Advocates from Reed City, Troy recognized for valuable contributions to seniors

James Forrer receives a donation for his charity, Helping Angels, from Bridget Hurd, director of Community Responsibility at BCBSM.

Larry Emig of Reed City and James Forrer of Troy were recognized Wednesday at Older Michiganian’s Day at the State Capitol in Lansing for their dedication to improving the lives of the elderly. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Senior Advisory Council honored the outstanding senior citizen advocates with the Claude Pepper Award, named after the late U.S. Congressman who championed senior citizens’ rights.

BCBSM has given the Claude Pepper Award annually since 1980. Recipients demonstrate a strong concern for the special needs of the elderly, and their actions profoundly impact older adults, particularly individuals who do not receive adequate health services due to mental, physical, financial or geographical limitations.

Emig, 66, has served on the Osceola Commission on Aging Advisory Board for more than 26 years, helping oversee in-home care, transportation and nutrition services for hundreds of seniors in Osceola County. The former mayor of Reed City has served in leadership roles for several organizations at the local, regional and state levels, including a recent appointment by Gov. Rick Snyder to the Michigan Commission of Juvenile Justice. He has also served on the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan’s Board of Directors since 2006, helping oversee the agency and services to over 38,000 seniors in a nine-county region. 

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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.

BluesWeek: 2012 Blues’ Community Challenge Kicks Off in Grand Rapids With Body & Soul

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is teaming with the American Cancer Society to kick off the 2012 Blues’ Community Challenge Saturday, March 17 in Grand Rapids with Body & Soul. The Body & Soul challenge engages the African-American faith community in a 10-week wellness and nutrition initiative, with the winning churches to receive financial grants to support health ministry programs.

BCBSM awarded nearly $10,000 worth of wellness grants to the nine Lansing-area municipalities that participated in the Winter Warm-Up and Blues Community Challenge. There was a huge jump in the number of resident participants this year, with nearly 2,400 participants logging a record 208,862 miles during the eight-week walking and physical activity competition. Watch for a news release to go out Thursday.

National Nutrition Month collides with St. Patrick’s Day as the color green takes over. But instead of green beer, registered dietitian Grace Derocha will be offering tips on how to incorporate the color green for good health in your St. Patrick’s food on A Healthier Michigan and through media availabilities.

It may seem like spring has sprung early in Michigan, but there are Polar Plunge events taking place Saturday, March 17 in Kalamazoo and Marquette benefiting Special Olympics Michigan. Blue Cross is sponsoring Special Olympics Michigan’s Healthy Athletes Program.

In case you missed it…

As part of Patient Safety Awareness Week, A Healthier Michigan offered a pair of printable reminder cards to help prevent avoidable medication errors. The cards fit easily into any billfold and offer tips for what to ask a doctor who prescribes medications as well as a place to jot down which medications you’re currently taking.

The deadline is approaching for the “Make the Play for Healthy Habits” kid video contest on A Healthier Michigan. Children in grades 4 through 8 can submit a video showing how they would make Michigan healthier through March 25. The public gets to vote on the final 10 contestants to choose the lucky winner. The winning student will receive  a school assembly visit from Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and an opportunity to guest blog on A Healthier Michigan.

BluesWeek is a weekly snapshot of initiatives, events and other newsworthy tidbits under way at BCBSM.

Photo by New Orleans Lady

How the New Entrepreneurial Spirit in Detroit Benefits All of Michigan

Even if you’re not in the habit of perusing business news, you owe it to yourself to read Inc. magazine’s comprehensive new series, “Innovation Hot Spots: Detroit.” The package of 15 stories (yes, you read that number right) about the city’s new startup culture crystallizes why so many people like me are bullish on the Motor City.

One of the headlines in this series puts it well: We are witnessing “A Whole New Groove for the Motor City” take shape. All of us who care about Detroit specifically and Michigan more broadly should feel excited about our region’s newfound sense of optimism and possibility.

