Program Gets African American Churches to Compete ‘Body & Soul’ For Better Health

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the American Cancer Society are teaming up with churches around the state to improve the health of African Americans. Churches in Grand Rapids, Flint, and southeast Michigan are taking a stand and consciously choosing a healthier lifestyle by competing in Body & Soul and the Blues Community Challenge.

Body & Soul is a health program developed by the American Cancer Society specifically for African-American churches. The program empowers church members to eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables by providing resources, education and information about nutrition and other healthy lifestyle habits.

Circles of Influence

The program recognizes the powerful role of the church in black communities.

“The African-American church is one of the most (if not the most) trusted institution in the African-American community,” said the Rev. Dallas Lenear of New Hope Baptist Church in Grand Rapids. “Inspiration and information from pastors and church leaders are generally well-received. When local pastors join forces around a common goal, the entire community takes notice.”

African Americans have their own set of challenges with chronic diseases and health disparities:

  • Roughly 40 percent of African American men in Michigan will not live past their 65th birthday.
  • African American women are more likely to die from heart disease than women of other races.
  • African Americans of both genders are much more likely to develop and die from cancer than any other racial or ethnic group.

BCBSM provides the physical activity component of the program through an online tool that helps participants log how many minutes of exercise they’re getting each day, with the minutes then translated into mileage. The churches whose members log the most walking miles by the end of the challenge are awarded grant money to support health ministry efforts.

“We are working with our community partners to identify and address health disparities,” said Bridget Hurd, director of Community Responsibility for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “We find it is most effective to work with organizations that are already involved in the community and recognized as leaders and decision-makers; this helps us in our efforts to improve the health status of Michigan residents in communities throughout the state.”

It Takes a Village

The goal is to empower people to take personal responsibility for their health.

“I just jumped on board because I needed to lose some weight,” said Lynn Gleton, a participant of Body & Soul and the Blues’ Challenge in Detroit last year. “That was the driving force, and then I found out I have high blood pressure, so I am trying to do some things to lower my blood pressure. That’s why I was excited about the walking part of the program.”

With the U.S. spending more than ever on chronic disease like those listed above, every step counts. The Blues’ Community Challenge gives members from churches that are participating in American Cancer Society’s Body & Soul program an extra incentive to get moving. Challenges begin at churches in the following three communities:

  • Southeast Michigan: May 6- July 28
  • Grand Rapids: May 5 – July 28
  • Flint: August – October

Learn more about the ACS Body & Soul program at Cancer.org/bodyandsoul. Or check out a video about last year’s program, below.


 

Lansing-Area Communities Share $10,000 in Wellness Grants After Record Blues’ Community Challenge

Lynda Hyde, left, shares her story with BCBSM walking advocate Jodi Davis at the Blues' Community Challenge and Winter Warm-Up recognition event in Lansing.

With a boost from the Blues, participants in the Winter Warm-Up and Blues’ Community Challenge took a few walks around the Earth this winter — and never left the Lansing area to do it. 

The occasion was a free eight-week walking and physical activity competition between nine Greater Lansing communities. Together, nearly 2,400 participants logged an astounding 208,862 miles — the equivalent of more than eight trips around the Earth’s equator. Teams from each of the nine communities competed by signing up community members to log their physical activity.

The competing communities benefitted by taking home grant awards from BCBSM totaling almost $10,000, including $3,000 to the winning city of Lansing. The money is used to support public health and wellness projects within each community, such as bike trails, playground equipment, park benches and recreational splash pads.

Here are the other winning communities:

  • City of Charlotte — $2,000
  • Delhi Township — $1,000
  • City of East Lansing — $750
  • Delta Township — $750
  • City of St. Johns — $750
  • City of Grand Ledge — $500
  • Lansing Township — $500
  • City of Williamston — $500

Encouraging Signs

The Winter Warm-up and the Blues Community Challenge are hopeful signs that more people are embracing fitness and physical activity as a way to achieve good health. We saw a 40 percent leap in the number of residents actively participating in this year’s Blues’ Community Challenge and Winter Warm-Up.

Lynda Hyde from St. Johns tearfully shared her story at the celebration event March 10. When she first registered, she could not walk for more than three or four minutes or finish the indoor course at the Lansing Mall.

