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Serving All North Carolinians with Intentionality

By Pam Diggs | August 31, 2022 | Industry Perspectives

Globally, many organizations are pursuing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, but what that work entails varies from company to company. For Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC), it is a data-focused lens we apply to achieve our business objectives. It’s not jargon or a buzzword, but actionable work to strengthen North Carolina. 

Our company’s purpose is to improve the health and well-being of our customers and communities – we won’t stop until health care is better for all. Achieving health equity is fundamentally connected to our work to make health care better for all.  

In other words, we want all North Carolinians to have the opportunity to be healthy. 

We don’t have that… yet. Nationally, North Carolina’s overall health consistently ranks in the bottom third of U.S. states. Even though we have some of the top hospitals in the nation and our state houses research hubs and universities that help drive our nation’s medical innovation, in 2020 we ranked 36 of 50 states. While many North Carolinians receive high-quality health care, we are guided by the belief that all North Carolinians should.  

Our DEI-driven work reduces some of the most harmful and costly disparities in health outcomes. One of the fundamental misperceptions about DEI is that it only helps some groups. In truth, our DEI-driven work benefits all, because a healthier state lowers health care costs for everyone.

An evolving approach 

We’ve understood the importance of and need for dedicated DEI work for more than 15 years. But we, like so many organizations, took a more serious inventory of our approaches and outcomes in the summer of 2020. 

Our approach, led by our CEO Tunde Sotunde, MD, MBA, FAAP, evolved to a new level of intentionality. Our work has expanded wider and dug deeper, drawing input from every division throughout our company. Rather than leaving a single DEI office or department to operate in isolation, we set up a DEI Council to provide oversight, leadership and strategic alignment for enterprise-wide initiatives that advance diversity, equity and inclusion.  

Finding focus 

Our DEI Council is currently focused on these areas: 

  • People and culture: Expand diversity, equity and inclusion within our leadership and broader workforce, in pursuit of more innovation and representation that reflects our state. 
  • Health care equity: Promote equal opportunities for health care coverage, access to care and higher quality of care to all North Carolinians. 
  • Strategic partnerships: Invest in and partner with historically underserved and underrepresented communities to support economic development leading to healthy communities across North Carolina. 

More detailed goals, work in-flight and preliminary results on these can be found here. 

Intentionality 

To operate with intentionality is to listen. To reflect. To evaluate. To reassess. To commit. And that’s what we are doing. We are looking at our work in new ways across our organization, so each employee asks themselves, “How is this serving North Carolina?” 

We’ve stuck by all 100 counties of our great state since 1933. But supporting each county with a one-size-fits-all approach will not help us achieve affordable and accessible health care. We’re focused on the best, and different, ways to support the unique needs in each individual community. 

We are listening to employees, members, communities, legislators, business leaders, suppliers, agents and providers for a full view of the health care needs of our state. These conversations get to the essence of DEI. The Diversity Journal defines “inclusion” as, “creating an environment of involvement, respect and connection where the richness of ideas, backgrounds and perspectives are harnessed to create value.” Ongoing engagement with stakeholders across the state helps us identify new opportunities and areas for improvement. That creates value for everyone. 

We gather insights by listening to different perspectives from all backgrounds – race, age, ethnicity, gender identity, disability, geography (urban, rural, suburban), socioeconomic status and more. Through our Extra Miles Tour, Black maternal health equity focus groups, our employee networks and other forums, we listen to a diverse array of perspectives and learn about our members’ lived experiences in the health care system. All of this information guides our work whenever we launch a new product, update a medical policy, establish a new collaboration with a community organization or write a communication. 

Accountability  

This sense of intentionality drives our collaboration and accountability. We understand that it’s not enough for a company to express their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion on social media. We must establish goals. We must measure the impact of our work.   

That’s why our DEI efforts require everyone across the enterprise to work toward similar goals, and why our operational structure provides plenty of opportunities for our team to learn from one another. Through our metrics and dashboards, we keep accountability front and center.  

That’s why: 

  • We’ve established benchmark goals for helping North Carolina tackle inequities in two critical areas: maternal and infant health, and behavioral health in rural and underserved communities. 
  • Our community engagement efforts are expanding and improving lines of communication with all 100 counties in order to identify community-specific strategies for improving population health, from the Blue Ridge to the beaches. 
  • We’ve created a strategic approach for addressing drivers of health to measure the long-term impact of programs that help North Carolinians access the resources they need for good health and to share these findings, so that we can help foster systemic change across the industry. 
  • We continue to build a robust company culture. We track progress toward diversity goals by measuring talent acquisition, retention and mobility, and we have prioritized programs designed to foster mutual trust, where all employees can feel safe sharing ideas, asking questions and voicing concerns.  

True commitment to DEI demands accountability, and Blue Cross NC is truly committed. The voices of our employees drive all this work. Ultimately, we are accountable to all North Carolinians… and to ourselves: We won’t stop until health care is better for all.