Proud to Partner

I’ve written before about how we’re aligning our actions at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan with efforts to strengthen core cities like Detroit — by relocating roughly 3,000 suburban employees to downtown, by being part of the Live Downtown residency initiative, and by partnering with local vendors to create jobs, embrace diversity and achieve key business objectives.

While consolidating our corporate campus serves definite business interests, one of the secondary goals was to help support a critical mass of businesses in the central business district with people able to support them with their money. With help from partners like General Motors, Compuware, DTE Energy, Ilitch Holdings, Quicken Loans and its founder-turned venture capitalist, Dan Gilbert, we’re starting to see the fruits of those efforts.

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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.

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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How Our New Building Healthy Communities Partnership Aligns With Governor Snyder’s Call for Collaboration

Gov. Rick Snyder recently said that “health is the foundation for Michigan’s economic transformation,” and in alignment with his broader plea to improve residents’ health and combat obesity, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has announced a partnership with Wayne State University and the Michigan Fitness Foundation to expand its Building Healthy Communities school grant program.

The three organizations collectively will bring a additional expertise and resources to the Building Healthy Communities program, which provides grants for things like physical activity and school nutrition programs.

We’ve all heard plenty about the obesity crisis in our country. It affects everyone in some way. You may be personally struggling with a high BMI or bearing the financial burden of higher health care costs for an unhealthy employee population.

Regardless, obesity is taking its toll on all of us. The health of Michigan residents and their communities directly impacts the state’s ability to compete on a national and international scale.

In his speech outlining the state’s health care plans, Snyder encouraged schools to “facilitate participation in physical activity and health education throughout all grade levels.” He also asked schools to improve their nutrition standards, encouraged organizations to work together to move the needle on obesity and challenged all Michiganders to adopt adopt healthier lifestyles.

Blue Cross has provided funding to 63 schools across the state since 2009 under the program, reaching more than 24,000 Michigan students. The expanded Building Healthy Communities program will continue to address childhood obesity with physical activity and healthy eating with the added resources and opportunities from Wayne State’s Center for School Health and the Michigan Fitness Foundation.

Check out a video on our new partnership below. Do your schools educate students on health and nutrition? If so, how do they communicate the importance of a healthy lifestyle and model healthy behaviors?

Building a Stronger Michigan Starts at the Core

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in the Mackinac Policy Conference edition of the Michigan Chronicle.

Building a stronger body starts with developing the core muscles at the center of the body. The same holds true for building stronger metropolitan regions — developing the core urban center allows for stronger, more sustainable regional economies.

At Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, we believe that one of the keys to Michigan’s economic recovery is doing what we can to strengthen our cities.  By making our cities places of prosperity, we make the regions around them more competitive and hospitable to future growth.

Our company’s relocation of nearly 3,000 workers from the Detroit suburbs into the Renaissance Center is one of the ways we are seeking to strengthen not just the City of Detroit, but the region as well. With nearly 6,000 Blue Cross workers in the downtown business district by 2012, we hope to create the critical mass that attracts other companies to Metro Detroit from outside the region and the state.

Other companies — notably Compuware and Quicken Loans — were early leaders in moving workforces into downtown Detroit.  As more companies follow, we hope other businesses take notice that Detroit is, in fact, open for business.

The urbanization of Blue Cross’s workforce has been accelerating recently. In fact, by 2013, 97 percent of our statewide workforce will be located within the downtown cores of Michigan’s largest cities — Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids. This has many strategic benefits to the Blue Cross enterprise. It will help us run our business better and realize significant cost savings at a time when both the competitive climate is more complex than ever and the cost of health care remains a leading concern for all our stakeholders. Our efforts also have major positive impacts for the cities in which we are investing.

