Picture of a bowl of yogurt with granola and fruit

Healthy Snacking As You Work From Home

For many people working from home, it is hard to resist the constant cravings to snack throughout the day. When you snack on the right foods, you tend to consume fewer calories throughout the day. You’ll feel fuller longer and be less likely to overeat or reach for unhealthy foods.

Healthy snacking can help you manage your weight too. Individuals who stay at a healthy weight reduce their risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis and some forms of cancer.

Tips for Better Snacking

Rather than snacking on cookies or chips, try having a handful of raw almonds. Place a serving (about 23 almonds) into a snack size bag and leave it in a can’t-miss location in the kitchen, such as in front of the cabinet where the less-healthy snacks are kept.

Keep fresh fruit and vegetables front and center in the refrigerator so that it is the first thing you see when you open the door. Consider raw vegetables and fresh fruit as “nature’s fast food.”

Another healthy snack idea is to pair a small amount of cheese with whole grain crackers. The protein in the cheese will help to keep you feeling full longer.

When it comes to snacking, it’s also important to ask yourself “Am I really hungry or is this stress or boredom?”

More Snack Swaps

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following healthy snacking tips:

  • Try three cups of air-popped popcorn instead of oil-popped popcorn. You’ll consume 73 fewer calories.
  • Avoid the kinds of snacks you’d find in a vending machine (you may have them around the house as treats to include in school lunches). Instead, enjoy a yogurt. That’s 82 fewer calories compared to a package of six peanut butter crackers.
  • Substitute a sugary 12-ounce can of soda with a bottle of carbonated water for 136 fewer calories.
  • Instead of chocolate sandwich cookies or other sweet snacks, eat a bowl of berries or an apple or orange.

For more healthy eating tips, visit ExcellusBCBS.com/nutrition.

Picture of a mom holding a baby up over her head

Celebrating Black Breastfeeding Week: August 25-31

Making the decision to breastfeed can be a complicated and daunting process for many women. Health experts recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for about the first six months. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breastfeeding disparities exist, with fewer Black infants being breastfed compared with White and Hispanic infants. There is also a lack of diversity in the lactation field.

When factors such as unique cultural barriers and a complex history connected to breastfeeding are combined with food desert-like conditions in many urban areas where women may struggle to access healthy food, it brings to light the importance of a week devoted to Black Breastfeeding.

This week – August 25-31, 2020 – is celebrated by many who wish to bring attention to the topic, including Syracuse Community Connections’ Maternal and Family Health Program, which provides pregnancy, birth and parenting support to families that are expecting a child and/or have children up to 18 months old.

Connecting the Community

According to Rachel Johnson, Maternal and Family Health Program Director at Syracuse Community Connection, their home-based services are free to families residing in the Syracuse area. These services include a Doula Program, a Fatherhood Program and Baby Talk classes. Black Breastfeeding Week is one of many opportunities this organization takes to educate the public on topics and issues that impact women and families in their community.

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“Black Breastfeeding Week is meant to highlight and celebrate the Black women in our community that have chosen the complex journey of breastfeeding,” she said. “Our goal is to create visibility for and celebrate Black women who are currently breastfeeding; de-mystify breastfeeding, while providing the opportunity for individuals to share their real and raw experiences; and provide education to the community and support systems that enhance confidence to encourage a positive breastfeeding experience.”

Bridging the Gaps

Creating representation and transparency for Black maternal health helps to bridge gaps in our community in order to work towards reducing health disparities that are largely influenced by race, gender, and income status, says Latoya Mallory. Latoya manages Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s SafetyNet Member Care Management Program, Bright Beginnings.

“We offer services that support what our friends at Syracuse Community Connections are doing,” Latoya explains. “We offer programs that go hand-in-hand, including Bright Beginnings, which works with pregnant or new mothers to manage appointments and visits to the hospital and pediatrician, and provides breast pumps and pregnancy education.”

The Bright Beginnings program helps support Black Breastfeeding Week by providing education to Excellus BCBS members about the benefits of breastfeeding – a standard set forth whenever care managers like Emily Georger, RN, work with women in the community.

Bright Beginnings

Emily recently helped a new mom through the breastfeeding decision-making process, which can sometimes be daunting. “This member had planned to breastfeed, but was not fully educated on what to expect,” she explained. “I was able to provide education and help talk through some common misconceptions about breastfeeding.”

