EAGAN, Minn., May 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and Blue Plus (Blue Plus) today announced an expanded commitment to the community health worker (CHW) model through partnerships with WellShare International and the Minnesota Community Health Worker Alliance (MCHWA). The partnerships aim to strengthen and extend CHW infrastructure in Minnesota communities, reduce health disparities and bridge cultural and language barriers in efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.
"This is an incredibly stressful time which may exacerbate already existing health disparities. These disparities can be amplified by cultural and language barriers," said Dr. Mark Steffen, vice president and chief medical officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. "Being able to provide phone-based assistance and ensuring people are connected to available resources can help support those individuals and communities that need it the most."
"Working with WellShare International and the Minnesota Community Health Worker Alliance helps us increase engagement with our members which is incredibly important during this pandemic," said Christine Reiten, vice president of Medicaid at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. "Community health workers are tremendous assets to the populations we serve since they often live in or grew up in the same community and are able to effectively assist with cultural competency that helps bridge gaps in care."
The partnership with WellShare is primarily designed to deliver education and answer questions about COVID-19. WellShare community workers will conduct telephone outreach to Blue Plus members who are not fluent English speakers and will also provide connection to other resources as needed, including information about food and rental assistance, unemployment, sanitation supplies and access to health care services. The initial plan is to conduct outreach in Ramsey County to Blue Plus members whose primary language is Hmong, Somali, Spanish and Karen.
"The Blue Cross investment is particularly significant at this time when so much light has been shone on the weaknesses and opportunities in our health systems. Community health workers have so much to offer in our collective effort to strengthen the ways we move forward so that all people have access to the quality health information and care they deserve," said Michelle Heerey, executive director of WellShare International. "This partnership is a great example of the ways in which we can come together to advance health equity."
The partnership with the Minnesota Community Health Worker Alliance supports the statewide infrastructure for CHWs, including scholarships to support certification of more CHWs in greater Minnesota, the creation of a statewide registry and an expanded CHW curriculum. Blue Plus is providing funding support of $175,000 for these efforts with MCHWA.
"This pandemic has highlighted the value and flexibility of the CHW model," said Cathy Weik, senior vice president of administration at Stratis Health and board chair for Minnesota Community Health Worker Alliance. "It's been incredible to witness Alliance members adjust their delivery methods to ensure that their communities receive these vital services and we're excited to support them through strengthening the infrastructure of the model here in Minnesota with this support from Blue Plus."
CHWs are part of a community-centered approach to bridge gaps in the health care system. CHWs typically come from the communities they serve and are a vital link between communities and systems of care to lower health disparities through access to services, improved cultural competence, effective systems for chronic disease management, and increased health knowledge and self-sufficiency of underserved populations.
About Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, with headquarters in the St. Paul suburb of Eagan, was chartered in 1933 as Minnesota's first health plan and continues to carry out its charter mission today: to promote a wider, more economical and timely availability of health services for the people of Minnesota. A nonprofit, taxable organization, Blue Cross is the largest health plan based in Minnesota, covering 2.9 million members in Minnesota and nationally through its health plans or plans administered by its affiliated companies. Blue Cross® and Blue Shield® of Minnesota and Blue Plus® are nonprofit independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, headquartered in Chicago.
Since 1979, WellShare International has designed, implemented, and evaluated community-based public health programs, with a focus on increasing access to health care, eliminating barriers to care and providing culturally-tailored health education. WellShare's mission is partnering with diverse communities to promote health and well-being and is guided by commitments to community engagement and co-creation. Early success in sub-Saharan Africa utilizing a community health worker (CHW) model led WellShare to implement similar strategies in Minnesota's immigrant and refugee communities. WellShare has partnered with the Somali community for 18 years. In 2013, WellShare expanded its partnerships to the Karen (refugees from Burma) community.
About Minnesota Community Health Worker Alliance
The Minnesota Community Health Worker Alliance seeks to build community and systems capacity for better health through the integration of community health worker (CHW) strategies. As a nonprofit governed by a voluntary board, the Alliance serves as a statewide catalyst, convener, consultant and resource to advance health equity and the Triple Aim with a nationally-recognized track record of innovation and partnership.
Blue Cross® and Blue Shield® of Minnesota and Blue Plus® are nonprofit independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
HMO Minnesota, d.b.a. Blue Plus, is an affiliate of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.