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Our Response to COVID-19

By Fara Palumbo | March 19, 2020 | Healthy Lifestyle

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We’re only four 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 has worked 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 have implemented 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.

Months ago, we activated our Critical Incident Response Team and continue to follow 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.


  • Most importantly, we continue to employ 100% of our workforce without reduced pay or benefits.
  • Our transition to remote work was swift, thorough and successful. Today 98% of our workforce is serving you remotely. Only employees designated as essential for onsite work are permitted on campus. 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.
  • Because 98% of our employees are teleworking, we’ve 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. We continue to pay all vendor staff who are not eligible to work due to these closures. We recognize these services are immensely important, so our onsite gym staff shares weekly home fitness routines, our back-up child care center is sharing activities for little ones at home, and we’re covering all telehealth visits for acute care, behavioral health, and dermatology at no cost.
  • For the few employees who continue to work in 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.
  • We deeply appreciate these team members who must work onsite to complete their jobs. To make this time in the office a little easier, we are giving free food credits to those working onsite because their job function does not accommodate telework. These individuals are a big reason why we’re able to continue faxing and processing claims in order to maintain business-as-usual.
  • We recognize many employees are balancing work responsibilities, child care and even homeschooling during this time. Each situation is unique. Our leaders are practicing the utmost flexibility in managing work schedules, and we’ve enacted a Pandemic Parenting support group to help employees cope with these uncertain and stressful times.
  • In lockstep with our stance on flexibility, we’ve expanded our paid leave policies. We’ve increased the amount employees can borrow in Advanced PTO. In addition, we’ve created a temporary two-week paid sick leave policy for ALL employees impacted by COVID-19.  More specifically, an employee is eligible to use this sick time if they or an immediate family member is diagnosed with COVID-19, or are in quarantine because of a pending diagnosis.
  • Many of our employees have medical licenses to care for patients at the bedside. We’ve enacted a new, paid volunteer policy for our health care professionals who choose to care for COVID-19 patients and help support our hospitals.
  • Very early on, 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. Just this week, we hosted a webinar for employees to hear the latest COVID-19 news from our VP for Clinical Operations, who previously worked for the Centers for Disease Control.
  • 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. All scheduled Blue Cross NC events for employees are being held virtually via teleconference or videoconference.
  • 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.


  • Posting updates on the fast-moving situation on our website.
  • 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 months 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.