her pain.

5 Tips to Prevent Back Pain

If you’re experiencing back or spine pain, here are some tips to help you get back on track. To learn more, click the links for more resources for creating healthy habits no matter where you are working.

  1. Exercise – Ease muscle tension with movement
  2. Reduce stress – stress can cause tension in muscles
  3. Eat right – many foods reduce inflammation, like olive oil, nuts, and leafy greens
  4. Maintain proper posture – avoid rounded shoulders and slouching
  5. Lift safely – Use your legs and spare your back

More About World Spine Day

Learn more about how World Spine Day is being celebrated throughout the world by visiting http://www.worldspineday.org/.

Picture of a woman doing yoga

Make Your Health a Priority, Even in a Pandemic

Ever since I turned 40, each year in December I would go to have my annual mammogram. I usually scheduled my screenings during a weekday where I would take a few hours off from work because I chose to wait and stay for my results. While I felt comfortable going to my appointment alone, the clinic I attended had a friendly environment where women could schedule their appointments within the same time frame. I would always see groups of women, mothers and daughters, friends making a girls’ afternoon out of their screening.

The Longest I Had Gone Without A Mammogram

Last December, I missed my appointment. I knew I needed to reschedule, but as 2020 began, I didn’t follow through. When the pandemic started, many doctor’s offices, including mine, were closed temporarily. After my clinic reopened, I found myself focusing on other priorities and pressing stressors, like the virus, changes to my personal and professional life, and racial and social unrest in my community. Still, deep in the back of my mind I was feeling guilty because this was the longest I had ever gone without having my mammogram.

A Strange Pain

One night this past July before I was to travel out of town, I felt a strange pain in my left breast. As someone who is very in-tune with my body, I knew I had never felt pain like that before and I didn’t take it lightly. While I was out of town, I continued to feel the pain in waves, wondering what it was. Was I stressed? Was it the need for a new bra? But I also wondered what if it was cancer. Then the pain went away.

About two weeks later, the pain came back on a Sunday night. It was more intense. I vowed that first thing Monday morning I would schedule a mammogram. I remained positive and hopeful the screening would help to find anything early enough to be able to address it.

A Sense of Serenity

I called my clinic on Monday morning and, due to a patient cancellation, I was able to come in that afternoon for a screening. The waiting room was no longer filled with women sipping beverages and socializing. Instead, the process was streamlined, and the screening was very efficient. The environment was clean, spacious, and the new procedures were clearly explained. I felt safe.

Mammograms are never pleasant, but the mammogram technician lightened the experience with her professionalism, competence, and friendliness. Patients can no longer wait for their results: I would receive them in a text message. I dressed and waited outside for my ride. As my ride was pulling up, I received a text message saying my results were normal. I felt a sense of serenity and joy and was impressed with the speed of communication.

Breast Cancer Disparities

In addition to feeling joy and relief with my results, there was something else on my mind throughout my appointment. The pandemic has brought to light many injustices that have long been part of our society, including health disparities.

A racial disparity has long existed around breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), black women are about 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, even though their rates of getting the disease are similar. Black women are also more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage of breast cancer than other women (Source: ACS CAN). According to BreastCancer.org, these disparities likely reflect a combination of factors including differences in healthcare. As a society, we are finally having some powerful conversations that I hope will bring about positive change and reduce these disparities.

Schedule Your Screening

Looking back, I think that the strange pain I experienced was related to the increased stress I had been feeling related to the virus, the new changes in my life, and the unrest in my community. I have since adapted some stress management tactics that have been helping me, and I remain pain free.

Picture of Shaquana Divers

Shaquana Divers

It can be easy for health screenings, like mammograms, to fall to the bottom of the priority list when we’re challenged with the stressors of daily life. Not to mention the added stress of a global pandemic. Prevention is my passion and timely screenings are one part of a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, this October, I challenge you to schedule a screening that you may have missed, whether it be a mammogram, a colonoscopy, or even your annual physical. If this year has taught us anything, it is that we should fiercely prioritize our health and be more empathetic to the needs of our most vulnerable. Let us be there for ourselves and for each other.

