Mission Moment: Member story: How our localism makes a difference

As an active community member and local senior center volunteer, Richard doesn’t like to sit still. However, sciatic nerve pain can slow him down.    

“I wish I had changed health plans earlier. I am saving money on doctor visit copays and two prescriptions that I take,” says Richard. “I have much better coverage, the service I receive is awesome, and I have a friend in Helen.”  

Richard and Helen at the local senior center

Helen Pleszewicz, Medicare Consultant, met Richard for the first time in their apartment complex parking lot.

“I would be out walking my dog and see Richard outside and we would just start talking. We were neighbors and we got to know each other,” says Helen. “We talked about health insurance coverage, what he liked, what he didn’t like, and I mentioned when it comes time, let’s see what the plans are, and we can sit down and compare.”

So that’s what they did. Richard was particularly interested in his dental coverage, having paid extra for it on his previous plan. He quickly learned it was part of our Medicare benefits.

“There was no pressure. I felt so relaxed and informed. Medicare can be complicated, but Helen took the time and explained everything to me, so I was aware of my coverage, and I decided to make the change. I’m so glad I did,” says Richard.

“It’s personal to me. I’m working with people who are part of my community, they are like family and it’s important to show people we are local. You never know the impact you could have on someone just by having a conversation,” says Helen.

There’s no slowing Richard down. He’s joined a senior exercise class and says eating right, and being around family and friends, is what keeps him motivated, happy, and as healthy as he can be.

Hear more from Helen and Richard in this video.

Excellus BCBS Inspires Volunteerism Among Employees

Brent Bish, Senior Vice President and Chief Actuary for Actuarial Services at Excellus BCBS, volunteers for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) in honor of his son, Graeme.

“My family’s life changed when my son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 3 years old,” explains Brent. “Out of those challenges came an opportunity to raise awareness by volunteering for the ADA.”

Brent poses with son and wife at the annual golf event

From fundraising to advocacy, Brent supports the ADA in their journey for research and, ultimately, a cure. This year, he joined the Leadership Board, and although he appreciates the opportunity to give back, the most rewarding part of his involvement with the ADA is setting an example for his son by giving back to an organization that means so much to their family.

“My dream is that one day Graeme will grab a cup of coffee and a donut without worrying about his blood sugar,” says Brent.

To help his son reach that dream, Brent realized much needed funds are required for research, clinical trials and programming, so in 2019 Brent started the ADA golf tournament.  The first year $2,000 was raised by 38 participants. Two years later, there were 127 participants and $12,300 was raised. This year, the 2023 event will direct funds to Camp Aspire – a week-long summer camp for children with diabetes between the ages of 8 and 17.

Finding a cause and volunteering with them is encouraged in our Lifetime Way Culture, and with so many not-for-profits in our regions, there is sure to be an organization you can align with.

“It’s simple – find something you’re passionate about and reach out to a related organization to see how you can get involved,” explains Brent. “For me and my family, it’s diabetes, but there is no shortage of causes that need support. Most importantly, volunteer for the right reasons. Be genuine and helpful. Your time will not be wasted.”

Ask the Expert: Q&A with BJ Adigun of Excellus BCBS

BJ Adigun

How a recent change may impact upstate New Yorkers with Medicaid, Essential Plan or Child Health Plus.

If you or a family member are one of the more than 1.3 million* upstate New Yorkers with Medicaid, Essential Plan or Child Health Plus, you may have questions about a renewal that could impact your health insurance coverage.

We want to help everyone continue to access affordable health care. BJ Adigun of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield answers questions on what you can do to remain insured. Adigun is director of Safety Net Community Partnerships and Engagement.

Q. Tell me more about this change to Medicaid, Essential Plan and Child Health Plus

If you have Medicaid, Essential Plan or Child Health Plus, you may have to renew your coverage for the first time since early 2020. New rules required states to restart these renewals in the Spring of 2023.

When the state renews your plan, they’ll check to see if you’re still eligible for coverage. Whether or not you qualify for these free or low-cost plans is based on your income, household size, and other criteria.  

Medicaid, Essential Plan and Child Health Plus are New York state sponsored health plans that you can receive through an insurer such as Excellus BCBS.

Q. What happens if I’m no longer eligible for my current health insurance coverage?

If your income has changed, for example, and you’re no longer eligible for your current health insurance coverage, you may qualify for other coverage options. Information on how to get help to find new coverage is listed below.  