Earlier this spring, Accident Fund Holdings, Inc., a BCBSM subsidiary, moved 620 employees into a gleaming new headquarters along the Grand River in downtown Lansing. This move came as a result of renovating a historic, but dilapidated power station in the heart of the city. It was a massive undertaking fueled by partnership across the public and private sectors. It gave Accident Fund room to grow by a projected 500 employees over the next decade.

As a result, Accident Fund’s downtown Lansing office building became vacant — so Blue Cross is moving in our workers from the suburbs. By the end of these moves, BCBSM will have more than 260 of our employees in downtown Lansing. Added to Accident Fund’s employee base, the BCBSM enterprise will eventually total more than 1,300 workers in Lansing’s central business district.

Our ability to make these investments in Detroit and Lansing began seven years ago when BCBSM renovated the old Steketee’s Department Store in downtown Grand Rapids and made it our West Michigan headquarters. Again, we moved our workers into the city center from suburban locations — and strengthened a key part of downtown Grand Rapids just as it was turning a corner. The area is now thriving.

Consolidation of our workforce in Michigan’s core cities will bring thousands of additional full-time jobs to those cities, while also adding millions of dollars in wages as well as property and income tax revenues. Our most recent action in Detroit, for example, will bring $180 million in BCBSM annual payroll into the city and add more than $3 million to the city tax rolls. In our renovation efforts alone, we are bringing $25 million in wages to Detroit and a significant portion of that will go to minority suppliers.

As the Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing regions market themselves as viable destinations for companies looking to establish a presence in Michigan, they can now point to their downtowns as more vibrant, more enticing places.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan runs its business with a Michigan conscience. We want our state to grow and succeed, and we are proud to join other Michigan-based companies that believe vibrant urban centers are key to the growth and prosperity we all seek.

Daniel J. Loepp is president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and chairman of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association national board, which represents 39 Blue plans covering nearly 100 million Americans.

Photos by ifmuth and stevendepolo.

The Long Road to Renaissance and the Evolution of Our Commitment to Michigan’s Core Cities

As I witness the completion of newly renovated Renaissance Center offices, the unfurling of banners and months of intensive planning become reality, I realize that I’ve never been more proud of what we’ve accomplished during my five years here as chief executive. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has officially opened its Renaissance Center offices for business, extending our downtown Detroit campus from Lafayette Boulevard to Detroit’s riverfront.

This week marks the beginning of a finale of a long and exciting journey for us here at BCBSM as we move the first of 3,000 employees from Southfield to Detroit. Coupled with the recent move of Accident Fund Holdings into its new Lansing headquarters, the journey feels especially symbolic, speaking both to Michigan’s past and its future.

The author cuts the ribbon on BCBSM's move to the Renaissance Center Monday. Loepp was joined at the event by (from left): Greg Sudderth, chairman of the BCBSM board of directors; Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano; Detroit Mayor Dave Bing; and George Jackson, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.

As a native Detroiter who spent many years in Lansing, I confess that the gratification over developments these past few months has a personal side as well. As I’ve written before, I strongly believe that Detroit is on the path to a new prosperity.

Our plan to centralize operations in downtown Detroit is just the latest focus of a years-long process to consolidate our business enterprise in core cities across Michigan. The process, which includes renovating the vacant Steketees Building in downtown Grand Rapids as office space in 2004, reached a crescendo in March, when Accident Fund, our workers compensation subsidiary, unveiled its impressive 330,000 square-foot headquarters in a renovated, abandoned power plant along the Grand River in downtown Lansing.

While different in nature, the Renaissance Center and the Ottawa Street Power Station both hold powerful symbolism for their respective cities.

True to its name, the Renaissance Center was hailed as a way to revitalize Detroit, a “city within a city,” when it opened in 1977. Yet the complex was sometimes criticized as resembling a fortress, walled off from the greater city at large, and its occupancy dwindled over the years as the city continued its painful economic decline. General Motors, which has owned the RenCen since 1996, was considering pulling its corporate headquarters from the building just two short years ago, a move that would have been devastating to the city of Detroit.

