Disparities in access to health care during the COVID-19 pandemic – that ultimately resulted in disparate health outcomes for minorities compared to their white counterparts – were not a surprise to Bridget Hurd, vice president of Inclusion and Diversity and chief diversity officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Bridget Hurd Rather, the pandemic shined a light on those disparities and installed a sense of urgency to address them, Hurd said. Speaking at a panel discussion titled “Investing in Health Equity” Tuesday, Sept. 21, at the Mackinac Policy Conference, Hurd spoke about Blue Cross’ efforts to address the disparate health outcomes experienced by minority communities throughout 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic. Hurd, who appeared on the panel virtually, was joined by Carladenise Edwards, executive vice president and chief strategy officer at Henry Ford Health System, and Trine Tsouderos, health research institute leader at PwC. In addition to mobilizing its health disparities action team, Blue Cross immediately established a separate workstream on COVID, Hurd said. Blue Cross also waived costs for COVID treatment in 2020, increased access to telehealth services and worked with community partners to address food insecurities in neighborhoods and distribute accurate fliers and toolkits with facts about COVID-19. Additionally, Blue Cross funded mobile COVID-19 testing units to address transportation barriers in some communities. The panel addressed how to inflict real policy change to address health care disparities. To Hurd, it starts with the concept of caring. “Diversity plus inclusion equals empathy and compassion,” Hurd said Tuesday during the panel. “Empathy is the opportunity to listen without judgement to another person. Don’t make assumptions based on stereotypes.” Compassion builds off empathy, Hurd said. It drives individuals to think about how they can make a difference; how they can adapt or change policies to right a wrong or end an injustice. “When we start caring and start making changes at the right time in the right place, we can start making changes that affect social determinants of health,” Hurd said. Blue Cross has been on a diversity and inclusion journey for 15 years. Hurd said it’s her mission to help expand understanding of both differences and similarities, and uplifting everyone in the organization. “Cultural competency is our ability to address the person that’s standing in front of us,” Hurd said. “And to bring it back to health care, to think about who we’re serving.” More from MIBluesPerspectives: