‘Working here had a hand in saving my life,’ says Excellus BCBS employee

Since the age of 12, type 1 diabetes has been a part of Tayla Riccio’s life, often altering the course of her day and shaping her choices. “I have a rarer form of type 1,” explains Tayla, a customer care advocate at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “My blood sugar can drop for no reason, it just happens.” This sudden onset of symptoms is not only scary, but it can be very severe, even deadly if left untreated.  “I get fuzzy, everything starts to spin, and I can become incoherent. Everything just stops,” she says. These episodes can occur once every couple of months or as frequently as 2 or 3 times a month.

Tayla’s positive, upbeat attitude is contagious, and she loves making her co-workers laugh. But she has definitely faced her fair share of challenges, particularly in the workplace. “Before working at Excellus BCBS, no one really cared,” says Tayla. While working at a previous job in the food service industry, she recalls, “I remember waking up from being on the floor incoherent and wondering what happened.”

Tayla Riccio, customer care advocate at Excellus BCBS.

The turning point

Things changed for Tayla when she accepted a position as a customer care advocate at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in 2021. During her first one-on-one meeting with her current supervisor, she shared with him that she had type 1 diabetes and might need extended personal time to manage her condition. He was very supportive and helped her understand her options for time away from work and disability accommodations offered by the organization.

“To have a supervisor that has been more than willing to work through the situations that I have and be incredibly open and supportive of this disability is great. I’m not afraid to tell him things,” she says. Her circle of support extends to her teammates and team lead as well. “I don’t feel shy or scared to tell them what is going on.  They have been more than open and more than supportive. I’m so thankful for them. They are not willing to let my disability hold me back from opportunities.”

Staying safe with the help of her team and the Health Plan

Planning for emergency situations is crucial to navigating her medical condition and her team plays an important role in keeping her safe. “If I’m at the point where I’m incoherent and on the verge of passing out, I’ll send an S.O.S. text to my husband and then he’ll in turn notify one of my team leads and they will notify my supervisor.  It is kind of this process that we’ve established,” she shares.

Not only is Tayla an Excellus BCBS employee but she is also a member of the health plan.  Prior to joining the Excellus BCBS team, Tayla was a Medicaid member. “I had gone years without insurance in other states because I didn’t have the money to pay for it.  To be able to have the insurance provided to me and to be able to get what I needed, I was incredibly thankful every time Excellus BCBS was able to cover something,” recalls Tayla. When she became an employee, she was thrilled to know she had an affordable buy-up option that would provide the care she needs to manage her diabetes.

A life-saving experience

“I would say that working here had a hand in saving my life,” Tayla says as she recalls a particularly harrowing experience in June of 2022. “I had an extreme low, it was really, really bad, my blood sugar dropped to 25.”  She notes that blood sugar levels under 65 mg/dL are considered severely low. “I don’t remember a lot of what happened, I ended up being so deep into unconsciousness,” she explains. EMTs attempted to arouse her but she had no reaction, so they determined it was best to take her to the hospital and administer glucose through an I.V.  After a heavy dose of glucose, she became conscious again but needed to spend a total of four days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). “Being in that state, stuck in the hospital, it was really hard,” shares Tayla. “I think if I didn’t have the support I had with Excellus BCBS, I don’t think I would have been okay. Not only having the great insurance provided for the time when I almost lost my life, but to know that I didn’t have the stress behind having to fork out thousands of dollars for an I.C.U. stay.  I’m so thankful for the plan.”

Affordable health insurance and so much more

While having affordable health insurance is important to Tayla, it wasn’t what first attracted her to the position at Excellus BCBS. “I wanted to learn the ins and outs of health insurance and heard that Excellus BCBS was a great company to work for,” she explains.  “Being on Excellus BCBS Medicaid at the time, a lot of the reps I spoke with as a member were pretty great, they seemed genuinely happy at their jobs.” This, coupled with the opportunity to work from home to better accommodate the challenges of her disability, made Excellus BCBS a great choice for Tayla. “Being able to work from home, if I have a low, I can just grab a Gatorade. I have carbs here to bring up my blood sugar,” she explains.  “My neuropathy isn’t acting up because I’m able to sit down. And I have a sit/stand desk for the times when I do need to stand up and move around. I can work more effectively by working from home.”

She was even more confident in her choice of employer when she learned about the benefits offered by the organization. “I assumed that there would be benefits, but when we actually went through the benefits part of my training, I was like ‘oh wow!’. I see the 3 plans, I see this 401K match, all these benefits I didn’t have access to before…the EAP benefits.”