The member was also connected with other services that would help her in this decision including a lactation consultant with Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Medicaid free breast pump benefit, and virtual parenting classes offered by local community agencies.

“The member, who delivered a healthy baby girl this summer, was pleasantly surprised, as she was unaware of the additional services available to her… It’s our job to help connect those dots,” Emily said.

Thanks to the work of these organizations and a week that draws attention to this important health issue, an impact can be made.

“We want Black women to know that they are being seen and heard,” Rachel said. “We want them to know that they are not alone and that they have a safe space to share their stories.

Learn More

Syracuse Community Connections’ Maternal and Family Health Program

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield – SafetyNet Program

  • Phone: 1-844-694-6411
Picture of a mom standing by her baby

Taking Care of Your Mental Health

Lisa’s world was turned upside down a few months ago. As with many of us, the pandemic changed nearly everything about her daily life overnight. The mother of three had only been back to work at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield for about four months following maternity leave, when her job shifted to work from home and her two older kids’ school transitioned to online. “I know it’s a cliché that the only thing constant in life is change, but so much change, so quickly, has really affected my mental health,” said the mother of eleven-month-old Alessandra, six-year-old Elias, and 10-year-old Sophia.

Cutout picture of three children

Lisa sent this picture cutout to her mother who was missing the children during social distancing. (photo courtesy of Lisa)

Lisa’s work is rewarding, but stressful at times. Add working from home to the mix, a breastfeeding baby who wants to be held, and the two older siblings attending school via Zoom, and you’ve got a perfect storm.

Be Patient and Kind

Growing up, Lisa was aware of the prevalence of mental health issues in her family. Five years ago, she also began experiencing nervousness and anxiety, which led her to seek help from a behavioral health professional who taught her coping skills and prescribed medication to help alleviate her symptoms.

“Taking medicine, doing deep breathing exercises, and scheduling regular physical activity such as walks with my family have helped me adapt to my new normal,” said Lisa. “I’ve also learned to be patient and kind with myself, and others, when I’m feeling stressed or panicked.”

Family Date Night

Lisa found that doing things with the family that were fun, and that gave them something to look forward to each week, improved the entire family’s mental health. “We now have a themed family date night every Saturday,” said Lisa. “One week it was a sports team theme, while another was a fancy dress up dinner.” Daughter Sophia has started to help in the kitchen and, according to mom, “makes a mean risotto!”

Picture of two children raising a glass to cheers over dinner

Saturday Night Date Night Dinner Fun at Lisa’s house (photo courtesy of Lisa)

Lisa is quick to add that support and check ins from her leaders at work have helped her to strike a work-life balance that allows her to manage stress and maintain perspective. Her supervisor has been very supportive, and sends weekly emails to their team that are funny or helpful, and keep everyone feeling connected.

“I’ve learned that your emotional well-being is just as important as your physical well-being,” said Lisa. “Taking care of your mental health is no different than going to the doctor when you are sick, so don’t be afraid to ask for help or lean on others when you need to.” A conversation with your doctor can be a good place to start with getting help.

Tips for Managing Anxiety

 The New York State Office of Mental Health provides the following tips for managing anxiety in an anxiety-provoking situation:

Practice good self-care, including exercising, eating healthy foods, and sleeping an adequate amount at night. If possible, spend some time outside. Avoid staying up late to
monitor the news.

Virtually reach out to different types of support networks, such as family, friends, colleagues, faith-based communities, and social organizations to strengthen your overall
feeling of connection. Isolation and loneliness feed anxiety.

Find or create spaces that are not focused on COVID-19. Start a social media thread about other topics, ask friends to discuss other topics, or watch your favorite TV show or movie.

Savor small positive moments, amplify positive stories, and stay optimistic. Try to cultivate a mental wellness practice, such as writing in a gratitude journal, or talking
nightly with your family about moments during the day that were fun or enjoyable.

Take an opportunity to practice mindfulness when managing anxiety. Mindfulness tools such as grounding exercises, sensory modulation, and deep breathing may be helpful.

If you are experiencing any urgent mental health concerns, there are resources such as Lifeline 585-275-5151 and the Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255.

Picture of a bike wheel

Pedaling Towards Better Physical and Mental Health

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.” – John F. Kennedy

A few months back, the snow started to melt and we headed out to the Erie Canal for our family walk/bike ride. My son, Matthew, asked if I wanted to ride his bike for a few miles so he could rest.