She is now walking 15 to 17 minutes a day and can walk in a swimming pool for up to an hour. She no longer needs a cane and is motivated to continue exercising.

“It’s amazing how everything just seemed to line up, how each piece just fell into place,” Hyde said. “I feel like it is just meant to happen at this time in my life. It is now the time for me to lose weight.”

With the help of groups such as Community Health Partners, a nonprofit coalition of Lansing-area organizations dedicated to making mid-Michigan a healthy place to live, the Blues will continue to work hard to create active, healthy communities across the state. These efforts improve health status and control health care costs for everyone in the long run.

Elementary Schools Can Still Apply for Childhood Obesity Prevention Grants

Building Healthy Communities grant applications are still being accepted for the 2012-2013 school year. Selected elementary schools will receive a healthy school transformation package of program materials, curriculum, equipment, professional development, mentoring and technical support valued at $30,000.

Applications are due by 5 p.m. March 30.

We are excited about the upcoming Building Healthy Communities program year and some of the new elements offered to participating schools. Last fall, Blue Cross announced its expanded commitment to combating childhood obesity by partnering with the Center for School Health in the College of Education at Wayne State University and the Michigan Fitness Foundation on its Building Healthy Communities school-based childhood obesity initiative.

Although BCBSM has supported childhood obesity prevention efforts since 2004 with more than $4.3 million in grant funding, we know we need to continue our efforts and build a greater coalition. Obviously there is much work to be done, as 30.6 percent of youth ages 10 to 17 in Michigan are overweight.

We believe the collaborative expertise of our partners will make a difference in the health of Michigan families and we look forward to working with schools in this effort.

To apply for the grant applications, click here.

‘Total Body Health’ Junior Achievement Storefront to Educate Kids About Health Insurance and Financial Literacy

A Junior Achievement event in China.

Educating young people about health insurance and health care planning empowers them to make better choices as they grow into adulthood. This is why we are proud to partner with Junior Achievement and Quicken Loans in support of the Quicken Loans JA Finance Park to help prepare Detroit-area kids to make informed and responsible choices that impact their ability to manage personal finances and individual health. 

“Health care costs and insurance are an important part of a personal budget,” said Bridget Hurd, director of BCBSM Community Responsibility. “Teaching students about the importance of health insurance and factors that impact insurance costs, including healthy lifestyle choices, may lead them to adopt healthier habits while contributing to the overall reduction of health care costs.” 

The Quicken Loans JA Finance Park program for middle and high school students includes:

  • Twenty-seven classroom lessons
  • Curriculum aligned with Michigan Content Standards
  • Teacher lesson plans and student workbooks that cover financial institutions, debit versus credit cards, salaries and taxes, investing, budgeting, and career exploration

After students complete the Junior Achievement course work at participating schools, a field trip to JA Finance Park for a one-day simulation on budgeting is scheduled. JA Finance Park now includes a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan health insurance storefront that students can visit to learn more about managing health plan choices.

At the Blue Cross “store” in Finance Park, students learn about health insurance plan premiums, copayments and costs not covered by insurance. Students visit the storefronts again and make payments for each of their purchases. At the end of the day, students receive a checkout report that tells them whether they were successful in creating a balanced budget. 

An independent evaluation in 2008 tested the knowledge students gained about budgeting through their experience at JA Finance Park. Student scores moved from 52 percent correct on the pre-test to 72 percent correct on the post-test.

More than 8,500 students participate in the JA Finance Park program each year. 

Visit jamichigan.org to learn more about our partnership with Junior Achievement, or to volunteer at JA Finance Park.

Photo by MeiGuoGuan

Expanded Partnership, Funding Opportunities Help Michigan Schools Tackle Childhood Obesity

Second graders at Stambaugh Elementary in Iron River learn about nutrition and made vegetable soup after the school won a Building Healthy Communities grant for the 2011-2012 school year.

When what was once considered a health issue of mild concern explodes into a full-blown epidemic, it’s time to not just act fast, but to act big.

That was the thinking that moved Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan when we turned our attention in 2009 to taking on the issue of childhood obesity. Our first move was to begin the Building Healthy Communities grant program to provide schools across the state with the funds they needed to get kids moving, eating healthier and adopting healthy lifestyles.

Since then, we’ve impacted the lives of some 24,000 kids across Michigan with these grants.