For more information about mammograms, view a downloadable poster, Be the Priority, from Excellus BCBS. If you need help reconnecting with your doctor, visit ExcellusBCBS.com/Reconnect.

Picture of a sunflower field

Trying New Things and Taking Wrong Turns

Our daily routines offer a lot of comfort and efficiency. But, as Bill Murray’s character demonstrates in the movie Groundhog Day, doing the same thing day in and day out can result in feelings of hopelessness or even depression.

Though not as comical or dark as the legendary 1993 film, I’ve found myself having similar experiences during the pandemic. Working remotely since March, I often don’t know what day of the week it is, and honestly, I just don’t feel as sharp as I used to. The monotony of days blurring together was getting to me. So when a colleague invited me to try alpaca yoga with her, I eagerly said yes even though I don’t particularly like yoga (or had ever met an alpaca).

The Calm Before the Herd

The 40-minute drive gave me some time to plug in a nostalgic music playlist and let my thoughts wander while I took in the sights of the unfamiliar country roads. I felt uplifted before I even arrived at the farm. When I arrived, I checked in at a tent and was given a small cup of feed for the alpacas. We laid our mats down six feet apart in the grass and took off our face masks as the instructor told us what to expect. But nothing prepared me for what happened next.

It was remarkably quiet. There was no sound of cars or airplanes in the distance. In unusual fashion for the vast outdoor space, we guests whispered among ourselves in anticipation. All of the sudden, the herd of alpacas ran stealthily around the corner and into the space moving between extended hands like bees pollinating flowers. Eager to befriend an alpaca, I made the mistake of giving all my feed to the first one to visit me. I later lured more in with dropped bits I found in the grass.

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Finding Balance

Immune to their charms, the instructor quietly started leading the class while the curious alpacas weaved in and out from the rows of mats. I don’t consider myself a graceful person, so I usually don’t enjoy yoga. I am often too concerned with doing it right. But alpacas are such silly creatures, so for the first time I felt like I fit in. There on a slight incline, with a small rock under my mat and the gentle sounds of grass being noshed near my ear, I found my balance.

A Wrong Turned Out Right

On the way home, my GPS instructed me to turn right, though I knew the way back I came was left. Not in any kind of hurry, I chose to toss the dice and turn right. As the GPS recalculated, I was pleased that I now had bonus quiet time to reflect.

About 20 minutes later, I rounded a corner and saw a sun-kissed field of sunflowers. I was prepared to drive by but the desire to disrupt my daily routine compelled me to pull over and pay respect to the splendor.  I knelt beside one of the flowers for a different perspective. Before returning to my car, I snapped a few pictures. It was a feeling I didn’t want to forget.

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The Benefits of New Experiences

I later learned that switching up your routine has positive neurological effects because you are stimulating your mind. Time even appears to last longer when you experience something novel because your brain is working harder to process the new experiences. (David Eagleman, Ph.D)

With many more months of working from home ahead of me, I’m now more committed to mixing up my routine as much as possible. Goat yoga is now on my growing list of things to try.

Why every day is a good time to talk about breast cancer awareness

During the month of October, it’s difficult to ignore the stories, commercials, advertisements, pink T-shirts and other paraphernalia proclaiming Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For Excellus BlueCross BlueShield employee Maria Horton, however, every month and every day is a good time for breast cancer awareness.

Maria has learned that the hard way. She is a breast cancer survivor.

Maria Horton

An Otherwise perfectly normal mammogram

Due to a family history of breast cancer, Maria knew she was at high risk of also developing breast cancer. That’s why she started annual mammography screenings when she turned 40. Everything appeared normal for Maria up until a few years ago.