Q. What are my options if I’m no longer eligible for my current coverage?

If you find out you no longer qualify for Medicaid, Essential Plan or Child Health Plus, there are coverage options that may meet your needs:

  • Coverage through your employer, if applicable
  • Medicare coverage, if you meet certain qualifications, such as being age 65 or older
  • Other types of free or low-cost plans available directly from a health insurer or from NY State of Health, the state’s health insurance marketplace.

Q. What will my renewal look like?

When it’s time for you to renew your plan, you’ll receive a notice from the state telling you what to do. Follow the steps to renew. The renewal letters are being sent on a rolling monthly basis and started in April.

Q: How do I prepare for the renewal of my coverage?

Watch for a renewal letter from NY State of Healthor the county.  Check if NY State of Health and/or your local county Medicaid office has your current mailing address and contact information.

Q. I need help. What are my options?

Our main priority is to make sure you keep health insurance coverage, either by staying in your current plan or by moving to another plan that meets your needs. Please know that help is available, if needed:

*More than 1.3 million individuals in the 39 counties of upstate New York have Medicaid, Essential Plan or Child Health Plus, according to 2022 year-end data from the New York State Department of Health

Maternal Mental Health Awareness

We invite you to join Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in recognizing Maternal Mental Health Month.  Mental and behavioral health issues affect millions of Americans, and the challenge can be even greater for those impacted by mental illness during pregnancy and postpartum. One in eight mothers experience symptoms of maternal depression.  Developing a strong support system and finding treatment for symptoms can help both mother and baby thrive.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health is an important part of overall health and wellbeing. It includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel, and act. Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States. With more than half of all Americans expected to be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime, almost everyone is impacted by mental illness in some way.

Pregnancy and motherhood come with many challenges from lifestyle to hormonal changes. Each woman’s experience is different. Some adapt to these changes easily, while others may struggle physically and mentally. Maternal mental health disorders typically occur during pregnancy and within the first year after birth.

Identifying the signs and symptoms is an important first step to getting help. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of postpartum depression can include intense sadness, anxiety, and hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, withdrawing from family and friends, or thoughts of hurting yourself of baby.

If you are struggling, you’re not alone and support is available. The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline provides free, confidential support, resources, and referrals from professional counselors to pregnant and postpartum individuals facing mental health challenges 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Counselors offer support in English and Spanish and interpreter services are available in 60 additional languages. Call 833-943-5746.

The Maternal Mental Health Hotline is not intended as an emergency response line and individuals in behavioral health crisis should contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.

Share your story

Sharing stories can be a powerful way to raise awareness about this very important issue. Hear from two courageous mothers and Excellus BCBS employees who are proud to share their stories and encourage others to seek support.

Michelle and her daughter – a thriving college student.

“To say I’m not OK and I need help, shows just how strong you are, because if you’re not here, imagine the light that’s being taken away from those around you,” says Michelle Mack-Hayward, Excellus BCBS Affordability Program Development Specialist.  Michelle experienced the devastating loss of her twin boys at 19 weeks pregnant, followed by a difficult pregnancy with her daughter that included 10 weeks on bed rest in the hospital.  “Having the joy of this beautiful little girl and grieving the loss of my two sons was hard. It took me saying I’m not OK and admitting I need help,” says Michelle. “If my story can help someone get through a rough time, it doesn’t have to be fetal loss, it can just be the hardships of giving birth, motherhood and it’s challenges, and reach out to say I need help, then I will tell it a million times.”  Listen to Michelle’s full story here.

Melinda and her 3-year-old son.

Melinda Coleman, Excellus BCBS Health Care Quality Improvement Manager, knew she just didn’t feel right after giving birth to her son, so she decided to reach out for help. “I felt robbed. I was angry, tired of being in pain all the time and I lost all my confidence,” says Melinda after being pregnant at the height of the pandemic and experiencing a traumatic delivery that left her with nerve damage. “I like to share my story because it may help other mothers to know that things may not go as planned and how to prepare for it,” says Melinda. “If something doesn’t feel right, speak up, talk, you are not alone, and there are resources available to help.” Read Melinda’s full story.

Supporting maternal mental health in our communities

With a goal of reducing racial disparities in maternal health by 50% over the next five years, Excellus BCBS continues to invest in the community, partnering with organizations that are working to improve maternal health outcomes throughout the Health Plan’s footprint.

