Rochester, NY

How Local Nonprofits are Addressing Health Disparities

The work of six local nonprofit organizations over the past six months to address health disparities has so far reached thousands of individuals in the Finger Lakes Region. 

These on-going efforts, supported through Health Equity Innovation Award funding from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, are expected to reach thousands more in the upcoming months. 

Health equity is critical to ensuring that everyone in our communities has a fair chance at leading a healthy life. However, barriers including age, race, income, education and more can get in the way.

As part of this health equity work, individuals are getting connected to health care resources at community gathering spots like barber shops and beauty salons, families are receiving one-on-one mental health counseling or assistance covering medication and other costs, troubled teens are receiving help to turn their lives around, free colon cancer screening kits are being distributed and individuals experiencing high-risk pregnancies are receiving free housing close to a hospital. 

“Our mission is to help people in our communities live healthier and more secure lives. These programs and initiatives are focused on marginalized populations with the goal of bridging the gap in healthcare access, improving health outcomes, and creating a more equitable and inclusive society,” says Simone E. Edwards, DrPH, MPH, Excellus BCBS vice president for health equity and community investments. “This work could not be done without the support and collaboration of so many of our community partnerships, such as the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Rochester.” 

“Unfortunately, there is a national health crisis regarding maternal and infant mortality rates. Here in Monroe County, compounded by poverty and racial inequities, our rates are surpassing state averages,” says JoAnne Ryan, chief executive officer of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Rochester. “Our chapter, one of several in New York, hosts high-risk pregnant mothers so they can stay close to lifesaving care. This program serves as a model which can be replicated across the country and the world and will hopefully result in improving both national and global outcomes. We are incredibly grateful to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield for helping fund this initiative and look forward to advancing our partnership and addressing our community’s most pressing health issues together.” 

Here are the award recipients and how each program is having an impact on the lives of people in our community. 

Common Ground Health – used their award for their “Get It Done” initiative for African American and Latino barbers and beauticians who serve as Community Health Educators to increase health knowledge, community outreach and health/mental health workshops. They have been able to:
•    Hold more than 20 events at various barber shops and beauty salons in the city of Rochester.
•    Make referrals to places like Willow Domestic Violence Center, Trillium Health and 2-1-1
•    Distribute more than 2,400 Narcan kits and much more. 

Monroe County Family Coalition – used their award for mental health education and one-on-one consultations, financial literacy programs and a community garden to address food insecurity. 
•    Their two-day Youth and Family Conference coming up on May 31 and June 1 will address and provide resources in all these areas. 
•    The development of a community garden in conjunction with School No. 45 in the Rochester City School District is underway to provide fresh produce for residents in the 14621 ZIP Code.

Geneseo Parish Outreach Center – used their award for their outreach program to provide access to dental care and medication to underserved populations. In addition, the funds will help cover lab fees, costs of diagnostic testing, and transportation for those in need. They have been able to serve:
•    23 patients with some having repeat visits,
•    Make 17 dental referrals or payments for dental care, 
•    Help these patients with medical bills for labs, radiology, dermatology, chiropractor, counseling, and other specialty care.

Rise Up Rochester Inc. - used their award for their program to support former gang members and other troubled young men build safety, work, and education plans to help them make better decisions. They are currently working with 12 young men. Upon completion, they will be provided with:
•    Hygiene kits
•    Support to obtain work permits. 
•    Clothing for interviews and work-related jobs. 

Cancer Support Community at Gilda’s Club used their award for their Mapping My Journey in Communities of Color Program, which provides outreach, advocacy, and education within local African American and Latino communities which focus on colon cancer screening, self-advocacy, and the mental health of those dealing with a cancer diagnosis. 
•    They have distributed 1,158 colon cancer screening kits of which 37 percent were Hispanic/Latino Females and 6 percent were Males, 32 percent were Black/African American Females, and 9 percent males.
•    They’ve also been able to enroll 52 people in a cancer mental health and social program.

Ronald McDonald House Charities – used their award to provide free housing for individuals with high-risk pregnancies who need to be close to the hospital to keep them and their unborn children safe, facilitating their access to health care and ensuring local hospital beds are available for more critical patients. They have been able to help nine moms with:
•    14 different stays – meaning some moms might stay and be able to leave but then need to return.
•    64 nights for prenatal care 
•    237 nights after delivery due to having babies requiring hospitalization.

To learn more about the people impacted by the Health Equity Innovation Awards and the programs they support, visit Excellus BCBS YouTube channel for testimonials.  

For sharing on social media channels, please refer to us as “Excellus BlueCross BlueShield” or “Excellus BCBS.” Our social media tags are below:
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Lynn Wesley,

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, is a nonprofit health plan with 1.5 million upstate New York members. The company's mission is to help people live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care. Its products and services include cost-saving prescription drug discounts, wellness tracking tools and access to telemedicine. With about 4,500 employees, the company is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce to foster innovation and better serve its members. It also encourages employees to engage in their communities by providing paid volunteer time off as one of many benefits. To learn more, visit


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