It was just a few months after an otherwise perfectly normal mammogram that Maria noticed a change in one of her breasts. Not one to brush it off in ignorance in hopes that it will go away, she followed up with her doctor.

That led Maria to a ductogram and a core needle biopsy. When her doctor scheduled fine needle guided biopsies, the doctor didn’t need to tell her she had breast cancer. “I already knew,” she said.

Support of The People Who Carried Her Through

While her husband, three children and work family were aware of what was going on, Maria then had to break the news to her parents, siblings and in-laws. “This was very tough and very emotional,” she said. “I was numb.”

Once she shared the news, however, it was these same people who helped carry Maria through her 10½-hour bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. “Without the support of my loving family and the wonderful, caring people I work with, I don’t know how I would have gotten through all of my difficult days,” she said.

During her eight-week recovery, Maria’s family took care of her and helped with everything. Friends brought cards, food, flowers and her favorite Starbucks coffee.

“The support I had meant the world to me and still does,” she said.

Advice from a breast cancer survivor

Maria considers herself lucky in that she did not need follow-up chemotherapy or radiation. She continues to follow up with an oncologist.

Her advice to all women is to know their personal risk factors for breast cancer, schedule their mammograms as recommended by their doctors, and perform monthly breast self-checks.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all women ages 50 to 74 be screened for breast cancer every two years. According to 2018 data from the New York State Department of Health, 82 percent of NY women aged 50 to 74 received their recommended screening.

“The evidence is clear that early detection saves lives,” said Nicholas Massa, M.D., medical director, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Given the fact that most health insurers cover preventive breast cancer screenings in full every one to two years for women older than age 40, we would like to see even higher percentages of women being screened for breast cancer.”

3 reasons  women skip breast cancer screenings

1. Concerned about pain

Women who haven’t gone through menopause can minimize the pain and discomfort of having their mammogram by scheduling their screening a week after having their period, when breasts are less tender. Avoiding caffeine the week before your mammogram may also help. Take it from Maria, who offered this sage advice, “Yes, having a mammogram is uncomfortable, but it beats the alternative of having breast cancer.”

2. Concerned about test results

Mammograms can detect lumps in your breast when they are small, even before you can feel them. Breast cancer found early is easier to treat and results in better clinical outcomes. Generally, you can get your mammogram results within a day or so by calling your doctor’s office. There may be times when you receive a call from your doctor’s office recommending further testing. This does not mean you have cancer, but it is very important that you follow up if asked to do so. For Maria, it’s simple. “Do it!” she said.

3. Concerned about radiation

According to the American Cancer Society, the benefits of the small amount of radiation to which we are exposed during mammography screening outweigh any possible harm from radiation exposure. The peace of mind you’ll receive from having completed your mammogram is immeasurable, added Maria. “This takes a few minutes, and it’s done.”

Breast cancer can affect women of any age or race. Dr. Massa noted that your risk for breast cancer increases with age and if you have a family history. A woman’s risk factors determine when she should begin getting screened.

Learn more about breast cancer risk factors and screenings by talking to your doctor, or by visiting the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force website.

For more on the best ways to protect your health, read this Women’s Health Checklist from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

Picture of senior woman doing yoga

Help for Pain When You Need It Most

Anne (pseudonym) often felt pain related to her chronic conditions, including chronic pancreatitis and an autoimmune disorder. But the intense radiating pain had been more problematic lately. She had been hospitalized recently and, despite taking several pain medications, she was still suffering from significant pain related to her chronic conditions. She reached out to her health insurer, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, for guidance.

Excellus BCBS Care Manager Joanne Richards, RN, answered the call for help. Joanne asked questions to understand Anne’s situation and connected her with a specialized provider to evaluate her pain, manage her medications and ultimately get the pain under control. “Managing pain is a critical part of managing certain chronic conditions,” Joanne said. “And how we help members address their pain is not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Not Something You “Just Have to Live With”

Anne’s experience with lasting pain is not unique. About 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences chronic pain, or pain that lasts for more than three months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Pain can also be acute, usually coming on suddenly and lasting for less than three months. Pain can be slightly bothersome or excruciating. For some, pain can become such a problem that it interferes with work and normal daily activities. It can cause depression and irritability.

