We’re only three months into 2020 and already, it’s a year none of us will soon forget. Concerns about the novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, have – for the time being – changed how we think of the most basic parts of our lives: where we do our work, how we engage with family and friends, even what we touch.

Meanwhile, the health care system is working hard to ramp up capacity to test and treat patients who show symptoms of COVID-19 and individuals are taking necessary precautions to limit their own exposure.

Businesses are implementing policies and procedures to continue serving consumers and, very importantly, to protect employees. As Chief People Officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC), my role is not only to help build a mission-driven organization and put our employees in a position to do their best work on behalf of our customers, but also to create a culture of flexibility for our people during these uncertain times.

While COVID-19 is an unexpected development, our employees are well equipped to handle the challenge. We are working hard every day to serve our members in North Carolina and transform health care.

People First

Our company is committed to putting people first, a guiding principle that informs our COVID-19 response, both for our customers and our employees.

We’ve activated our Critical Incident Response Team and are following our Pandemic Response Plan, contingencies that were developed to respond to situations like the one in which our state – along with much of the world – finds itself today.

The COVID-19 crisis is causing anxiety for many people, but we hope we’re able to help alleviate some of that anxiety. Blue Cross NC has the people, the financial stability and the technology to help North Carolinians through this.

We’ve taken steps this week to make sure our employees can continue to work for our customers uninterrupted and to mitigate exposure to COVID-19:
  • Very importantly, we implemented a comprehensive communications plan to provide real time information and support for our employees through these uncertain times. Feedback from our employees has been incredibly positive on this front.
  • We are strongly encouraging as many employees as possible to telework. In fact, today nearly 90% of our workforce is serving you remotely. In recent years, almost 40% of our workers had already been working remotely, so our company didn’t have to overcome many cultural or technological obstacles to implement this work-from-home recommendation.
  • As most of our employees have shifted to working remotely, we have closed our on-campus fitness center, suspended our onsite back-up child care, scaled back cafeteria services, and transitioned our employee health center to telehealth consultations.
  • All meetings are being held virtually via teleconference or videoconference.
  • For any employees reporting to the office, we have suspended daily flexible seating in our normally unassigned spaces. Using a single work station consistently will help in assessing exposure, should anyone on staff be diagnosed.
  • All business travel that requires the use of public, mass transportation or attendance at events where attendees cannot maintain social distancing of three to six feet has been canceled. We continue to evaluate all scheduled Blue Cross NC events.
  • We added additional cleaning staff to increase daily cleaning and sanitizing of our offices so those that must come into the office can feel confident that it is safe.
We have taken similar appropriate steps on behalf of our customers:
  • Posting updates on the fast-moving situation on our blog site.
  • Expanded virtual access to doctors.
  • Expedited approval for acute care.
  • Increased access to medication, including waiving early refill limits.
  • Announced that we will cover the member portion of the cost of COVID-19 testing.


Rolling With the Changes

Blue Cross NC prides itself on being nimble. Just a matter of weeks ago, the business landscape of today would have seemed extremely unlikely. And yet, our company had designed plans to respond to just this sort of situation. Good planning and informed foresight are crucial to being nimble.

Still, responding to a crisis like COVID-19 requires more than operational changes. It’s also vitally important to communicate our actions to our customers, our employees, and even to the broader business community. Social media outlets have proven essential for immediate communication, sharing updates and developments with the public and offering our own best practices for other business leaders facing the test of just how nimble their companies can be. 

COVID-19 is another reminder that we are indeed all in this together. When the crisis has passed, all of us – businesses, consumers, the health care field – will be wiser from what we’ve learned as we’ve worked together to get past these challenging times.

To be clear, Blue Cross NC has not closed. We are still open for business and we’re definitely here to serve our members.

Meanwhile, be safe and count on us.  



Fara Palumbo

About Fara Palumbo

Fara Palumbo is the Chief People Officer at Blue Cross NC, ensuring that the company’s more than 4,700 employees are equipped to support and achieve strategic business goals.