My Lifetime Story: Taking Steps Towards Health Equity

As part of Melissa Klinko’s professional development, she was able to enroll in an online Harvard business course, fully sponsored by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, that specifically focused on addressing and reducing health care disparities. Little did she know that this experience would open her eyes to the underlying causes of these disparities and provide her with real-world examples and case studies.

Melissa Klinko is a corporate communications manager for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield

My New Perspective 

 During the course, Melissa gained a new perspective on healthcare and realized the impact of unconscious biases. It was a moment of self-reflection when she recognized that she had assumed the doctor she was seeing was Asian based solely on her last name. However, upon meeting her, she discovered her assumption was incorrect. This incident made her acutely aware of the unconscious biases we all carry and the importance of addressing them to provide equitable care to all individuals.

Melissa’s awareness of disparities in healthcare was further heightened by her brother’s experience. As an adoptee from Korea, he often faces the expectation that he should be able to speak Korean. This expectation becomes frustrating, especially in certain situations. Language barriers are one of the biggest obstacles in healthcare, leading to a lack of care and confusion regarding medications and next steps in treatment. This realization solidified her belief that health equity is crucial in bridging these disparities.

Recognizing and Educating

 By recognizing and addressing systemic racism and biases, we can ensure that everyone receives the care they deserve. It is through educational opportunities like the Harvard Business course, that we can contribute to closing the gaps in healthcare.

Melissa shared that one of the most intriguing aspects of the course was learning about the Kotter method, which helps identify organizational gaps and needs. This method helps to create a vision for change and implement an executable strategy to reduce disparities. Additionally, the course emphasized the importance of collecting and analyzing data unique to underserved populations. By utilizing this data, we can effectively inform and drive meaningful change.

“I am grateful to work for a company that values health equity and actively supports its employees in recognizing disparities in healthcare and education. By providing resources and fostering awareness, our company ensures that we are aware of how situations are perceived and how we can contribute to making a positive difference.”

We Care About Health Equity

 Melissa’s experience sheds light on how Excellus BCBS goes above and beyond in fostering a culture of continuous learning and support for their employees.

Are you interested in joining the Excellus BCBS team?

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.

Local doctors, local decisions

Did you know that Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is supported by a team of local Medical Directors?  That’s right, a team of 27 doctors who live and work right here in our communities serve as Medical Directors for the health plan. This diverse group includes medical, dental and behavioral health specialists. Their work ensures that every one of our members is receiving equitable, high-quality care that’s as affordable as possible. It’s not only a love of science and medicine that drew them into the profession, but an innate need to help, heal, and serve others.

Working with community doctors

Doctor listening to baby's heart beat.

A strong relationship with community providers is essential to providing quality care to our members. As board certified physicians with years of experience caring for patients in hospitals and outpatient settings, our Medical Directors work together with our local providers to improve quality and control costs by identifying opportunities to close gaps in care, and better controlling chronic health conditions.  An example of this is our value-based payment arrangements where we reimburse doctors based on the quality of care they deliver and not just the number of services they perform. Providers can receive higher reimbursement when they meet goals around quality, experience and affordability. This is one of the ways we work with doctors to improve care while controlling costs.

This team actively collaborates with our provider partners, seeking their input and feedback in areas such as medical policy, quality improvement and medical management. This collaboration leads to improved member care and healthier communities.

Improving member wellbeing

Our Medical Directors seek out innovative opportunities to engage our members in enhancing their health and wellbeing. This dedicated group of physicians serves as advisors and leaders for dozens of initiatives. For example, in 2024 we introduced a new virtual physical therapy option to help our members manage musculoskeletal disorders from the comfort and convenience of a virtual environment. And we have partnered with a kidney care management program to help members with stage 4-5 chronic kidney disease navigate medical care services and follow their physician’s treatment plan.

A senior aged woman in her home, talking to a doctor online in a virtual appointment.

Our code of ethics

They tackle big issues such as health care disparities, rising costs, and a changing health care landscape while following a code of ethics rooted in trust.  This code embraces quality and patient safety in clinical decision-making.  Our Medical Directors define quality care as safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient, and equitable. Their decisions are guided by evidence-based standards of care and the expertise of community providers.

Proud to live in the local area

Our Medical Director team is proud to call the upstate New York area home.  You might see them out in your neighborhood enjoying time with their family, running errands, or participating in community events. Get to know our Medical Directors by visiting our website to learn more. 

Educating our communities about health care (Video)

Common Ground Health is one of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s 2023 Health Equity Innovation Award recipients. Funds are used for their Get It Done program to support African American and Latino barbers and beauticians who serve as community health educators (CHEs) and peer leaders to increase health knowledge, community outreach, and increase health/mental health workshops. Support will also be provided for referrals to health care and health/social service resources.

More than 30 barber shops and beauty salons in all four quadrants of the city of Rochester take part in the Get It Done events.

Jackie Dozier, Director of Community Health and Wellbeing at Common Ground Health

“We’ve found that when people come in to get their hair done or cut, they have conversations with their stylist about whatever issues they are going through personally and professionally,” says Jackie Dozier, Director of Community Health and Wellbeing at Common Ground Health. “This is a great opportunity for stylists to educate and share health care resources and information with clients in the black and brown communities who live in the neighborhoods they serve.”

(Video) Learn more about the impact of these Get It Done events below from a salon owner and student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Mission Moment: How our funds support our community

The Monroe County Family Coalition is one of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s 2023 Health Equity Innovation Award recipients. Funds will be used to provide more mental health wellness, support and education to youth and families, develop a peace garden to address food deserts and nutrition shortages in underserved communities, and enhance financial literacy and crisis support resources.

“We want to meet people where they are and make sure that no one is left behind,” says Dina Johnson, president and CEO of Monroe County Family Coalition. “Addressing inequities and health disparities in our community is vital to the success of our youth and families and we couldn’t do it without partnerships like the one we have with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.”  

Dina Johnson, president and CEO of Monroe County Family Coalition and Kimberly McKinsey-Mabry, Excellus BCBS community investments and partnerships manager.

Hear from two women who share very different experiences of how The Monroe County Family Coalition has impacted their lives.  

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.
https://youtu.be/sgducYfAiNo

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.

Trust

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.