Pain is a major driver of visits to the doctor, a major reason for taking medications, a major cause of disability, and a key factor in quality of life and productivity. Chronic pain contributes to an estimated $560 billion each year in direct medical costs, lost productivity and disability programs. But pain is not something you “just have to live with.”

A Part of Life That Needs to Be Managed

There are many ways to treat pain. The type of treatment depends on the type of pain. Treatment does not have to include prescription medication or procedures like X-rays or surgery. In fact, for certain conditions, like acute lower-back pain, experts usually recommend against imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs.

“While 80 percent of us suffer from acute back pain at some point in our lives, most episodes of back pain go away on their own within six weeks, but then often recur” said Dr. Brian Justice, a chiropractor and medical director at Excellus BCBS. “Back pain is often not caused by a specific known disease that can be cured, but it can be more practically thought of as a part of life that needs to be managed.”

Pain Management: A Member-Centric Approach

The goal of pain management is to control the pain while also identifying and treating the underlying issue to help with healing and recovery. Pain management techniques can help reduce pain and improve quality of life – physically, emotionally, and socially.

“When we learn that a member is experiencing pain, we ask lots of questions to learn more about their pain level, how much activity they are doing, and ask about any pain medications they may be taking,” said Joanne. “When it comes to treatment, some people may want to try exercise, acupuncture, or work with a chiropractor or physical therapist. We can also connect members with a pain specialist or another medical provider. Treatment is individualized based on what kind of pain they are having – it’s member-centric,” said Joanne.

Self-Help Options for Managing Pain

We all have a role to play in managing our own pain too. “Because chronic pain impacts the whole person, self-management options acknowledge that the patient’s own role in the healing process has the potential to provide more efficient and comprehensive chronic pain management,” said Dr. Pat Bomba, MACP, FRCP geriatrician and medical director at Excellus BCBS. “Active self-care therapies allow for a more diverse, patient-centered treatment of complex symptoms, promote self-management, and are relatively safe and cost-effective.”

According to CompassionandSupport.org, these options include:

  • Exercise, yoga, tai chi: Helps reduce tension, anxiety, depression and fatigue
  • Heat: Reduces pain caused by sore muscles and muscle spasms
  • Ice: Alleviates pain that comes from joint problems or irritated nerves
  • Massage: Supports the healing process by breaking down muscle tension and pressure on nerves
  • Relaxation by deep breathing: Enhances one’s ability to cope and control stress
  • Meditation: Brings awareness to breathing, body sensations and feelings, retraining your brain to feel less pain

Speak up!

If you are experiencing pain and looking for relief, a conversation with your doctor is a good place to start. Acting quickly when pain starts can often prevent it from getting worse.

There’s an App for That

Like Anne, Excellus BCBS members can call the Customer Care phone number on their member ID card to find pain management help. Many Excellus BCBS members are also eligible for the free Wellframe® app, which provides access to a dedicated care manager, dietitians, social workers, physical therapists and other health care professionals to help members with issues like pain management, back and neck pain, and migraines. For more information, visit ExcellusBCBS.com.

Alzheimers disease purple ribbon

Keeping Their Memories Alive: Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Education and Advocacy

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are personal.

They impact not just those afflicted, but all the family members and friends around them. Shaquana P. Divers of Monroe County knows this first hand. Her great grandmother, Catherine Taylor, developed dementia during the latter part of her life.

Remembering A Family Tradition

“Our family tradition of making fresh dill pickles in the summer always reminds me of my great grandmother,” she said smiling. “My granny, who affectionately called me Shawnie, had a huge garden in East Northport, Long Island. She used to grow cucumbers in her garden and made the most delicious pickles from them.”