Tayla on graduation day.

Sharing the support

Connecting with others and finding support has been an important part of Tayla’s journey.  The organization’s culture of “caring about wellbeing” is evident. “My teammates have been incredibly supportive. They check on me. When I’m not my usual self, people know I’m not okay,” she says. Tayla does not shy away from taking the support she has received and paying it forward. As a customer care advocate, some members request to speak with her because of her experience with type 1 diabetes. She can relate and understand what they are going through. “I find that if I’m open about my own medical condition, then maybe someone can benefit from the knowledge that I am willing to share.”

We care about wellbeing  

Tayla’s story illustrates how the culture, values and behaviors of Excellus BCBS can have a tremendous impact on its employees both personally and professionally. Caring about wellbeing, empowering employees to do their best work, and modeling the IDEA mindset created space for Tayla to thrive. The organization’s focus on wellbeing also helps shape their employee Total Rewards philosophy.  The benefits offered by the organization are designed to support employees’ physical, emotional and financial health throughout their life journey so they can be at their very best.

Job opportunities

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and make a difference in others’ lives?

We have the right fit for you. Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more. Check us out at careers.excellusbcbs.com. Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition Jason Helsdon at Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com.

The pursuit of a decade-long dream

“I always wanted to go back to college,” recalls Alex Levi, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield vice president of Customer Care.  Alex has seen his share of success, working for several years in the telecommunications industry before joining Excellus BCBS in 2019 as director of customer care where he was quickly promoted to vice president of the department.  Still, that desire to go back to school and complete his degree was always there. “A lot of the reason is that it is an important part of the values instilled in me from my family. They believed significantly in education. Everyone has advanced education.  My life went in a different direction, and I entered the work force,” explains Alex.

A push in the right direction

Throughout the years, he made a few attempts to start classes again at a local community college with little success. “I was never able to match the time that I needed to focus on school, family and career. It just wasn’t realistic,” he shares. That changed as he settled into to his role at Excellus BCBS.  “One of the things at the company that is amazing is the way the employee development program is pushed,” notes Alex.  It was that push that made all the difference.  As he met with his leader to outline his employee development plan (EDP) for 2021, she mentioned that he had a significant opportunity to grow within the organization and a college degree would be an important part of his career trajectory. 

Alex after graduating with honors from Roberts Wesleyan University.

Silencing the negative noise

“I was very fortunate to have leaders that saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” says Alex.  “Sometimes I would be sitting in rooms with people who had advanced degrees and it would lead to a type of imposter syndrome, wondering ‘do I belong here?’ I always wanted to reduce that negative noise.” As luck would have it, Alex had dinner with a friend who happened to be a recruiter for Roberts Wesleyan University.  She explained that the university had an adult education program that allowed students to accelerate their degree with work experience credits.

With the ability to earn credits for his work experience, coupled with Excellus BCBS’s robust tuition assistance program, Alex made the decision to enroll and was one step closer to realizing his dream. “I was encouraged to go back to school, not only with words, but with support,” he explains. Alex was able to complete his bachelor’s degree in business management in two years with no out- of- pocket costs for his tuition. 

An easy-to-use benefit

One unique aspect of Excellus BCBS’s tuition assistance benefit is that the employee is not required to pay the tuition upfront.  In many other organizations, tuition is paid by the employee and then reimbursed by the employer once the course is completed.  Paying upfront can be challenging for some students. “The company’s tuition assistance program levels the playing field, allowing anyone to go back to school and get tuition assistance,” says Alex.  In 2022, the tuition assistance benefit was enhanced even further by moving from a paper system to an electronic system. Alex adds, “it is really simple to use the benefit and there was a clear process for help and support”.

Support is vital

Support was a common thread guiding Alex through his journey toward a degree. “It was really the company’s culture that values work life balance that allowed me to have the time to move away from work and think about school,” explains Alex.  He credits Excellus BCBS’s culture for much of his success in achieving his degree. “The organization didn’t instill my desire to go back to school, but it enabled me to find balance in my life coupled with a focus on development.  I would not have done it if I was not working here, there is no doubt.”

His support system extended to his work team and family as well. “Make sure the people in your life that you count on are all in the game to support you and understand what you are getting into so they can help carry some of the load,” advises Alex. For him, this meant letting his wife and daughter know how much time he would need to dedicate to school and sharing his educational goals with his work-team. 