I laughed at the idea.

A bike? Me?

At age 42, I hadn’t been on a bike since I was 16 – no, that isn’t true. I was on a bike while at the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland a few years ago, but it was one of those beach bikes that holds four people and has a basket in front. Does that even count?

Anyway, I agreed. I got on the bike and wobbled a little at first. But then after about a mile, I realized… I love this feeling!

And this is how my biking obsession began. I worked out the details to purchase nice bikes for my husband and me that we could use on the roads and trails near our home in Chittenango, and within days we had our very own Trek bikes.

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Bike riding: I’m not alone

What I have learned since that day in March is that I’m one of many people who have this love for the freeing, stress relieving qualities of riding a bike.

As I take to the roads and trails every day with my husband and children, we pass dozens of biking enthusiasts. Some are sporting fancy gear and riding the cream-of-the-crop bikes, others are simply wearing their protective helmet and peddling a not-so-fancy bike like mine.

Take my friend and coworker Erika Gruszewski, from Monroe County, for instance. Since the pandemic started, she, her husband and their daughter have gone bike riding together as a family, which is a fun way to explore their neighborhood and get some activity at the end of the day.

“We also have a push-along trike for my toddler – she can’t reach the pedals yet, but she loves ringing her bell and wearing her helmet,” Erika said. “Pushing her around the neighborhood in the trike or the stroller is an almost daily activity for us. Getting out and moving in the fresh air always improves my mood!”

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As many people, especially families like Erika’s with young children at home, are looking for lockdown-compliant ways to get outside and keep everyone as healthy and happy as possible, we’re all enjoying this physical activity, outside in the fresh air.

In fact, research shows that a growing wave of New Yorkers are embracing cycling and that it’s a booming method of exercise and transportation in larger cities. According to PeopleForBikes Foundation, “affordable recreational bikes and practical models for commuting and errands are in high demand right now.” During May and June of 2020, bike sales throughout the nation were up substantially from last year — 65 percent greater than year-to-date 2019.

A Bicycle Built for Sunday Funday

Lilac Inthavong-McEvoy, who resides in Monroe County, said it’s easy to understand why the popularity of cycling has grown.

“It’s a fun, easy way to get outside, spend time with others, and get exercise,” she explained. Lilac spends her Sundays traveling bike trails and roads throughout Rochester with her coworkers at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield on what she calls “Sunday Funday.”

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“On any given Sunday, we could have as many as 16 people – coworkers, their spouses, their kids – who meet and ride,” she said. “It’s a way to be together and spend quality time in a safe, socially distanced way.”

Connect, Reflect, and Recharge

Co-worker and friend, Melissa Gardner, who also resides in Monroe County, has benefited from Lilac’s cycling Sundays.

“In most aspects of my life I am an introverted person who is very self-motivated to accomplish any goal I set,” Melissa said. “That isn’t true for fitness, though. Any time I missed a goal or broke a fitness streak, I would borderline give up and allow too much time to pass before picking back up healthy habits.”

For someone like Melissa, who wasn’t a fan of group fitness classes or anything that felt competitive, cycling has given her the outlet she needed to connect with others, reflect and recharge.

On the weekly rides, Melissa says she enjoys the fact that she “can meet-up with riders for great energy and be completely by myself – all while burning calories and exploring our community.”

Benefits of getting on a bike and peddling

Not only do biking and other forms of outdoor activity allow families to get exercise, they also provide valuable peace of mind during stressful times, said Nicholas Massa, MD, medical director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

“Being able to go outside and spend quality time with the family, while getting the physical activity that we all need makes getting on a bike an easy solution to maintaining your health.”

According to Massa, we should follow these physical activity guidelines for Americans.

“Adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week,” he explained. “Adults also need to engage in strength-based activities (lifting weights, push-ups) at least 2 days each week. Following these guidelines can improve overall health and decrease the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes.

There are also physical activity guidelines for children age 17 and under:

  • Children ages six to 17 need at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity every day. They should also include both aerobic activity (biking, walking, running) and strength-based activities (climbing on the playground, jumping rope).
  • Preschool-aged children should be active for at least 3 hours per day to support growth and development.

