The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified many of the nation’s healthcare challenges, including the longstanding issue of disparities in healthcare that negatively impact our minority populations.
Case in point: African-Americans make up about 11% of Pennsylvania’s population, yet account for more than 20% of the commonwealth’s COVID-19 deaths, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health statistics.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines health disparities as “differences in health outcomes and their causes among groups of people.” As an example, the CDC notes, African-American children are more likely to die from asthma compared to non-Hispanic white children.
Reducing or eliminating such disparities in care or outcomes leads to better overall health for all Americans. That translates into healthier communities and stronger workforces, which benefits the bottom line for small businesses and major employers alike.
One way to close the gap is to support community-based programs that address health or social issues that disproportionally affect minority populations. This strategy is being used increasingly in both the public and private sectors to help improve overall public health.
Capital BlueCross, a leading Pennsylvania health insurer, has provided more than $1 million in the last year to help address health disparities, including through the creation of its Community Care Project. Working with community partners – first in Harrisburg, then expanding to Lancaster – the project is a collaboration that provides health screenings and nutritious food to low-income, minority populations who might otherwise lack access to health professionals.
The collaboration raises awareness and educates at-risk populations about the importance of prevention, early diagnosis, and management of chronic diseases. Blood pressure and glucose screenings are performed each month, and participant outcomes are tracked. While at the screening site, participants receive nutrition counseling and are provided with educational materials on different health topics each month.
Over a nine-month period, Capital BlueCross screened nearly 600 participants through its Harrisburg Community Care Project and found nearly a third had either high blood pressure, high glucose levels, or both. The program was able to refer 147 people to a clinic or primary care facility for follow-up care, and there has been overall improvement in the health of those participants during this program.
“Our efforts to address health disparities are paying off for both individuals and communities,” said Capital BlueCross President and CEO Todd Shamash. “If we can help one person identify a health risk and proactively address it, that person can inspire friends, family, and neighbors to be more mindful of their own health. There’s a ripple effect that, over time, can help minority communities become healthier.”
Capital BlueCross also has taken steps to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing more than $400,000 in grants to more than 50 non-profit partners within its service region to support economically disadvantaged communities with food aid, housing support, personal protective equipment, and other pandemic-related needs.
And the company supports community-based health resources, including providing funding for the expansion of both the Hamilton Health Center in Harrisburg’s Allison Hill neighborhood and the Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley. Both provide comprehensive healthcare and social services to diverse populations.
Shamash said Capital BlueCross’ investments are strategically designed to go beyond healthcare.
“We really see our efforts to address health disparities as a social and economic development tool for the communities we serve,” he said. “Healthier individuals create healthier communities, and that means more opportunities and a higher quality of life.”