Now we’re taking the program even bigger by forming a partnership with the Wayne State University Center for School Health in the College of Education and the Michigan Fitness Foundation to enhance physical activity and nutrition education in schools and provide culturally relevant information and resources. The expanded Building Healthy Communities partnership will also help school staff and youth leadership promote school transformation and provide family education where it’s most needed. The program also benefits from the expertise and unique resources of each partnering organization.

Last week, we again began accepting applications from schools interested in getting on board with Building Healthy Communities. Those schools receiving the grant awards will find themselves with an additional $30,000 to support their efforts to make a real difference in the lives of Michigan’s kids. Applications are due by March 30, 2012, and can be found here along with grant award program details.

By going bigger, the Blues are taking the program exactly where it needs to go, said Lynda Rossi, BCBSM’s senior vice president of Public Affairs and chief of staff.

“This allows us to take that program and make it bigger and broader, to touch more kids and leverage the strengths of our partners, Wayne State’s Center for School Health as well as the Michigan Fitness Foundation and all the wonderful work they do,” Rossi said.

Following the advice we’re giving the kids, the goal now becomes to stay active. Only by bringing in more partners and extending the program’s reach into more underserved communities, can we come close to making the impact we’re hoping for.

BCBSM and St. John Providence Health System Partner to Help the Uninsured

Leaders from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and St. John Providence Health System got together recently to celebrate a new partnership to help the growing number of uninsured in southern Oakland County and the northwest border of Detroit. The Blues awarded a two-year $300,000 grant to St. John for its St. Vincent de Paul Health Center.

The Center is located in Southfield and serves uninsured adults who have incomes at 200 percent or below federal poverty levels.

“It’s more than just the money,” said Patricia Maryland, president and CEO of St. John Providence Health System. “This partnership with Blue Cross also helps us provide the human capacity to make a difference. We understand how many individuals suffer on a daily basis because they are not able to get access to the type of care they need.”

The Health Center patients are treated by the hospital’s volunteer doctors as part of the Physicians Who Care project. Patients are also eligible for free or discounted medications through the hospital’s outpatient pharmacy.

Dr. Michael Kobernick, medical director at the St. Vincent de Paul Health Center, says that means patients with chronic diseases and nowhere else to go are able to get the care they need.

“By offering uninsured people access to health services through the St. Vincent de Paul Health Center, we’re helping to prevent expensive trips to the emergency room by managing chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes, and providing an alternative source for acute care needs,” said Sue Barkell, the Blues vice president of Health Care Value. “This partnership between our organizations is really how we’re going to make a difference.”

The grant money will help St. Vincent de Paul Health Center do the following:

  • Increase capacity for primary care and specialty care
  • Reconfigure location to double the number of exam rooms (from two rooms to four)
  • Increase the number of patients enrolled
  • Increase focus on chronic disease management as measured by improved HEDIS scores for patients with diabetes
  • Explore implementation of electronic medical records to improve the quality and efficiency of care
  • Explore the usage of Telemedicine for specialty care visits
  • Help patients find transportation to offsite specialists

BCBSM also supports the safety net by providing $1 million in grants to free clinics throughout Michigan.

Michigan’s Free Clinics Help Uninsured Manage Chronic Illness and Improve Health

Diabetes and high blood pressure are two chronic health conditions that need constant monitoring. Many of the uninsured who count on free clinics in Michigan have these types of serious health problems. Having a chronic health condition without access to health care services is a dangerous combination, often resulting in consequences that last a lifetime. For instance, diabetics that put off medical care or skip medications sometimes end up on permanent dialysis or lose a foot or a leg because of long-term uncontrolled sugar levels.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has a nonprofit mission to provide all Michigan residents with access to quality health care services, regardless of ability to pay. That’s why we are supporting free clinics across the state with more than $1 million in grant funding. The Blues have provided $7 million in grants since 2005 to help free clinics with daily operations and to enhance the services they provide.

Free clinics in Michigan provide many uninsured residents a valuable and rare opportunity to consult with doctors and nurses and learn how to manage their health conditions through medical and non-medical means. Helping them manage disease through regular patient visits, education and free medications reduces expensive emergency room visits and improves overall health.

