As a national blended health system that includes one of America’s largest Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers and a growing regional hospital and physician network, Highmark Health serves more than seven million customers.
“As a leader in health care, it is our responsibility to bridge the gaps in health equity,” says Dr. Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew, chief clinical diversity, equity and inclusion officer, Highmark Health. “The foundation for closing these care gaps is our intentional practice of creating an inclusive and belonging environment. This spills over into the care that we provide with humility, dignity, and respect. The partnerships we develop build on this to enhance quality of life, address social determinants of health, and make communities healthier.”
Highmark Health is committed to moving health equity forward in a transformative way — and that means putting the right people, programs, and processes in place. The leaders of Community Affairs, the Enterprise Equitable Health Institute (EEHI) which focuses on DEI efforts, and the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) teams pool their efforts to tackle health equity from all angles—with the goal of reducing health inequities and improving health outcomes aligned with the enterprise Living Health strategy.
“We are leveraging our data and analytics capabilities to generate insights that enable us to develop solutions that are patient centered and focused on eliminating disparities in health and healthcare among our most vulnerable members,” says Nebeyou Abebe, senior vice president, SDOH. “We are addressing the complex, multilevel factors that influence the presence of these disparities by working together with our internal colleagues and external partners.”
With a footprint that includes Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Delaware and beyond, the programs that are supported have the potential to impact health outcomes for millions of Highmark’s members and the broader community.
“Our commitment to health equity, through our Highmark Bright Blue Futures corporate giving and community involvement program and the work of our foundation, goes beyond providing financial support. It includes working with the community and providers, providing expertise, leveraging employee volunteerism, and convening groups to improve community health, “says Kenya T. Boswell, senior vice president affairs. “Our approach presents many opportunities to build a brighter future and see the impact we’re making firsthand.”
These three leaders have created a coalition, including other enterprise partners, to realize a shared vision of achieving health equity.
“We are putting together the right strategy to ensure that future generations have a better quality of life and won’t be dealing with the kinds of health problems that persist today,” says Abebe. “We need to focus on upstream factors that impact downstream health, put a greater focus on prevention and wellness, and make the right strategic community-level investments.”
You can see this in action on Pittsburgh’s North Side, a traditionally marginalized and vulnerable community. Since 2018, Highmark Health has supported a coalition, Thrive18, to hire and train community health workers who identify and address social risks. Thrive18 has addressed the needs of more than 3,000 individuals and built a foundation for future health in the neighborhood.
Another example is The Highmark Bright Blue Futures Awards, an awards and recognition program that honors outstanding organizations, programs, collaborations, and philanthropic initiatives that have demonstrated success in building healthier, brighter futures. Made possible by the Highmark Foundation, the theme for the inaugural year is “A Look at Health Equity, Social Determinants of Health and Philanthropy to Advance Community Health.”
“We’re focused on improving the most pressing problems in the regions we serve. From increasing access to care with screenings and vaccinations to developing programming to reduce Black infant and maternal mortality, we’re dedicated to improving health equity,” says Dr. Larkins-Pettigrew.
Successful health equity initiatives require thoughtful multi- sector collaboration. “Our success is defined by how well we help others reach their goals around health equity,” said Boswell. “We are an active, engaged community partner and we build strong, trusted relationships with our stakeholders.”