Flash ahead to today, when GM has redoubled its commitment to staying put. Our own consolidation of workers in Towers 500 and 600, once completed, will push the complex’s occupancy rate to around 93 percent. Today’s RenCen benefits from GM’s $500 million renovation in 2004 and the subsequent development of the picturesque Detroit RiverWalk, which opened up the once-neglected riverfront to public access and summer festivals.

Opening up public access to the riverfront is also part of the equation at the Accident Fund’s gleaming new headquarters in downtown Lansing, a city that has also seen its share of hard times.

I can remember when the Ottawa Street Power Station was decommissioned in the early ‘90s and how the Art Deco building cut an impressive, if dispiriting, silhouette on the city’s skyline. The massive building in those years seemed like a symbol of a disappearing industrial era. Its gradual abandonment dovetailed with the steady de-industrialization of Lansing itself, as the iconic Oldsmobile brand that defined the city dissolved.

Today, the power plant is giving rise to a new knowledge-economy era in Michigan’s capital city, having undergone an ambitious renovation. And yes, people can now walk along the riverfront behind it.

Certainly neither Blue Cross nor Accident Fund can take all the credit for these projects or all the subsequent development that we believe they will set in motion. But they speak to the power of conviction and making strategic investment in places. There are examples all around.

GM’s investment in 2004 helped physically re-orient the RenCen to the city, introduced a new retail component to the complex and helped set the stage for the RiverWalk.

Compuware gave the former J.L. Hudson’s department store site its first tenant and brought thousands of workers downtown, which eventually begat Campus Martius, recognized as one of the nation’s finest urban green spaces.

One wonders what’s in store as Quicken Loans prepares plans to move employees into the Chase Tower just across from the park.

You hear a lot of talk nowadays about economic stimulus, and there’s little doubt that Michigan could use a hefty dose of it right about now. We think that stimulus should focus on rebuilding our great cities, and we welcome our friends and business partners to join us.

It promises to be an exciting ride.

Daniel J. Loepp is president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Photo by the Detroit Regional News Hub.

Metro-Detroit’s African American Churches Compete For Wellness Grants in Our Body & Soul BLUE Walking Challenge

The African American church has always provided spiritual leadership, guidance and motivation to the community. In the Detroit-area thirteen churches are taking a stand and walking their way to a healthier lifestyle by competing in the Body & Soul BLUE wellness challenge, sponsored by American Cancer Society and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Health disparities in the African American community are significant:

  • 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 population.

Although the factors creating health disparities in this country are complex, walking is a safe and simple form of exercise that can improve your health, mood and level of fitness. Blue Cross walking advocate, Jodi Davis lost more than 160 pounds by adopting a healthy lifestyle that included a sensible diet and an exercise regimen consisting of a brisk, daily walk of 1.5 miles each day – and she has kept the weight off for nearly 10 years.

A walking exercise routine can help:

  • Lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol)
  • Raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol)
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce risk of or manage type 2 diabetes
  • Manage weight
  • Improve mood
  • Increase strength and fit

Source: The Mayo Clinic

With the U.S. spending more than ever on preventable health problems like those listed above, every step counts. Our Body & Soul BLUE challenge gives members of several metro-Detroit African American churches extra incentive to get moving by giving them grants to log the most walking miles of physical activity by the end of the 10-week period. Grant money is used to support health ministry efforts at the winning churches.

Personal Health Is Key to Community Health

The faith-based health and wellness challenge gives church leaders a chance to motivate their congregations to nurture their bodies, and their souls. A combination of pastoral leadership, educational activities, and the family environment of the church helps congregations make healthier nutrition and lifestyle choices.

Are you involved in a walking or exercise program? What kind of physical activity do you do to stay healthy and fit?

To learn more about the Body & Soul BLUE challenge, watch a video from last year’s challenge in Grand Rapids, Michigan below:

Photo Credit: Nick Harris 1