Tips and Tricks for a Safe Bike Ride:

  • Wear a helmet.
  • Be seen. Dress like a fluorescent peacock—wear bright colors and reflective clothing, especially in the early morning, late at night, or on cloudy days.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. Wear sunscreen, especially on the back of your neck, and sunglasses
  • Know the weather forecast. Wear waterproof gear as needed.
  • Be alert. Never ride with headphones or an earpiece. You need to hear everything you possibly can.
  • Ride with a buddy. Two cyclists will be more visible than one. Plus, if something happens to you, your buddy may be able to facilitate the emergency response process (and vice versa).
  • Get creative with your route. Choose roads that are extremely wide or have dedicated bike lanes. Opt for quieter neighborhood roads over high-traffic ones.
  • Always carry a patch kit. Learning to patch up your own flat tire can prevent you from being stranded in an unsafe or remote location.
  • Carry a cell phone and ID. If you don’t have a patch kit and need a ride, your cell phone will come in handy.
  • Bring drinking water for longer rides.
  • Ride with traffic, never against it.
  • Always be ready to yield. What you can do is go slowly enough that you could stop or give the right of way at a moment’s notice.
  • Be vigilant at intersections. When coming to a stop, hang left in the lane so the drivers behind and in front of you can see you.
  • Be on the lookout for loose gravel, ice, sand, puddles, and other road hazards.
  • Take bike-specific trails, whenever possible; follow the rules of the road; use bike line if there is one.
  • Don’t share water bottles.
  • Practice good cough etiquette by coughing and sneezing into your arm, not your hand.
  • Wash hands with soap and water after any possible contamination, before eating and after using the bathroom (or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable).
  • Consider bringing hand sanitizer or wipes to use after portable toilets.
Mother helping child do homework

Time To Catch Up On Your Kids’ Annual Physicals

Whether your kids are back in the classroom this fall or online learning from home, now is the time to reconnect with your child’s pediatrician to catch up on annual physicals and immunizations you may have postponed because of the COVID-19 lockdown. Children ages two to 21 years old should have an annual physical to ensure they are growing and developing normally.

Most health plans must cover a set of preventive health services for children at no cost. This includes Marketplace and Medicaid coverage. (Note: These services are free only when delivered by a doctor or other provider in the plan’s network.  https://www.healthcare.gov/preventive-care-children/).

“During a preventive visit or annual physical exam, your child’s growth will be tracked and monitored,” said Nicholas Massa, MD, pediatrician and medical director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “The pediatrician will also ensure that immunizations are up to date, including for whooping cough, rotavirus, measles, and the flu.”

Childhood immunizations protect against serious and potentially life-threatening diseases. Children who aren’t current with their immunizations are at increased risk of catching diseases and spreading them to others.

Help Your Child Breathe Easy

Asthma is one of the most common long-term diseases among children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An annual physical provides an opportunity to review and update a child’s asthma action plan (or asthma management plan), which is a written plan developed in conjunction with the child’s doctor. The plan details the child’s daily treatment, such as what kind of medicines to take, when to take them, and when to call the doctor or go to the emergency room.

“A review of claims data shows an annual spike in the number of children’s asthma-related medical visits, asthma attacks and hospitalizations from late August through late September,” said Massa. He advises all adults who care for a child who has asthma to have a copy of the child’s asthma action plan, including teachers, caregivers, and even parents of their friends. To learn more about how to keep children with asthma healthy, click to view “6 Steps For Controlling Your Child’s Asthma,” a free, downloadable poster from Excellus BCBS.

Annual physicals also provide an opportunity for your child’s pediatrician to look for signs of depression, lead exposure, or issues with hearing and vision.

The Doctor Will See You Now

Medical practices have made modifications to keep you and your child safe during your visit due to COVID-19. When you call your child’s pediatrician, you will be given updated protocols and instructions about how to proceed with scheduled appointments.

“With medical practices again welcoming patients for in-office visits, it is time to reconnect with your child’s pediatrician,” said Massa. “While many parents schedule their well child visits during the summer months when the kids are on summer break, remember that obtaining clearance for an upcoming sport is only one of many important parts of a yearly preventive visit or annual physical exam. And it can be done anytime during the year.”

For more information and resources to help you reconnect with your provider, visit ExcellusBCBS.com/reconnect.

