Leaders with BlueCare Tennessee, which is a subsidiary of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, are partnering with faith-based organizations across the state, including some in Chattanooga, to reduce the health care disparities that exist within minority populations.
"The people in Tennessee listen to their ministers and their pastors," Rafielle Freeman, director of quality improvement for BlueCare, said.
Last year, 21 percent of black children and 11 percent of Hispanic children in Tennessee received their recommended immunizations last year, according to the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, which publishes annual immunization rates for those between the ages of 19 and 35.
Black women are 34 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, and fewer black and Hispanic women get flu shots, according to BCBST.
There is also a disparity in behavioral health, in part because there is a stigma surrounding mental health care, Freeman said.
So officials with the insurance company created a statewide disparities advisory panel, and based off the panel members' recommendations, they have created a faith-based toolkit to assist leaders of worship in addressing the health care disparities faced by their own congregations.
The toolkit includes a health care calendar, which focuses on important health issues each month, and a preventive health guide with fliers and information relevant to various health concerns faced by different population groups.
The first phase of the initiative will target childhood immunizations among black, Hispanic and rural white Tennesseans.
More than 100 employee volunteers from BlueCare and BCBST will help train religious leaders on how to use the toolkits by leading training sessions on-site at faith-based organizations across the state.
Freeman said that the toolkit has a robust amount of information, which is easy to read and understand, she said.
Officials are focusing on the Medicaid population with the program, whose recipients do already have insurance, but the disparities exist because of educational, financial and cultural factors, she also said.
The toolkits are free to the religious institutions, and helping members of the community stay healthy can eventually cut down on health care costs.
For example, preventive care can prevent routine hospitalization, she said.
And Freeman is passionate about this program, which she said can help many people across Tennessee.
"It's been inspirational," she said. "We work in an insurance company. Nobody grows up saying, 'I want to work at an insurance company.' This is something that touches lives. It's real. We get an opportunity to get outside the walls and touch our community. That's what it's about—being better, doing better."
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