Multi-year funding has been provided for the following programs:

  • Mount Hope Family Center located in Rochester, NY provides home-based interventions for teen moms to address maternal mental health, parenting and child development, and trauma.
  • Integrated Community Alternatives Network in Utica, NY provides comprehensive prenatal and postpartum care, transitional housing, and a supportive peer community for young homeless women who are pregnant and/or parenting.
  • Oneida Health located in Oneida, NY, began a Women’s Health Behavioral Navigation program designed to bridge the gap between providers, patients, and behavioral health services through a care-coordinated model. The program provides services to address mental health, substance abuse, or age-specific women’s behavioral health conditions of Oneida Health patients receiving care at its Women’s Health office, Lullaby Center, or Emergency Department (ED).
  • Mothers & Babies Perinatal Network located in Binghamton, NY provides home/virtual visits to support new parents with breastfeeding, safe sleep, medical appointments and transportation, insurance & food insecurity through the first year of life.
  • Gerard Place in Buffalo, NY provides education, advocacy, mentoring & clinical tracking of low-income moms by nurse educators.

Keep the conversation going

Excellus BCBS encourages you to keep the conversion about maternal health and maternal mental health going.  If you know someone who is pregnant or has recently given birth, offer to listen.  Visit the CDC’s Hear Her page for helpful resources.

More Mental Health Resources:

Maternal Mental Health Month – “I didn’t know I was grieving after having my son”

May is Maternal Mental Health Month, a time to raise awareness about the mental health of every mother during and after pregnancy.

Motherhood comes with many challenges, but 15-20%  of mothers experience symptoms of depression or anxiety after childbirth, better known as Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorders or (PMAD).  This is the number one complication of pregnancy and childbirth and often goes undiagnosed.

Melinda Coleman, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Health Care Quality Improvement Manager, shares how she just didn’t feel right after giving birth to her son and her decision to reach out for help.

“I felt robbed. I was angry, tired of being in pain all the time and I lost all my confidence,” says Melinda after being pregnant during the pandemic in March of 2020. “I had a forceps delivery, ended up having nerve damage and needing pelvic floor therapy. The experience was traumatic and not what I expected.”

Melinda’s son Rhett is happy, healthy and her greatest blessing. Although her body started to heal from the traumatic delivery, she knew after giving birth she wasn’t the same.

“I knew I just didn’t feel right although I passed all the depression screenings at my postpartum appointments,” says Melinda. “I spent a lot of time wondering why me, why did I deserve this, and no one was around because it was during the pandemic. I felt alone and had reached a breaking point.”

That’s when Melinda reached out for help and contacted a therapist.

“It was super easy and the best thing I could have done for myself,” says Melinda. “My therapist told me I was going through the stages of grieving the pregnancy and birthing experience I expected, but never had.”  

Melinda was diagnosed with PMAD. With support from her therapist, she gained her confidence back, and now has the tools to identify emotional triggers so she can be happy and healthy for her family.

“I like to share my story because it may help other mothers to know that things may not go as planned and how to prepare for it,” says Melinda. “If something doesn’t feel right, speak up, talk, you are not alone, and there are resources available to help.”

My LifeTime Story: Balancing Caregiving with Work

“I am very lucky that I work for a company that recognizes me as a person and not just a number,” says Victoria Graham, FQM Business Process Manager, at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.


Victoria has worked in the finance department since 2016, in varies job roles, but what has remained constant is that she has always worked for compassionate and understanding leaders.

“What I have always valued as an employee at Excellus BCBS is that my leaders get to know me as a person, and they know that I embrace our company’s core values, which has led to me being trusted and accountable to get my work completed during difficult times in my life,” she says.

Victoria has experienced her fair share of difficult times, while working here her mother was diagnosed with dementia and Victoria became her primary caretaker. As her mother’s dementia progressed Victoria and her family started to look for an assisted living facility that could provide more hands-on daily care. This entailed endless hours of research, phone calls and legal paperwork, all while working a full-time job, parenting, and running a household.

Victoria poses with her mother

Available Internal Resources

Our internal Senior Caregiver Connections Committee was a significant resource to Victoria while she was going through the placement of her mother into an assisted living facility. The support the committee provided was also needed after her mother was living in an assisted living facility and she needed to transition to her next level of care. In fact, one employee who was a licensed social worker that Victoria met through the Senior Caregiver Connections Committee was instrumental with helping Victoria complete paperwork and legal documents that helped get her mother transitioned to the memory care unit at another facility.