After earning his degree, Alex emailed a message to his work-team that included this statement – “This company supported me in achieving a goal that is rooted deeply in my values and desires.  I need to take a moment to say thank you to all of you! The support, encouragement, and backup I received from so many people in our organization was vital to my ability to serve this company and my family, all while attending school as a full-time student”.

Creative ways to find time

Finding the time to pursue higher education while working full time is challenging for most people. There is no simple answer, but for Alex learning to multi-task effectively helped. He would find creative ways to complete assignments such as listening to a book on tape while driving. All his effort resulted not only in a college degree, but in a new network of business experts and knowledge that he was able to apply directly to his work.  “It is never the right time, it is always going to be a big change,” shares Alex. “With Excellus BCBS’s emphasis on work life balance and caring about our wellbeing, there is no better time to take that next step.”

To learn more about tuition assistance and other programs offered to Excellus BCBS employees, visit the Excellus BCBS careers site.

Job Opportunities

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and make a difference in others’ lives?

We have the right fit for you. Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more. Check us out at careers.excellusbcbs.com. Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition Jason Helsdon at Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com.

National Doctors’ Day 2024

A message from Lisa Harris, Excellus BCBS Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer

Happy National Doctors’ Day to our wonderful team of medical, dental, and behavioral health professionals at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield and the many physician partners we work with throughout New York state! You are essential to the work we do, and we appreciate your dedication to helping people in our communities live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable healthcare.

I’m fortunate that my role within the health plan allows me to impact hundreds of thousands of lives by helping to provide access to high quality care and better health outcomes for our community.

Our work helps ensure that every one of our members is receiving equitable, high-quality, affordable care. And we’re lucky to work with local health care professionals and medical providers who care deeply about the work we do and are committed to an excellent standard of care for our members.

We recognize that there are disparities in the health care space and believe that collaboration is key when aiming to improve and close the gaps for better health outcomes.

By working together with our local providers, we are able to improve quality and keep costs down by identifying opportunities for efficiency, closing gaps in care, and better controlling chronic health conditions.

There are so many reasons to be proud of the work we do together. On behalf of everyone at Excellus BCBS, thank you to our medical team and physician partners for your dedication, commitment, and hard work! We appreciate you! Happy National Doctors’ Day!

Empowering Excellence: Leadership Development Success

“In our organization, professional development and community engagement are highly valued, and employees have opportunities to expand their knowledge, enhance their leadership and networking skills, and actively contribute to the community.” states Michele Benjamin, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield small group sales consultant in the Southern Tier region.

Michele had always been interested in attending Leadership Tioga sponsored by the Tioga County Chamber. The program’s goal is to develop individuals for future leadership roles, help develop their skills and knowledge of community issues, as well as introduce participants to the services, resources, and issues affecting the area.

While work and family schedules made the commitment difficult in the past, when Michele was approached again last year by a friend to take part in the program, the timing felt right for her both personally and professionally and she enrolled in the 2023 leadership class.  

Leadership Tioga class 2023.

Because the program aligned with our commitment to employee growth and success, Michele’s attendance fee was covered by our organization. “I am extremely grateful that Excellus BCBS has invested in my professional development by sponsoring my participation in the leadership program,” said Michele.

Michele gained valuable insights into the local community, its resources, and its opportunities. She was able to visit and connect with area businesses in Tioga County and developed a deeper understanding of local business needs and the dynamics of team collaboration.

“This exposure allowed me to broaden my perspective and gain insights into the challenges and opportunities facing our area. We sometimes get so comfortable in our current roles and daily routines that we walk around with blinders on, not realizing the opportunities that exist in our own back yard,” said Michele.

In addition to the local and industry-specific knowledge gained from the leadership program, Michele was also able to strengthen her soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. Michele credits these skills to helping further enhance her ability to collaborate effectively with her colleagues and navigate complex challenges in her job.

With her newfound knowledge and skills, Michele has a renewed sense of confidence and a fresh perspective. She has been able to apply the knowledge she gained from the leadership program to her daily tasks, making more informed decisions and contributing to the overall success of the sales team.

At Excellus BCBS we believe your job can bring out the best in you, every day. Learn more about how we empower our employees to grow.

Job Opportunities

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and make a difference in others’ lives?

We have the right fit for you. Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more. Check us out at careers.excellusbcbs.com. Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition Jason Helsdon at Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com.

