The COVID-19 pandemic impacted all of us quickly in early 2020.
Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and other Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) companies, driven by deep-rooted connections to their communities, took immediate, wide-ranging action during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing premium relief, distributing millions of PPE supplies, ensuring access to COVID-19 testing and rapidly increasing telehealth.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) recently released its 2020-2021 Community Investment Report: Leading Through a Public Health Crisis.
It highlights the “all-in” approach from the 35 BCBS companies to support response and recovery efforts for the COVID-19 pandemic—a historic, unprecedented public health crisis—including a collective investment of more than $11.5 billion.
Vulnerable populations and people and communities of color were disproportionately affected by COVID-19. With that at the forefront of our work, BCBS companies also collectively contributed more than $315 million to community-based nonprofits to address social issues exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield recognized early on in the pandemic that we needed respond quickly for the sake of our members and communities just as we have for more than 70 years,” said Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross. “Immediately, we provided cost relief to our members for everything from COVID-19 testing to healthcare services needed if they contracted the virus to virtual health services from both physical and behavioral health professionals.
“We also provided significant rapid relief funding to support communities with urgent and growing needs to cover personal protection equipment, cleaning and sanitation supplies, and especially food sources. When COVID-19 vaccines became available, we launched our Vaccinate the Natural State initiative joining forces with core and community partners to encourage Arkansans to get their COVID-19 vaccine. This initiative is a collaboration with multiple business and community organizations statewide to educate and engage Arkansans in doing their part to help stop the pandemic by getting the vaccination. Hospitals, pharmacies, local health units and many, many others committed to the health and well-being of Arkansans have been working together to bring an end to this pandemic.”
An Increase in Food Insecurity
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans faced increased food insecurity as jobs were lost and schools closed. In addition to relief funding and extensive vaccine efforts, Arkansas Blue Cross and its Blue & You Foundation for a Healthy Arkansas invested in organizations that helped families and communities keep food on the table, donating $500,000 in support of immediate needs around food insecurity in the state.
“Recognizing the tremendous health, economic, and social needs created by the pandemic, the Blue & You Foundation provided support to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, Arkansas Food Bank, The Pack Shack and 17 United Way agencies statewide to address food insecurity directly, as well as providing $150,000 to the Arkansas Community Foundation, which reached out to Arkansas nonprofits with COVID-related grants,” said Rebecca Pittillo, executive director of the Blue & You Foundation.
The funding allowed food banks and other outlets to stock shelves and make food boxes readily available to Arkansans statewide.
Vaccines: Light at the end of the tunnel
The belief that every American deserves safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines has been at the heart of our commitment and is a critical component of our long-term strategy to drive health equity.
Through our deep community presence, BCBS companies are playing a critical role in getting millions vaccinated. Together, we’ve:
- Set up and supported mass vaccination events, staffed call centers to schedule appointments and helped get millions of shots in arms.
- Tapped our data and worked with community partners, like Feeding America, to focus efforts where they’re needed most, particularly in vulnerable populations and in communities of color.
- Committed millions of dollars to Lyft and United Way to provide access to free rides to vaccines and sent mobile vaccine units into underserved areas across the country.
- Educated millions nationwide about the safety and efficacy of vaccines and tackled vaccine hesitancy. Joined industry-wide and government initiatives, including the Vaccine Community Connector program, to help vaccinate more than 2 million seniors in America’s most at-risk, vulnerable and underserved communities in under 100 days.
Arkansas Blue Cross mobilized over 100 clinical staff to work on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, partnering with state and local governments, businesses and organizations to make the vaccine widely available throughout Arkansas. The company also spearheaded the state-wide Vaccinate the Natural State campaign to educate Arkansans about the safety and benefits of the vaccine.
“Working with Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield on the Vaccinate Arkansas effort has been rewarding and remarkably effective,” said Randy Zook, President & CEO of Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/AIA. “This unique partnership has provided Arkansas business leaders with the support they need to navigate the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and to protect their employees and customers. Arkansas Blue Cross goes to outstanding lengths to serve their client companies in their effort to keep their employees healthy and able to support their families. It has been our pleasure and privilege to partner with them.”
Arkansas Blue Cross brought vaccines to the state’s most rural, impoverished and underserved communities through the use of mobile units, faith-based networks, grant funding and data technology.
“As the demand for vaccines has dropped off, especially during such a critical stage in the battle against Covid-19, we find it necessary to take our message to Arkansans through a grassroots educational initiative,” Curtis Barnett, president and chief executive officer of Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “Despite COVID-19 vaccines having an excellent safety record, vaccine hesitancy continues to be a challenge in some of our rural communities. We’re optimistic that addressing this issue with the support of faith-based organizations will increase vaccine uptake.”
The future in a new normal
As we continue to confront this unprecedented public health crisis and battle COVID-19 variants, Arkansas Blue Cross and BCBSA remain committed to advancing affordable and accessible healthcare using our unique resources – our people, data, and community roots—to create a long-lasting, equitable health care system that works better for everyone.
To learn more about how BCBS companies are improving the health and wellness of members and their communities, view the report at https://www.bcbs.com/corporate-social-responsibility.