Picture of a woman getting her blood pressure taken

Schedule Health Care Screenings You May Have Postponed

As medical practices open for patient visits, it’s time to reconnect with your doctor to discuss care or screenings you may have postponed. That includes screenings for breast, cervical, and prostate cancers. But those aren’t the only screenings to check on.

Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in New York state. There are about 9,000 new cases of colon cancer each year in our state and about 3,000 deaths.

Colonoscopy is the most thorough screening test and is proven to prevent the disease. Removing benign or pre-cancerous polyps found during colonoscopy can not only prevent colon cancer, but also can reduce deaths from the disease for years.

Learn about Lynn’s colon cancer story by watching the video below:


Prediabetes is serious, common, and reversible with lifestyle changes. One in three adults has prediabetes, but 90 percent don’t know it because there aren’t always symptoms. A simple blood sugar test can show if someone has prediabetes. African Americans, Hispanic and Latino Americans, American Indians and Native Alaskans are at higher risk for having elevated blood sugar levels.

Learn more about prediabetes by watching the video below:


Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The current estimate is that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.  More than five sunburns in a lifetime can double a person’s risk for melanoma.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, Caucasians and men older than 50 have a higher risk of developing melanoma than the general population. However, skin cancer can affect anyone. Skin cancer in persons of color is often diagnosed in its later stages, when it’s more difficult to treat.

The American Academy of Dermatology encourages everyone to perform regular skin self-exams to check for signs of skin cancer, including new and changing moles. Individuals with a history of melanoma should have a full-body exam by a board-certified dermatologist at least annually.

Learn more about preventing skin cancer below:

Tips for protect your skin from the sun

Screening Saves Lives

The best option for medical care is to see you provider in person. With many practices now welcoming patients, it’s time to reconnect with your provider to discuss care or screenings you may have postponed. Screenings save lives!

For more information and resources to help you reconnect with your provider, visit ExcellusBCBS.com/reconnect.

Picture of a person sitting at a kitchen table working at a laptop.

Tips for Working From Home This Summer

Many employers have made it official: Their employees will be working from home this summer. Now that you know the plan for the next couple of months, here are some things to think about.

Take time off

Remember to use paid time off to enjoy time away from work. “You need to do this,” said Melissa Gardner, senior vice president at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “I encourage the folks on the team I lead to enjoy a long weekend or take a Wednesday off to break up the week.”

Set up your workspace

Maybe you’ve been making do with a corner of the kitchen table or the couch. With at least a couple of months ahead of you, it may be time to figure out if you have what you really need. Do you have a keyboard and mouse, a large enough monitor, a comfortable chair? Make your set up work for you.

Check out the video below for more tips on setting up an at-home workspace:

Get outside

Take advantage of being at home this summer. Work outside if you can or sit near an open window. Schedule breaks to sit in the sun for 5 minutes to get some Vitamin D.

Take a walk or run

Stretch your legs by walking or jogging around the neighborhood at lunch. Take a walk for meetings where you don’t need to be on screen. “Nobody will know if you are sweaty when you login to a meeting,” said Gardner.

Check out the video below for more tips on being physically active at home:

Assess your workday

Be mindful about taking breaks, stepping away from the computer and getting up to move about during the day. If you find this hard to do, schedule reminders on your phone or write a note by your computer that gets your attention.

Stop working

Set an end to your work day. Being home doesn’t mean you have to be on call 24/7.

Talk about what you need

Talk to your leader, colleagues, or anyone else to share what you are feeling and to find what is working for others. Don’t be afraid to talk about how you are handling your work/life balance.

Find replacements

If there are things you’ve been wishing to do once things open up, find a new way to do them now. “If the first thing you want to do is go out for a nice dinner, find a great restaurant that is offering takeout, set your table, light a candle and make it an experience now,” advises Gardner.

Stop apologizing

Stop worrying about your appearance when you’re on a video conference. Gardner reminds her team members that they are not alone in being unshaven, wearing glasses, not wearing makeup, or being on screen with a messy mop of hair. “Be comfortable with who you are and make no apologies,” she preaches.

Share what’s working for you

Let your colleagues know about your at-home success and failures and listen carefully to theirs.  “We’re all in this together,” said Gardner.

Mother sitting with her two children in front of a computer

Don’t Let Distance Get In The Way of Connecting

You’ve likely heard this before: staying connected is important for our health.  But have you really thought about why and how, especially during this time of physical distancing?