Through tough times and happy moments, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) was there for me

Sometimes we all need an outlet, a safe space where we can share our feelings without judgement. Whether we are dealing with situations big or small, having someone to listen and provide tools to guide us through can make all the difference. Lynn Wesley Burton, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Rochester Regional Communications Manager, found her outlet through GuidanceResources®, an employee benefit that provides Excellus BlueCross BlueShield employees and members of their household with a free Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through ComPsych®. The program offers counseling, legal and financial consultation, work-life assistance, and crisis intervention services.

Connecting with a counselor

Lynn’s experience with EAP began when her father passed away in 2007. At the time, she was working at another employer but continued using the service as an Excellus BCBS employee. “When I started working at Excellus BCBS, it was one of the first things I looked at to see if it was offered as part of our benefits package, and it was,” shares Lynn. Getting started with EAP was as easy as a phone call to speak with a GuidanceConsultant℠ – a counselor who collects some general information and talks with you about your needs. “They asked me what I was experiencing, what I was looking for, and what I felt comfortable with,” remembers Lynn. She explained her current situation to the GuidanceConsultant℠ and that she would prefer a female counselor that she could visit in person. By the end of the conversation, she had the name of three potential counselors and an authorization number.

Fortunately for Lynn, she clicked with the first counselor she contacted. “Right off the bat, I knew she was somebody that I wanted to work with and who was good for me,” explains Lynn. Flexibility was also high on the priority list for Lynn, so finding a counselor who could work around her busy work schedule was extremely helpful. She found the experience so valuable that she continues to see her counselor today.

Healing from grief and loss

Throughout the years, Lynn turned to her counselor to help deal with grief and loss, first with the death of her father, and years later her mother and brother. “Many of the benefits for me came from having someone who was neutral, who was not family, and who was not one of my best friends, in order to give me the tools to look at things differently, to look at things objectively,” says Lynn. “If there were times that I just wanted to sit and cry, I did.” Through counseling, she worked on finding her new normal after experiencing loss. She focused on self-care so she could handle her day-to-day activities, her job and be there for her family. “This was the most important thing I could do for myself to maintain my mental and physical wellbeing,” explains Lynn.

Help for the happy times

Lynn on her wedding day.

While we may think of seeking out counseling for traumatic situations like the loss of a loved one, Lynn reminds us that mental health support can be useful in a variety of circumstances. “One important thing that I would share is a lot of people go to counseling for stressful situations or unfortunate incidents that happen in their life, and they need some help. I also needed help with some fantastic things that were happening in my life and being able to manage those.” For Lynn this included starting her new job at Excellus BCBS and getting engaged, all within a two-week period. Coming from a previous role working in television news where she was connected to work continuously, adjusting appropriately to her new job was a priority. “My wellbeing and work-life balance was more important than being connected all the time. It was something I had to learn, and it was something I never really understood was possible until I started at Excellus BCBS,” she explains. With all the excitement of a new job and planning a wedding, her counselor helped to remind Lynn to live in the moment, enjoy the process, and not forget the important things including herself. “No matter what is happening in your life, good or bad, to have someone else sit and listen and support you and help you talk through things is extremely beneficial for your wellbeing.”

Don’t hesitate to make your mental health a priority

Lynn ziplining in the Dominican Republic.

One of the most valuable things Lynn has learned throughout her journey is how to adapt and adjust to situations using the tools around her. This includes writing in a journal, exercising regularly, and focusing on healthy eating habits.  

If you are considering using the EAP or seeking out other mental health support but have been hesitant to take that next step, Lynn offers this advice, “Your mental health and wellbeing are first and foremost, you are important, and you matter. There is nothing selfish about taking advantage of a benefit that could help you in the long run.”

For Lynn, having this benefit available through her employer was vital. It meant that she had the support she needed and didn’t have to look for help on her own. “If this benefit wasn’t available, I don’t know that I would have done it on my own because it is a lot of work. Having the support made all the difference.”

Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefit for Excellus BCBS employees

The Employee Assistance Program is provided by ComPsych® Corporation and offers free short-term counseling to Excellus BCBS employees and their dependents. Some of the reasons to contact EAP include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed balancing work and family demand
  • Stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Grief and loss
  • Child or elder care concerns
  • Legal or financial questions
  • Substance use concerns for you or a dependent

To learn more about the EAP and other wellness programs offered to Excellus BCBS employees, visit the Excellus BCBS careers site.