Unfortunately, after only forty-five days in the new facility the COVID pandemic began, and no visitors were allowed into the facility. Victoria didn’t see her mother for almost two years, which caused her mother to be isolated and alone. It took the facility six months to implement one week video visits but by that time her mother’s memory was “shattered.”

“The Senior Caregiver Connections Committee connected me with other employees that were dealing with similar issues and provided me the opportunity to learn about senior caregiving topics, and to reach out to other employees for supportive help or advice,” says Victoria.

The resources and benefits offered to employees is also another asset that Victoria mentions, such as the vacation donation program which is available for those who may have family emergencies or a personal crisis that impacts them and results in a need for additional time off or the employee leave programs that are offered.

Invested In Our Wellbeing

Victoria credits the employee wellbeing programs and fitness classes with helping her keep active and balanced during her caregiving roles and work responsibilities.  

“Our company invests in our health and well-being by offering fitness and wellbeing opportunities during the workday. This is another way our company is investing in our mental and physical health,” she says.

“Besides feeling recharged mentally, the movement and exercise keeps me active in a job that is mainly sedentary,” she adds.

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 ExcellusBCBS.com/Careers.  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 (585) 453-6215 or Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com.

No Meeting Thursdays

Love them or hate them, I am sure that we all can agree that meetings take up a big block of time during our workday.

In 2020, our company instituted No Meeting Thursdays or NMT days, that are scheduled the first and third Thursday every month. The intent of “No Meeting Thursday” was to help stop meeting burnout, boost overall productivity, and address the fact that employees needed time to accomplish their work.

A no-meeting day is exactly what it sounds like; a day within the work week that doesn’t have any meetings. This means no team meetings, one-on-ones, recurring meetings, or any other kind of meeting you may normally have. It took some time for this cultural and behavioral shift to occur and for all staff to embrace and implement practices to ensure success; but the employee feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Tania Fleming, Human Resources, Learning and Organizational Development Consultant, describes No Meeting Thursday as a journey of adjustment. “When I was still in my role as a claims supervisor and heard about No Meeting Thursdays, I cheered!! I would often joke at home that it was No Meeting Thursday, so I only had 3 or 4 meetings, instead of the 7-8 that I usually had daily –but I did tell them it was a work in progress. Initially, I would find myself moving rescheduled one-on-ones to a No Meeting Thursday or schedule catch up meetings with my staff which defeated the purpose of the day,” she added.

In 2021, Tania made a concerted effort to push back when someone scheduled a meeting on No Meeting Thursday and would suggest another day. She said if she did not try to make the change and use the day, it would never happen. “I used No Meeting Thursdays to catch up on sending monthly metrics to team members, work on projects and be more available (in green on Teams) for my team members,” she stated.

“Earlier this year, my colleague, Kimberly Kovacs, challenged me to really use No Meeting Thursdays for myself and my personal development and learning opportunities. This allowed me to take advantage of our e-learning opportunities, to spend time on my journaling, and to write and send Lifetime Way recognitions. I worked hard to set boundaries to protect No Meeting Thursday and worked even harder to challenge others to decide if a meeting on a No Meeting Thursday was a priority when it was scheduled or suggested,” stated Tania.  

In May, Tania moved to the human resources department and her calendar was already blocked off for No Meeting Thursdays by the SVP of the department, Lori Florack. “This was truly the amazing evolution of how No Meeting Thursday has become a priority and a huge morale boost for me as a new person to the department,” said Tania. “I love that my leadership and the company leadership has dedicated specific days that allow employees the time and space to be productive, creative, and accountable for their own employee development success,” she added.  

To learn more about benefits offered at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield visit careers.excellusbcbs.com.

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 ExcellusBCBS.com/Careers.  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 (585) 453-6215 or Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com.

The Road to Leadership One Step at A Time

“Going to school as an adult, working in the industry that I’m studying in college is a whole different experience than taking courses right out of high school.  I can take the concepts and theories I am learning in the “classroom” and apply those skills to my daily work.  Additionally, it is exciting to understand how the concepts and theories I’m learning about are being applied throughout other departments and the entire organization,” says Kristin Johnston, Team Leader, Client & Provider Services

Company Growth Leads to Educational Growth

Kristin started her career at Excellus BCBS in the customer care department in 2004.  She spent her first three years learning as much as she could about the company and the products we sell. She focused on meeting member and provider’s needs through active listening, having empathy and using her problem-solving skills.

