Be safe outdoors – What you need to know about Lyme disease

Summer is a time to work in the garden, visit the dog park, or hit the bike path. It is also a time to be aware of tick-borne illnesses including Lyme disease, and ways to avoid them. Infected ticks can be found across the Northeast, including in upstate New York. 

“Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of an infected deer tick,” says Lorna Fitzpatrick, MD, vice president of medical affairs and senior medical director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Untreated, the disease can cause health problems, including severe headaches, painful arthritis, swelling of the joints, and heart and central nervous system problems.”

Treatment with antibiotics, when the infection is identified early, can result in a quick and complete recovery, according to Fitzpatrick. The big issue, she says, is that Lyme disease often goes undiagnosed, which can lead to chronic symptoms that are hard to resolve.    

Preventing tick bites is the best way to protect against tick-borne illnesses. The New York state Department of Health offers these tips: 

Know where to expect ticks.

Ticks like shady, moist areas at ground level. They cling to tall grass, brush, and shrubs, usually no more than 18-24 inches off the ground. They also live in lawns and gardens, especially at the edges of woods. When gardening, keep long hair tied back. When hiking, stick to well-cleared paths.

Reduce ticks in your yard.

Keep lawns mowed and edges trimmed. Clear away brush, leaf litter, and tall grass from around the house and at the edges of gardens and stone walls. Stack woodpiles neatly away from the house, and preferably off the ground. Keep the ground under bird feeders clean so as not to attract small animals that can carry ticks into your yard. Locate children’s swing sets and other play equipment in sunny, dry areas of the yard, away from the woods.

While outside, dress to protect.

Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily. Wear enclosed shoes, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots, and shirts into pants. Check clothes and any exposed skin frequently for ticks.

Consider using repellent.

The NYS Health Dept recommends using EPA-registered insect repellents. For skin, products that have DEET (20% or more) or picaridin (5 to 20% of the active ingredient) can be applied.

For clothes, shoes, and camping gear, treat, or purchase pretreated clothing with permethrin, but never apply permethrin to skin.

After being outside, check yourself and your clothes.

Do a final, full-body tick check at the end of the day (also check children and pets) and remove ticks promptly. If available, put your clothes in a dryer on high heat for 15 minutes to kill any ticks that may be on them.

The New York State Department of Health has more information on Lyme disease, online at Ticks & Lyme Disease – A Guide for Preventing Lyme Disease (

With the support of my leader, I found time in my busy schedule for development

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Customer Care supervisor Malerie Serley’s development journey began shortly after joining the company in 2019. “I joined the organization without any knowledge about health insurance,” Malerie explains.  She started as a Customer Care advocate. “The reason I pushed my development was because I knew Excellus BCBS was a great company to work for and I really wanted to begin a career there.”

Desk time made it possible

She was committed to taking on as many learning opportunities as she could while balancing the challenges of a tight schedule helping members on the phone. “I would utilize my desk time as often as I could and any courses that were interactive or offered only at a certain time, I would work directly with my leader to get the time I needed,” shares Malerie.  Excellus BCBS Customer care advocates have one or two hours each week referred to as “desk time” where they are off the phones for training and other development opportunities, but more time can be requested. “We have a workforce management team that does scheduling and forecasting so we know ahead of time what the day is going to look like.  With that information, we know if there is desk time available,” she adds.

She found her way through mentoring

One development opportunity that had a great impact on Malerie was mentoring. “I did a mentoring pilot program. I had a mentor that was a supervisor in the Claims department, and she helped me figure out that I wanted to be a leader.” Mentoring is now available to all employees. “I have an advocate on my team who is currently participating in mentoring. She coordinates with her mentor and then lets me know what time she needs. She then puts in a request through our workforce scheduling tool,” shares Malerie.

The value of connecting with colleagues

Throughout her career, Malerie has requested time for a variety of development opportunities including LinkedIn Learning, classes on the company’s internal platform, and interactive sessions.  She encourages others to take advantage of the interactive courses where you can connect with fellow employees virtually.  “I think these courses are good personally and professionally,” says Malerie. “These sessions are a great opportunity to break up your day-to-day routine and push out of your comfort zone, get in front of people and network.”