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Flu-Shot Disparities in Underserved Communities the Target of Informational Campaign

Winter in Michigan is hard enough with cold, snowy days and long nights, but it’s also the beginning of flu season. There isn’t much you can do about the weather, but there are ways to arm yourself against seasonal influenza. A flu shot is the best protection from the dreadful illness, although some people avoid vaccination because of common misconceptions.

There are many myths about the flu and the flu shot, including the common notion that the flu shot will make you more susceptible to getting the illness. These myths perpetuate health disparities in under-served communities.

A 2010 survey by the Centers for Disease Control reported a record number of seasonal flu vaccine doses overall but also indicated disparities in immunization coverage rates among minority adult populations (18 years and older), the uninsured and under-insured, and the elderly.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan joined a national effort to promote the importance of the annual flu shot, particularly among populations that have lower immunization rates.

“It is important to continue educating the public, particularly underserved populations because their participation rate is lower,” said Jerry Johnson, M.D., the Blues’ executive medical officer.

The Blues are committed to addressing health disparities and are targeting these communities with information about flu vaccinations, as well as a call to action to get the shot. Below is a quick summary of myth-busting facts about flu provided by the American Lung Association.

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Blue Cross, Seeds of Promise Partner to Tackle Health Disparities in African-American Community

For many Michiganders there is a massive gap somewhere between the dream and the reality of health care delivery.

The growing disparities in health across diverse communities was the center of attention at Let’s Talk Health, a recent gathering of people from health care organizations, human service agencies and community stakeholders that was sponsored by BCBSM and Seeds of Promise, a Grand Rapids-based advocacy organization.

Bridging the Access Gap

By now, many Americans recognize there’s a dangerous health gap that exists between different races. And many of those at the Grand Rapids gathering put some troubling specifics to the general unease about that gap. For instance, they know that:

  • If you’re African-American, you’re 70 percent more likely to develop diabetes.
  • The death rate for black infants is 2.3 times higher than that of white babies.
  • African-Americans, while 20 percent of the population, make up 55 percent of all HIV or AIDS cases.

Engaging Community in Better Health

At Let’s Talk Health, community and faith-based leaders, health care providers, and representatives from dozens of other groups spoke about community health status, access to care, and how to improve both.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan committed to help bridge the access gap and improve health for everyone throughout the state by bringing together community partners and developing strategies to address specific community needs.

Collaborating to Find Solutions

Here at Blue Cross, we are proud to partner with organizations like Seeds of Promise and champion the open dialogue that took place at the Let’s Talk Health event. Through our partnerships with community organizations and other strategic initiatives, we are working harder than ever to help increase the access and quality of health care throughout the state of Michigan for all of its residents.

Knowing the health disparities that exist in our state, where do you believe the solutions lie?

Photo Credit: cmh2315fl

POH Riley Foundation’s Sister & Sister Initiative Promotes Free Mammogram Services, Breast Health Education for Women in Oakland County

Participants in the fourth annual Sister & Sister Health and Education Day event played a round of breast health Bingo.

Participants in the fourth annual Sister & Sister Health and Education Day event played a round of breast health Bingo.

We know mammograms save lives but not everyone can afford them. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is collaborating with the POH Riley Foundation’s Sister & Sister Free Mammogram program to encourage both men and women to learn about breast health. The Riley Foundation promotes breast cancer awareness and provides free, ongoing mammogram screenings for uninsured and under-insured women in Oakland County.

October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Blue Cross is supporting efforts throughout the state to promote awareness and education about breast cancer prevention.

As part of the awareness campaign, the Riley Foundation hosted its fourth annual Sister & Sister Health and Education Day on Oct. 1. Nearly 100 people attended the free event to learn about breast health and pick up free mammogram vouchers.

The Sister & Sister program will continue to host two Breast Health Education Courses per month throughout the year, and continue to provide free mammogram vouchers. They also have health educators and cancer survivors available to speak to community groups, especially targeting African American women.

Here are some facts about breast cancer:

  • One in eight women will develop breast cancer.
  • Caucasian women have higher rates of breast cancer but black women have a higher mortality rate.
  • Approximately 39,840 women in the U.S. died in 2010 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1990. These decreases are possibly the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.
  • For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates rank higher than any other cancer, besides lung cancer.

Annual mammograms and regular breast self-exams are the key to early detection. If caught early enough, the survival rate for breast cancer is 98 percent.

Have you or your loved one had a lifesaving mammogram this year?