Kristin’s next steps in her career included a position in the Client and Provider Service department, which led to a supervisor position in Provider Relations and now her current role as a team leader.  “When I accepted the supervisor position in Provider Relations, I agreed to go back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree that I had started years before, but had never completed,” says Kristin.  

Employee Development

In 2020, Kristin completed her Bachelor of Science Degree in Business, Management and Economics through SUNY Empire State.  The company tuition reimbursement benefit paid for much of her schooling and Kristin credits the program as a perfect way to finance your education while building new skills. 

“The tuition reimbursement program has allowed me to focus on both work and school without worrying about how I was going to pay for it.  I was able to finish my degree more quickly by taking two or three courses a semester rather than paying out of pocket for one at a time,” says Kristin.

In 2021, Kristin was nominated to participate in the accelerated leader program offered by the company. The accelerated leader program helped Kristin to learn about industry trends and best practices while equipping her with new management skills. Her final capstone project focused on recruiting and retaining valuable talent, which sparked Kristin’s interest in Human Resources.  Through SUNY Empire State, Kristin was able to incorporate a graduate certificate focusing on Human Resource Management into her MBA degree and work on both at the same time. Kristin will be completing the graduate certificate in May and the MBA program in December.

Mentorship and Opportunities

Mentoring in the workplace is an established partnership between colleagues for the purposes of learning and growth. There are several different types of mentoring opportunities with the most common being a 1:1 traditional mentorship. 

Kristin credits her first mentor, Susie Hume, VP of Strategy Business Partnerships, with helping her grow both individually and within her role.  Over the course of the relationship, Kristin became a better public speaker, explored career growth opportunities and engaged in open and honest conversations concerning challenges and opportunities.

Kristin also worked on networking and interacting with her peers across the company, which this led to her joining the AVID ERG (employee resource group) and eventually becoming a co-chair.  Involvement in the ERG has led to Kristin broadening her experiences and increasing her knowledge about accessibility and advocacy, while developing deeper relationships with others throughout company and empathy for those dealing with issues related to a disability.

Tools for Success

Kristin credits the training and resources that have been offered by the company with personal and professional growth and developing benchmarks that provide a better sense of professional opportunities.

“The evolution of ongoing resources, such as online LinkedIn Learning, tuition reimbursement and mentorship programs has helped me gain confidence, increase my knowledge, attain goals, and expand my professional network.  All of this has led to a great deal of growth, both personally and professionally,” says Kristin.

To learn more about tuition reimbursement and other benefits offered at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield visit careers.excellusbcbs.com.

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 ExcellusBCBS.com/Careers.  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 (585) 453-6215 or Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com.

Collage photos of family

An unexpected special delivery for expectant parents

Expectant mom, Lana Polishchuk’s special delivery arrived four months before the birth of her baby boy. It came in a cardboard box – from her health insurance company.

“I received a call from my insurance company. I was pregnant and thought they were calling with information on breastfeeding,” said Polishchuk. Instead, her insurer was calling to invite her to participate in a healthy food home delivery pilot program. “I said food? From an insurance company?!”

Lana Polishchuk with her son

Food from an insurance company

Polishchuk was selected to take part in Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s maternal health food pilot program that delivers fresh food to the homes of expectant moms in their first or second trimesters. About 165 expectant moms were included in the pilot program based on a variety of factors including those in need of access to health care.

The goal is to address food insecurities, improve member health, focus on growing families and expose recipients to a variety of fresh foods. Food deliveries are made bi-weekly or monthly, depending on family size.

Coordinated by Excellus BCBS’s Bright Beginnings care management program, the year-long pilot program is a partnership with Rochester-area food bank, Foodlink, and made possible with funding from the Finger Lakes Performing Provider System.

The boxes are filled with fresh foods including seasonal fruits, vegetables, cheeses, beans, and recipes. Foodlink staff pack and deliver the boxes. Members also receive a box of cookware, including a small blender to make baby food and invitations to join cooking classes sponsored by Foodlink. 

This month’s bounty!

Raising healthy babies

“Raising a healthy baby begins long before childbirth,” said Jeanine Davis, Vice President of Clinical Operations at Excellus BCBS. “Providing convenient and healthy meals aligns with our goals of ensuring the best health outcomes for babies and their families in a holistic member- centric way.”