Some good advice and a little encouragement

Malerie offers this advice to anyone looking to take advantage of development opportunities – “Use your time wisely to see what development resources are available. Check in with your leader to let them know what you are working on with your development. Make sure development is a part of the 1:1 conversation.”

She has always felt encouraged and supported by her leaders, even as she has taken on more robust development opportunities such as the organization’s Enterprise Succession Program (now Enterprise Mobility Program), where individuals are invited to participate in a 7-month long intensive leadership program. “I worked with my supervisor to figure out how much time I would need off the phones to focus on the course and follow up work,” she notes. “Most leaders are willing to make any adaptation to schedules when it comes to those types of development opportunities.”

Finding your career path can sometimes be difficult, especially with so many options available. Malerie recommends taking advantage of shadowing opportunities to explore the many paths available and figure out which direction is right for you. Whether an employee’s goal is to become a leader, move laterally into another area of the company, or build new skills, there are so many development opportunities offered at Excellus BCBS that can help them grown both personally and professionally.

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 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

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 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

Picture of a mom holding a baby up over her head

Maternal Mental Health Month: Meet the Bright Beginnings team

Each year, May marks the start of Maternal Mental Health Month. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Maternal Mental Health refers to a mother’s overall emotional, social, and mental well-being, both during and after pregnancy. We recognize this month to spread awareness, support, and to encourage the availability of resources for mothers throughout the world.

7 years ago, Lyndsay is driving her newborn to the doctor’s office. As a brand-new mom, she claps her hands to check her baby’s alertness, looking repeatedly to ensure her baby is breathing during the entire 10-minute drive. Upon arriving to the office, she checks with her doctor about her concerns. They reassure her this is “typical,” just another symptom of new motherhood, or the “baby blues.” Lyndsay leaves the office feeling confused, with a feeling in her gut that something isn’t quite right.

Experiences like Lyndsay’s affect mothers worldwide. While awareness is still growing, today, we know that worldwide about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental disorder, with the most common being depression. These statistics also show a staggering health disparity for women of color. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 30-40% of Black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Alaska Native women do not get the prenatal care they need. This is where programs like Bright Beginnings make a huge difference, stepping in to fill necessary gaps in care like transportation, resources, and provider referrals to help new parents to effectively care for themselves and their mental health.

Solutions for People Who Hate Kids' Music

As a Licensed Social Worker with the Health Plan, Lyndsay recognizes these gaps, and now works persistently to ensure members receive the care they need while pregnant or postpartum through the Bright Beginnings program. Working with individuals who need anything from resources and transportation to treatment for post-partum psychosis, Lyndsay approaches each member with respect and a listening ear. 

“I say, ‘tell me your barriers. You can’t get there? Let me find telehealth. You can’t afford it? Let me find someone who does a sliding scale,’ just really trying to make sure that I’m able to give them all the resources and options that I can give them.”

-Lyndsay, Case Manager

The Bright Beginning program, led by Kara Traverse, includes a team of Licensed Social Workers and Registered Nurses who meet with members referred by area doctors and hospitals, family, and even members themselves. They contact the member, listen to their concerns, and screen for depression and anxiety. From there, the case manager assesses and makes appropriate recommendations, providing resources for transportation, education, mental health support, and more.

Above all, the Bright Beginnings team stands out as a remarkable group of compassionate and experienced health care professionals. In fact, Kara remarks that the team compiled their work experience, saying they collectively have “over 102 years of maternal health experience” on their team.

Excellus BCBS recognizes the gaps in maternal mental health awareness, and the need for more equitable healthcare for members and the community at large. The Bright Beginnings program is just one of a few programs aimed at combatting these issues. We also collaborate with community-based partners which are committed to increasing maternal health care awareness and availability. From breast pump and pregnancy education to mental health screenings and arranging visits to the hospital and pediatrician, the Bright Beginnings program enlists licensed social workers and registered nurses to help parents stay on track, caring for themselves and their children.

Excellus BCBS also supports programs for maternal mental health run by community-based organizations in our regions. Some of these efforts include: Seven Valleys Health Coalition’s Post Partum Doula Support and Doula Partnership, Contact Community Services’ Maternal Mental Health Follow Up Support, and Integrated Community Alternatives Network’s Maternal Health Equity for Pregnant Homeless Teens.

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. 

‘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 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

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.