“We are wired for social connection,” said Amy Hernandez Gamboa, BSW, a medical services care management trainer with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Our new way of living has tested our ability to go long periods of time without seeing friends, family, being able to hug, or enjoy physical gatherings,” Amy said.

That lack of social connection can have a negative impact on how we feel both physically and mentally. “Right now we are feeling the barriers that are getting in the way of the benefits,” Amy said.

The Benefits of Social Connection

Science backs up the importance of social connection. In fact, social ties might be the single most important predictor of wellbeing.

Some of the positive impacts of social connection on physical health:

  • Strengthens the immune system;
  • Quicker recovery from disease;
  • Increases longevity;
  • Sharper memory;
  • Can help reduce stress and blood pressure when pregnant

There are mental health benefits of social connection as well:

  • Lower rates of anxiety and depression;
  • Higher self-esteem;
  • Greater sense of empathy;
  • Improved mood;
  • Increased trust and cooperation;
  • Increased ability to support others

Quality, Not Quantity

Social connection looks different for everyone, but there are four key elements, according to Amy:

  1. Having meaningful relationships. It’s about quality of relationships, not quantity.
  2. Making regular connections. For some, that may be a daily connection and for others, it is less often.
  3. Feeling a sense of belonging. Have you heard the expression “find your tribe?”
  4. Having shared experiences. Sharing experiences with others can enhance that feeling of connection.

5 Ways to Encourage Connection

“If you’re like me, you may find yourself missing your connections and needing to find creative ways to stay connected,” Amy said. “Social connection can occur without physical connection.”

Amy recommends five themes and thought-provoking questions to consider in order to encourage connection:

  1. Grace – be forgiving of yourself and others. Find time and make it a priority to stay connected. Social connection is going to look different today than in the past. Ask yourself: how can I let go of prior expectations and create space for myself and others to connect today? What are my one to two priorities today?
  2. Technology – it allows us to go places we may not have been able to go before via virtual tours, such as museums and zoos. Use social apps to connect for a virtual book club or virtual walk with a friend. Ask yourself: where do I want to ‘go’ today? When can I set up a video chat with a friend or relative today? Technology helps us break through the barrier of physical distance.
  3. Intention – be intentional in your connections. Who do you want to connect with and how today? Determine how you’re going to spend your time.  This can help address any barriers you may have. Think about a one-word intention that can help you strengthen connections this week, maybe it is “gentle” or “try.”
  4. Creativity – think outside the box. What creative idea can you share with a friend or family member today?  What inspires you today?
  5. Generosity – socially connect by thinking about others. Ask yourself: who might need to hear from me today or how can I support others?

Choose Your Own adventure

Choose to make your social connections an adventure.  This is especially helpful if negative thoughts begin to take up too much thought.  You can:

  • Remember the past. Reminisce on fun, shared experiences with friends or go through mementos.
  • Embrace the present. This allows you to appreciate today. A fun idea shared by Amy is to meet up for ice cream with a friend and enjoy from the safe distance of your cars.
  • Plan for the future. Make a bucket list. Think of all the future holds for you!

What ways have you stayed in touch while staying apart?

Share your tips in the comments section below.



Picture of someone in a hospital bed with medical professionals around them

COVID-19 Crisis Reveals The Importance Of eMOLST

Most people who are near the end of life lack the ability to make their own decisions about the life-sustaining medical treatments they wish to receive or avoid. For patients with advanced illness and frailty, the most important means of ensuring their preferences are honored is to have a properly completed and accurate electronic version of Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (eMOLST) available in their electronic medical records through connections with the New York state eMOLST Registry.

Peace of Mind For Those With Advanced Illness

eMOLST is for patients with serious health conditions who want to receive or avoid any or all life-sustaining treatment, who reside in a long-term care facility or require long-term care services, and/or who might die within the coming year. In New York state, eMOLST, and its predecessor, the hard copy MOLST, are the only authorized ways to legally document both nonhospital Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) and Do Not Intubate (DNI) orders that Emergency Medical Services can follow. eMOLST also documents additional specific medical orders that are recognized and honored in all health care settings, including preferences regarding hospitalization. In hospitals, hospice, nursing homes, and the community, eMOLST is used to issue orders concerning preferences for resuscitation and life-sustaining treatment.

