Excellus BCBS awards equity grants to local nonprofits

Seven local nonprofits will share more than $130,000 awarded by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield as part of its 2021 Health Equity Awards. The awards represent more than $388,000 in financial support the nonprofit health insurer is providing to community programs that address racial and ethnic health disparities across its upstate New York service area.

“Through these Health Equity Awards, we are honoring our pledge to invest in organizations that strive for equitable treatment and the elimination of discrimination for all people so they may have an opportunity to live healthier and more secure lives,” said Excellus BlueCross BlueShield President and CEO Jim Reed. “We believe we have a duty to lead by example and inspire positive change within our company, our industry, and broadly in the communities we serve. This work furthers our commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity and access, which guides us in all we do.”

Last August, Excellus BCBS invited organizations to apply for awards of up to $30,000 each to help fund programs to improve health equity in communities of color, especially within Black and Latino communities. Officials noted that these segments of the community continue to suffer from health care and social disadvantages due to racism and discrimination. Award categories included but were not limited to, improving the community’s physical health and mental health, reducing social disparities in health care, and ensuring access to health care services.

The funding from Excellus BCBS will support 18 nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organizations across 39 counties of Upstate New York. With more than 150 applicants, a comprehensive review process included input from individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences to assess each proposal. Grant recipients were selected based on clear, defined goals and measurable results for reducing health disparities and improving health equity.

“We are a nonprofit health insurer with more than 4,000 employees who call upstate New York their home,” said Excellus BCBS Director of Community Investments and Partnerships Holly Snow. “Improving the health and quality of life in the communities we share with our members supports our mission. By funding these local initiatives, we will improve access to care and advance specific health outcomes and improve health equity.”

In the Rochester region, nearly $134,000 is being awarded to support the following initiatives:

• Center for Teen Empowerment – Multi-Neighborhood Youth Organizing: A Racial Equity Antidote to Community-Level Violence
• Empire Justice Center – Language Access Program.
• Mt Hope Family Center- Building Healthy Children.
• Partners in Community Development – Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) Parent Mental Health Project.
• The National Witness Project (NWP)-The Witness Project of Western New York.
• Wayne County Action Program – The Empowerment Program.
• YWCA – Health Equity through trusted community engagement program.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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SUNY to develop system-wide DEI plan

The State University of New York plans to develop a system-wide action plan to increase diversity, equity and inclusion at its schools.

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras and the SUNY board of trustees have appointed Teresa Miller, SUNY’s senior vice chancellor of strategic initiatives and chief diversity officer, in collaboration with the SUNY Empire Shirley Chisholm Center for Equity Studies to develop an action plan by the end of January 2021 and to focus on concrete and implementable programs to increase diversity at SUNY’s 64 campuses.

“To build a more inclusive university system, we must collectively confront serious issues of discrimination, harassment and the marginalization of individuals in our community,” Malatras said in a statement Friday. “SUNY’s commitment to equal justice for all is unshakeable, but there is more work to be done. Now more than ever we need action and not just words.”

Malatras urged the SUNY community’s involvement in the development of its comprehensive action plan. SUNY students, faculty and staff will be asked to provide feedback and additional proposals.

The chancellor also recognized the actions taking place in its colleges and universities with the promotion of “64 Actions on 64 Campuses” taking place to lean into racial equity and justice.

“Shirley Chisholm said it best by imploring us to stop complaining on the sidelines and getting in the game to make progress by implementing ideas. This process will therefore be focused on listening and then acting, and I have great faith in Dr. Miller and the Shirley Chisholm Center for Equity Studies to develop a robust program,” Malatras said. “Since the Board of Trustees implemented a sweeping Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policy, SUNY has made great progress toward becoming the most inclusive institution of higher education—and it serves as a strong foundation for what we need to do today to continue our pursuit to be a more equitable institution.”

SUNY’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy was approved by the board of trustees in 2015. SUNY Board Vice Chairman Cesar Perales and Trustees Marcos Crespo, Eunice Lewin, Stanley Litow and Camille Joseph Varlack will provide recommendations and be consulted as the final system-wide action plan is developed.

Goals for the diversity, equity and inclusion action plan include:

• Assessment of racial equity gaps across SUNY
• Curriculum development towards racial equity and literacy
• Review of the chief diversity officer’s role on every campus
• Increasing diversity:
-Hiring: administrators, faculty and professional staff
-College Council representation
• Prior learning and transfer credits, and
• Improving campus life:
-Expanded leadership institutes modeled off of the SUNY Hispanic Leadership Institute
-More inclusive clubs, and
-Increased access through seamless pathways, Early College High School and expanded Educational Opportunity Program

“As the nation’s largest comprehensive system of higher education, it is SUNY’s responsibility to lead in issues of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Miller said. “As we reflect on the racial inequities plaguing our nation, and the events of this past year, we re-dedicate ourselves — and take pride in — furthering our commitment to racial equity, equal access and opportunity.

“Our partnership with the Shirley Chisholm Center for Equity Studies and campus chief diversity officers, as well as engagement from the broader SUNY community, will help us start to forge the path forward to ensuring that students throughout our system from every walk of life are heard and represented as we work to achieve our goals of an increased diverse staff, closing racial equity gaps and improving the campus climate at each of our institutions.”

Last week, the SUNY community, including 1,300 — now more than 2,200 — people and Malatras, issued a statement on the importance of diversity training in opposition to the White House Executive Order prohibiting training on “divisive concepts.”

When Malatras was appointed, he asked the board for a 25 percent pay cut and to receive a salary of $450,000 and a $60,000 housing allowance. He has asked that the additional $170,000 be directed every year to the SUNY Educational Opportunity Program for underrepresented students and PRODiG program to increase faculty diversity across SUNY campuses.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer