Health equity is a critical priority in MinnesotaJune 5, 2017
With the recent release of the Blue Cross Community Report, we’re taking a closer look at the initiatives Blue Cross is leading to move health forward in communities across Minnesota.
Today we are speaking with Patsy Riley, senior vice president of government market solutions and chief government officer, about our focus on health equity. At Blue Cross we define health equity as, what’s achieved when all people, regardless of race, income, zip code or other factors, have opportunities to live the healthiest lives possible.
Riley oversees our government health program business, which includes Medicaid, Medicare and Federal Employee Program benefit plans. Since joining Blue Cross in 2006, she has been instrumental in shaping our diversity and inclusion, health equity and caregiver support initiatives.
Why is health equity a critical priority to Blue Cross?
We have many members—especially within our Medicaid business—that face health disparities daily. Many are from new immigrant populations, so it is critical that we understand their cultural needs. One way we achieve this is through the work of our community outreach team. They ensure these members have access to culturally appropriate care and can have a good experience at the doctor and understand everything the doctor says. By focusing on health equity, we can hire the right people from similar backgrounds to support these members.
How is Blue Cross moving health forward through a focus on health equity?
Blue Cross has been committed to advancing health equity and addressing health disparities for many years. Our early efforts were mostly driven by our Center for Prevention and our Foundation. About 18 months ago, we set forth on a journey to embed health equity into our organization’s business practices, and have since incorporated it into our strategic plan.
We know that we won’t be successful if we try to do this work alone. We must collaborate with community partners, others within the health care sector and our own employees. That means working to better serve increasingly diverse members and communities in Minnesota.
Why is a commitment to health equity an important priority?
While Minnesota is often regarded as one of the healthiest states, we also experience some of the deepest health disparities. Communities of color, those with lower incomes and people in rural areas experience significantly poorer health outcomes. The reasons are multi-faceted and deeply rooted in our history.
As Minnesota’s largest health plan, we must work to advance health equity. Inequities and poor health outcomes negatively impact people, communities and our bottom line. This issue is both mission and business critical. Working with community partners and organizations, we believe we can make a significant difference.
Is there a specific health equity initiative or effort that really stands out to you?
There are several. The first is our decision to embed healthy communities, including a deliberate focus on health equity, giving it the resources and focus it needs. This is an important milestone.
The second is the initiative we’re funding in Willmar. We hired a local community initiatives project manager and formed a “community table” with local, diverse group of community members brought together to discuss innovative approaches to improving health in their community. Similarly, we’re launching another table later this year that’s focused on culturally responsive care, which will include community representatives and health care professionals.
And finally, last year, we opened our Mid-City office, a service center located in northeast Minneapolis. Currently, 51 percent of staff are people of color— the result of an effort to recruit and retain people from the communities we serve. This is a real positive for our organization.
What’s happening in 2017 that you’re especially excited about or proud of?
I’m especially proud of the work we’re doing to increase own intercultural competency, both as individuals and as an organization. Some of this work started in 2016, when we began having senior staff complete the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), which helps people to better identify their potential biases. The IDI is helping us determine what to do next to become more diverse, inclusive and equity-minded.
Last year we hired a health equity integration director, Rosemond Owens. Since Rosemond has come on board, she’s has implemented a new process of training racial justice facilitators and health equity ambassadors. This is important because to be sustainable health equity must be a focus for managers and frontline staff. This training will help us work with our members and communities even better.
We also designated this past April as Health Equity Month. April was selected to coincide with National Minority Health Month. I believe the month-long focus helped elevate health equity as a critical issue.
What are your hopes for this work moving forward?
While we have much to do, we’ve built a strong foundation to advance health equity both within and outside our organization. When I retire at the end of the year, I’ll look back fondly at the progress we made on this important issue. And, I’ll be watching with pride as these efforts continue.
Report to the Community
Blue Cross is committed to creating healthier communities. The 2016 “Moving Health Forward” Report to the Community demonstrates Blue Cross’ support for numerous programs and initiatives that strive to make a healthy difference in Minnesotan’s lives.
This post is the fifth post in the Moving Health Forward Report series. The first post shared highlights from the report from Paula Phillippe, senior vice president of human resources and corporate social responsibility. In the second post, Janelle Waldock, vice president for community health and health equity, shared insights about the work Blue Cross is doing in communities across Minnesota. In the third post, Marc Baer, vice president of health service operations talked about the work Blue Cross is doing to make health care less expensive, easier to use and more impactful throughout the state. The fourth post focused on how Blue Cross is moving health forward for our employees. The final post will show how Blue Cross has committed time and resources to advance the environment.