COVID-19’s impact on the frail elderly illustrates the important role eMOLST has in the way preferences for care, recorded as medical orders, are communicated. The importance will be intensified if predictions for a second and third wave of the virus are realized. eMOLST allows frail older adults to write their own final chapter and relieve loved ones of any anxiety that comes with making end-of-life health care decisions on their behalf.

eMOLST is not intended for healthy people, or for people who have a chronic condition or multiple chronic conditions but have a long life expectancy. Those individuals should complete a health care proxy and discuss their wishes for care with family and loved ones.

How to Complete eMOLST

Patients should ask their providers if eMOLST is right for them, and if so, complete the electronic form. If a hard copy MOLST already exists, the COVID-19 crisis would dictate that it be reviewed and updated and converted to eMOLST so that it is in the registry. If a patient lacks the ability to make end-of-life decisions, the health care agent or surrogate should speak with the provider. The tools and features in the eMOLST system ensure that a standardized process is used for conversations, and the completed eMOLST is 100 percent accurate.

Licensed physicians and nurse practitioners have the authority and accountability for accurate completion of MOLST and eMOLST under the Public Health Law. As of June 17, 2020, physician assistants also will have that authority and accountability. Only licensed physicians can complete MOLST and eMOLST orders for patients with intellectual or developmental disabilities who lack capacity to make medical decisions and cannot complete a health care proxy.

When an authorized health care practitioner signs the eMOLST, a copy of the medical orders and the discussion automatically become part of the statewide eMOLST Registry that is available as a public health service in all settings, as patients move from one care setting to another across New York. The physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant also will print a copy of the eMOLST on prominent, bright pink paper that will physically travel with the patient.

Additional Resources and Education

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield led the development of two free community websites.  CompassionAndSupport.org has information on advance care planning, free downloadable health care proxy forms and instructional videos. MOLST.org has COVID-19 guidance on MOLST, how to have thoughtful MOLST discussions, and instructions for obtaining urgent access to eMOLST.

Picture of an unmade bed

When Counting Sheep Doesn’t Work: Tips for Calming a Busy Mind and Getting Sleep

It was while I was lying awake at 3:00 a.m. again that I realized something was not right.  I am usually an early riser, but 3:00 a.m. is really early, even for me! The pandemic had brought about a lot of changes to my life, including a significant reduction in sleep!

A Vicious Cycle

I work as a Workplace Wellness Coordinator at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. My job is to educate others on the importance of sleep, but I am not immune to having issues myself.  I know how detrimental inadequate sleep can be, with problems ranging from impaired memory, to obesity, to greater likelihood of car accidents. That knowledge only raised my stress levels! And like a vicious cycle, the more I stressed about not sleeping, the less I slept.

I decided to get help

One night, stuck in another vicious cycle of not sleeping, I decided to get help. I was already registered with MDLIVE, the telemedicine service affiliated with my health insurance. I decided to schedule an appointment with a Licensed Social Worker, who was available within a couple of days.

During my appointment, she explained that I was feeling so stressed that my brain was too “busy” to shut down and sleep properly.  She gave me some activities to try such as meditation and breathing techniques.  She told me to work to make small improvements, even an extra 20 minutes at night is a start.

6 Habits for Better Sleep

Sleep problems are common, according to Greg Carnevale, M.D., chief medical officer and sleep specialist with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “There are 50-70 million people in the U.S. that suffer from one or several sleep disorders that result likely in not getting enough sleep. The cause and solution can vary for each person,” Carnevale said. Health experts recommend getting at least seven hours of sleep each night.

“As a society, we need to recognize the dangers of trying to get by with fewer hours of sleep and wake up to the health benefits of a good night’s rest,” Carnevale said. He offers the following tips for improved sleep:

  • Keep bedroom quiet, dark and cool.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bed.
  • Stick to a consistent sleep schedule, including on weekends.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed.

Seek Help When You Need It

I’ve been listening to the advice of the social worker and thankfully, it is helping. I really wish I had called sooner. But, it is never too late to seek help.

“There are sometimes very easy and simple steps to improve on your sleep, and sometimes you need a professional, such as your doctor, to help,” Carnevale said. “Trying to navigate the misinformation out there alone can have deleterious effects to you and your health.  Don’t wait to seek help,” he added.

View and download an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield infographic on ways to improve sleep at ExcellusBCBS.com. For more help with sleep, talk with your doctor or sleep specialist.