Job Opportunities

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and make a difference in others’ lives?

We have the right fit for you. Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more. Check us out at careers.excellusbcbs.com. Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition Jason Helsdon at Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com.

Finding beauty and compassion volunteering at Francis House

Partnerships with community-based organizations are vital to the mission of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. We have been proud to support the Francis House through event sponsorship and volunteerism since 2017 as they fill a local need for end-of-life care for the Central New York community. Many Excellus BCBS employees have volunteered with Francis House on their own and as an employee team through the Central New York United Way Day of Caring.

Michele Luysterborghs, Compliance Program Administrator, shares her story of volunteering

Michele Luysterborghs, Excellus BCBS compliance program administrator

Francis House is a place that pretty much looks like your typical home on a residential street in Syracuse, New York. But beyond its doors, it is a place that provides anyone who enters the warm comforts of home and family.

The Francis House mission is to “provide a home and extended family to persons with terminal illnesses so they can die with dignity surrounded by the unconditional love of God.” When volunteering there, you help to create an atmosphere where people in need can feel like part of a family. There is “no place like home,” but when that isn’t an option, there is Francis House.

Getting involved

I became involved with Francis House through my cousin, when I shadowed her for a shift in one of its kitchens. I left that four-hour shift with my heart overflowing, knowing I got back much more than I gave.  After that, I was determined to help more. I took the onboarding classes for volunteers and earned my gold pin. I know each and every time that I volunteer, I make a difference in the people whom I am lucky to serve that day. When I returned to volunteer after COVID-19, one of the nurses greeted me with a smile and said, “Welcome home.”

By being a volunteer at Francis House, I am proud knowing I am helping its founder, the late Sister Kathleen Osbelt, to keep her vision from more than 30 years ago alive: to provide a place of unconditional love and acceptance for individuals who may not have another place to go, or do have another place to go but chose Francis House to make it easier on their loved ones.

Helping patients – and their families

As its mission states, Francis House is not only for end-of-life-care patients in need of help, but also for the patients’ families and friends who love and support them. Francis House is an invaluable and caring place for all people because it provides a caring and warm environment for people who are experiencing already difficult situations. Now, after volunteering for several years, I have witnessed Francis House’s beauty firsthand on many occasions.

There is so much unconditional love, support, beauty, compassion, and empathy there. The residents are at their most vulnerable state and yet, during their weakest hours, their true strength shines. Their courage is impressive. The smiles and the stories told within those walls are remarkable. As a volunteer, you do not know a patient’s condition unless they or their loved ones happen to share. You are part of their journey of emotional and physical acceptance of where they are at end of life. When you treat that person with acceptance, they know they matter.

Life stories

I have heard so many beautiful stories; I once made a secret family fudge recipe with a resident and she passed the recipe on to me; I have shared in many holiday traditions; I have put together puzzles and played cards; I have baked my heart out, always receiving comments like, “It smells so good in here, what are you baking?” and served one-too-many ice cream sundaes. I have also shared in the residents’ deepest joys, life adventures, life tips, and triumphs, and have seen a handful of them in their darkest hours.

As a volunteer, you see glimpses of their life stories in their spouses, kids, grandkids, pets or other loved ones who come and visit. The photos on their walls or their favorite treasures from home often provide inspiration to spark a conversation. Being present and compassionate with a resident brings them peace, even if just for a moment. You are brought into their lives in so many ways. You hear their life hopes, dreams and deepest fears.

Giving back

When my father-in-law was at end of life, he entered hospice on a Friday and left us less than two days later. While he was there, I remember the pure grace and compassion the volunteers and staff showed to him and our family. I remember the comfort I felt. It never left me. I am happy to be able to give back to our community in this way. My heart is always so full after I volunteer a shift at this beautiful and amazing place. Francis House has given me some memories and moments of friendship that I will hold in my heart forever.

Excellus BCBS values volunteerism

The value of volunteerism at Excellus BCBS runs deep. It is connected to the organization’s mission, localism and employee values and behaviors. “As an employee, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to use my volunteer time off serving the people in need at Francis House. I am proud to work for a company that allows us to give back to our communities in this way,” shares Michele.  Every January, each Excellus BCBS employee is provided with eight hours of volunteer time off to use throughout the year to support their communities. 

Job Opportunities

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and make a difference in others’ lives?

We have the right fit for you. Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more. Check us out at careers.excellusbcbs.com.  Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition Jason Helsdon at Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com.