Picture of a grandmother and granddaughter

Shaquana and her Granny

But as time went on for her great grandmother, remembering even the things she had done for years like how to make her pickles, became impossible. Dementia is a general term for loss of memory and cognitive abilities that includes a range of medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline, explains Nicholas Massa, MD, medical director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “More than 400,000 New Yorkers aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia and more than one million family members and friends are providing care to their loved ones.” (Source: Alzheimer’s Association)

Alzheimer’s disease alone is the sixth leading cause of death among all Americans and the fifth leading cause of death among older adults. The medical and public health communities have deemed Alzheimer’s disease and dementia public health problems that need to be addressed, since the proportion of older adults in the United States is projected to increase dramatically in the coming decades.

A Call To Action

Joanna Dott of Onondaga County has also experienced the effects of these diseases. “About 5 years ago my grandmother, Julie (who I call Mom-mom), was diagnosed with early signs of Alzheimer’s/dementia,” she said. “She moved from her home in Philadelphia, P.A. to Syracuse to live with my mother. My Mom-mom has always been my hero growing up so it was wonderful having her so close to home – however, we quickly realized how different life would be.”

Picture of a senior woman in a wheel chair

Joanna’s Mom-Mom

Joanna’s family has watched the disease progress day-by-day and in a short amount of time. The stress on the caregivers is great, so she often steps-in to help her mother care for her grandmother.

Both Joanna and Shaquana knew they could not sit idle. Both have taken action to educate themselves, their community, and to raise awareness in hopes of finding a cure.

Get Involved

“While researching this disease and trying to educate myself on the various stages, I learned about the Alzheimer’s Association in Central New York. They have so many amazing resources available such as a 24/7 helpline, support groups for caregivers, care training, and planning for the future to name a few,” Joanna said.

In 2017, she decided to take part in the organization’s annual fundraising event, The Walk to End Alzheimer’s in CNY and created a team for her family and friends. “For the past three years, we have made walk day a huge celebration of my grandmother’s life – my family comes from out of town and after the walk we have a BBQ at my house and enjoy being together,” Joanna said. “Participating in the walk each year means so much to my family because, although there is no cure at this time, we have hopes that with our participation and fundraising efforts, we will see the first survivor of Alzheimer’s!”

A woman and her son dressed in purple at a community event

Joanna and her son at The Walk to End Alzheimers in CNY

The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. The CNY Walk is scheduled to be held virtually on Sunday, September 27, 2020. This inspiring event calls on participants of all ages and abilities to join the fight against the disease.

Fundraising dollars and participation in the event help to change the level of Alzheimer’s awareness in the community.

The Longest Day

Shaquana connected with the Alzheimer’s Association in Rochester/Finger Lakes and learned about the Longest Day event. The Longest Day, which fell on June 20 this year, is the day with the most light — the summer solstice.

“I learned that lifestyle habits such as consistent physical activity, following a Mediterranean diet and getting ample sleep may ward off the disease,” she said. “But the condition is still a mystery, especially for African Americans and Latinos.  Our collective power is needed to raise awareness, contribute to funding for research and treatment, address social determinants of health, and support programs that uplift our elders and caregivers who are suffering.”

Learn More

The Alzheimer’s Association has offices throughout the nation. They provide a wealth of services that community members can benefit from, including:

  • 24/7 helpline
  • Care consultations for families affected by dementia
  • Support groups for caregivers
  • Social activities for individuals with dementia and their care partners
  • Educational programs for families, professional caregivers and community organizations.

All services are free and currently are provided virtually or by phone. Individuals with memory loss and family caregivers can call the helpline at 800-272-3900 to learn about the symptoms of dementia, find information about legal, financial, care and treatment options, get decision-making support, and receive around-the-clock crisis assistance.

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.

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“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