According to Davis, the goal of its Bright Beginnings program is to engage with members early in their pregnancy journey and connect them to community resources. Doing so helps address maternal morbidity, postpartum depression, preterm birth, admissions to the neonatal intensive care unit, and length of stay.

Bright Beginnings also provides direct access to a multi-disciplinary team including doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, registered dieticians, and others. 

“Partnering with Excellus BCBS has allowed our Curbside Market home delivery pilot program to reach younger customers, but more importantly, it has made it easier for families to access healthy, nourishing food,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink. “

“Our Bright Beginnings team’s goal is to connect with families to reduce food insecurity, increase access to health care and decrease emergency department visits and hospital admissions or readmissions,” said Kara Traverse, manager of Excellus BCBS’s Bright Beginnings, maternal/child case management team.  “It’s a great advantage to them.”

A fresh meal in the box

Lana inspecting the latest delivery and recipes

“When I first opened the box, I said, ‘Oh, healthy!’ This is way healthier than anything else because everything is fresh, and you’re being creative and you just follow the recipe,” said Polishchuk.

A working mother of four, she had a 13-year gap between her new baby and his sister. “This was something new to me. Back in the day, 14 years ago, I didn’t cook that much and there was no opportunity like this. It’s a big change and a big transition,” said Polishchuk. 

Using the fresh foods and recipes help keep her on track with healthy eating.  “It was very special to receive that box because it has everything to create meals. I’m always excited, it’s a fresh meal from the box. You always get vegetables. Sometimes we get a huge bag of carrots, and fresh parsley, dill, we always get options. I have high blood pressure, so I have to watch it. Everything is so fresh, it’s really easy and convenient. To come home and cook a meal in 30-45 minutes is amazing,” says Polishchuk.

Cooking for the future

Lana Polishchuk and her daughter with baby

Home prepared meals not only promote good health, but the pilot program also helps promote a healthy lifestyle. Polishchuk says her 13-year-old daughter was a fast-food lover and now enthusiastically helps prepare meals. “It means a lot because when you make homemade food, it’s healthy eating.  As a teenager, it gives her inspiration to help and learn how to cook. She loves to cook now and loves to do it together, with me, learning to cook for the future. It’s amazing, it’s very special for our family.” 

Watch the video to learn how the program has impacted Lana and her family: https://youtu.be/DM3ntJmR2Jw

Breaking barriers  

“Living our mission and applying an I.D.E.A. (inclusion, diversity, equity, and access) Mindset takes all of us,” says Sady Alvarado- Fischer, Vice President, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer(DEI).  One way we are making a difference is through our Health Equity Awards (HEA) to partner with our community and help fund health and wellness programs that address racial and ethnic health disparities.   

Language and cultural barriers can limit access to information, health care, and pose serious health risks.  Empire Justice Center received a Health Equity Award to enhance the language accessibility of Common Ground Health’s “My Health Story 2022” survey to hear from a diverse group of respondents. Individuals in under-resourced communities can take the survey and share important health information that impacts their well-being and environment.

“You cannot be committed to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility and not address language barriers. By not addressing the language barrier, you are contributing to the systemic racism you are trying to dismantle. Language barriers are a tool of racism and oppression,” says Marlene Cortés, Senior Program Manager, Empire Justice Center.

Increasing accessibility to the survey included adding a text-to-speech option in English and Spanish for those with low literacy levels, or who are legally blind or visually impaired. The HEA funds also supported an American Sign Language (ASL) version.

“I took the survey, and it was awesome because every question and answer had ASL video. I was able to understand without worrying about the English form. This is a first survey which includes ASL that I am aware of done in public. Thank you for breaking the barrier and I hope we will see more of these going forward,” says Ray Kenney, Monroe County Language Access Coalition.  

Survey results will provide a better understanding of where health inequities need to be addressed in our communities, that can now include the needs of people with limited English Proficiency (LEP), and the Deaf and hard of hearing communities.

“This HEA-funded initiative is just one example of what can happen when we partner with community advocates and experts, like Marlene, to address historical barriers to healthcare and develop innovative solutions to improve language access,” says Sady.  

Empire Justice Center also used HEA funds to provide more than 10,000 “iSpeak/iSign,” Language Identification Cards to individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) or are Deaf or hard of hearing, to share with providers and advocate for their need to communicate with an interpreter.

“Together, we can increase equitable access to healthcare services – and when we do so, everybody benefits,” says Sady.