Excellus reports spike in mental health telehealth visits

New data from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield shows a spike in telehealth visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, with one-third of those visits for mental health services.

“The spike we’ve witnessed this year in the use of telehealth is directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Excellus Medical Director Sudha Bakshi M.D. said in a statement. “We may look back on this crisis as the trigger event that forever changed the way health care services are delivered, and the level of acceptance and treatment of mental health disorders.”

Excellus estimates that New Yorkers used telehealth benefits roughly 290,000 times last year. In the first four months of 2020, a time marked by the global spread of COVID-19, the number skyrocketed to an estimated 2.6 million times.

Some 20 percent of the population lives with mental illness, according to NAMI Rochester, an independent affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and NAMI New York State. NAMI defines mental illness as a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood, and may affect an individual’s ability to function and relate to others.

Yet, four in 10 upstate New Yorkers believe that society is unsympathetic to those with mental illness, according to a survey on mental health issues commissioned late in 2019 by Excellus BCBS.

“Increasing access to care, including expanding the use of telehealth, may be a factor in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness,” Bakshi said.

Social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic has helped many patients realize they can see a specific health provider on an ongoing basis from the privacy of their residence, where they feel comfortable, officials said. Psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, counselors, nurse practitioners and other behavioral health and mental health providers all can provide care and services via telehealth.

“There is no doubt that people are now more aware of the fact that we all need to pay attention to our mental health,” said NAMI Rochester Director Heather Newton. “The monumental change we are seeing is the opening up of telehealth. Across the board, there has been an enormous uptick in the number of people who are engaging virtually with providers regularly and meaningfully.”

The top five mental and behavioral health conditions for which Excellus BCBS members are seeking treatment using telehealth are anxiety, depression, substance-related disorders, bipolar disorder and alcohol-related disorders.

Individuals can find additional information from the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Excellus awards grants to 10 local nonprofits

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield has awarded 10 local organizations with funding from its Community Health Awards.

Each of the organizations will receive up to $4,000 to help fund programs that include improved infant care, increased access to food pantries and health care services for low-income and uninsured people. Excellus is donating nearly $124,000 to 35 nonprofits across Upstate New York with this round of its awards program.

“Especially during this pandemic, our health plan’s focus is on helping address the economic and social conditions influencing the health of our community,” Excellus BCBS President and CEO Christopher Booth said in a statement. “These grants demonstrate our corporate commitment to supporting community organizations that share our mission as a nonprofit health plan.”

Organizations were selected based on the proposed program’s scope of need, goals and the number of people expected to benefit from it.

Nonprofits chosen from the Finger Lakes Region include:

· Asbury First United Methodist Church, to support the UR Well Clinic, an outreach program within the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry that offers free acute health care to uninsured and underserved adults.
· Cameron Community Ministries Inc., to host a family nurse practitioner (FNP) to conduct wellness checkups and health education for adults at its Wellness Center.
· Catholic Charities of Livingston County, for its Help*Works program that provides emergency services to people living in poverty (including utility help, rent assistance, infant needs such as diapers and formula, furniture, food and gasoline vouchers for employment needs).
· Dimitri House, Inc., to benefit its Emergency Food Cupboard and Drop-In Lunch Program; providing healthy food and beverages to community members who are experiencing the effects of poverty, including those who are homeless.
· Hope Lutheran Church, for its Center for Hope Community Care Center that houses a permanent food pantry, medical services, job coaching and financial mentorship to provide hope and help to an underserved, low-income population.
· Junior League of Rochester Inc., for the Junior League of Rochester Diaper Bank (JLRDB), to provide diapers and diapering supplies to partnership organizations and social workers in Monroe and surrounding counties.
· Legal Assistance of Western New York Inc., to help fund a Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Help Specialist. The WIC Outreach program embeds a Help Specialist in Wayne and Seneca Counties to link pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, and infants and children, with vital nutrition and education support.
· St. Peter’s Kitchen Inc., for pantry assistance that will provide clients and their families increased access to nutritious foods.
· Villa of Hope, to support Hope Place, a peer support program for adults experiencing difficulties with resiliency, recovery and wellness. The program offers linkages and referrals to support services ranging from health care coordination to employment assistance, food pantry, clothing and personal needs and transportation services.
· Willow Domestic Violence Center of Greater Rochester, to support the Client Transportation Fund, providing transportation for victims of domestic violence residing in Willow’s emergency shelter with access to health care and other community services that are necessary to help them lead healthy, violence-free lives.

“These awards complement our existing grants and sponsorships to agencies that work to enhance the quality of life and health of our upstate New York communities,” said Holly Snow, community investments and partnerships director for Excellus BCBS.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Excellus awards $24.2 million to Upstate hospitals


Excellus BlueCross BlueShield awarded 38 upstate New York hospitals and health centers a total of $24.2 million for quality improvements in 2017.

Part of the performance incentive program, an initiative which thus far has doled out $256 million to health care providers since 2005, the 2017 round of funding impacted eight Finger Lakes region hospitals, with awards valued at $12.2 million. Clifton Springs Hospital, F.F. Thompson Hospital, Highland Hospital, Newark-Wayne Community Hospital, Nicholas H. Noyes Memorial Hospital, Rochester General Hospital, Strong Memorial Hospital and Unity Hospital all came in on the 2017 list of participants.

The program looked at 48 different strategic measures for improvement, including clinical and patient safety. Following the funding, BCBS reported an 88 percent success rate in reaching established goals in the institution.

“We are very pleased that continued collaboration with our provider partners has resulted in improved quality of care for the communities we jointly serve,” said Excellus vice president of health care improvement Carrie Whitcher, in a statement. “Aligning incentives across payers and providers will continue to advance care delivery and related outcomes.”

The program is slated to continue in 2018, with a specific focus on clinical processes in regard to diabetes, COPD, pneumonia and surgical care, patient safety in regard to reducing clinical infections and readmissions and the overall satisfaction of patients. All goals set in the incentive program are based on recommended benchmarks set by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and other health care research institutions.

“By improving the processes for caring for people, by concentrating on reducing the number of hospital acquired infections and adverse events, by listening to patients’ concerns, these hospitals are giving our members better quality care and improving their health outcomes,” Whitcher said.

Excellus offering grants to nonprofits

excellus_logoExcellus BlueCross BlueShield plans to make nearly $100,000 in grants available to nonprofits in New York.

The Community Health Awards will allow 501(c)(3) organizations to apply for up to $4,000 each of the $95,000 set aside for the program. Nonprofits must be within the agency’s 31-county upstate region.

The award can be used for programs that have clear goals to improve the health or health care of a specific population. Programs that improve the health status of the community, reduce the incidence of specific diseases, promote health education and further overall wellness qualify for the grants.

“The company’s Community Health Awards demonstrate a corporate commitment to support local organizations that share our mission as a nonprofit health plan,” said Holly Snow, director, community health engagement for Excellus. “These awards complement our existing grants and sponsorships with agencies that work to enhance quality of life, including health status, in Upstate New York.”

Last year, 22 Rochester-area nonprofits were selected as Community Health Award recipients.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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