Helping fill America’s food pantries

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Bags of food collected at the Hockomock area YMCA in Attleboro, Massachusetts.

Heather once visited a food bank for her elderly neighbors. Now, she needs help feeding her family. She’s not alone.

Heather, a married mother of two, rolled down her car window, took a deep breath for courage and quietly asked the masked volunteer for an extra bag of free food.

Over the past few weeks, Heather picked up bags from the makeshift food bank at the Attleboro area Hockomock YMCA in Franklin, Massachusetts to deliver to her elderly neighbors. But today was different.

Heather was unexpectedly furloughed from her job due to COVID-19-related shutdowns — and now her own family needed help. As she took the bag full of food from the YMCA employee, she says relief spread though her body with the knowledge that her kids would have a healthy dinner that night.

“I was worried I would have to feed my kids boxed macaroni and cheese, but the bag was full of fruits and vegetables,” Heather says.

Heather’s experience with food insecurity is one of many playing out across America in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. According to an April 2020 survey from Feeding America, a national nonprofit organization with a network of more than 200 food banks and 60,000 partner organizations, an estimated 40% of people seeking donations were visiting a food bank for the first time in their life. Equally concerning: 95% of its food banks saw more people needing help compared to last year, with an average 70% increase in demand for food assistance.

Hockomock area YMCA Board Chairman Mary Clermont and President Ed Hurley loading food into a vehicle.
Attleboro, Massachusetts, Hockomock area YMCA Board Chairman Mary Clermont and President Ed Hurley load food. On a recent Wednesday, 780 bags were picked up.

Eileen Howard Boone, Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility & Philanthropy at CVS Health, says the crisis took America by surprise and created a need for basic food and necessities in a way the country has never experienced before.

Because nearly 60% of a person’s life expectancy is influenced by social determinants of health — such as food insecurity — CVS Health has made community health and wellness central to its corporate social responsibility. The company provided a $1 million donation to support community and employee needs amid the pandemic, including $250,000 to support Feeding America.

Food insecurities also create added COVID vulnerability for the country’s most at-risk citizens — those with fewer resources, chronic health conditions and less mobility. “Food and health are closely linked, making it essential for us to help those facing food insecurity,” says Boone. “We have supported organizations of all sizes to help address that need quickly and efficiently. We are really all in this together.”

For Heather, CVS Health’s commitment is life-changing.

For more information about CVS Health’s efforts to improve care across the nation, visit our News & Insights page and the CVS Health Impact Dashboard. To stay informed about the latest updates and innovations from CVS Health, register for content alerts and our Leaders in Care newsletter.

Bags of food collected at the Hockomock area YMCA in Attleboro, Massachusetts.
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Quarantined seniors face unseen dangers

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With an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that adults 60 and older "stay at home as much as possible." But, studies show that isolation and loneliness can cause seniors physical and mental harm. In fact, it can be more harmful to a person’s well-being than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Why loneliness is lethal

The first step in finding solutions is to understand that loneliness and social isolation are related, but different problems, says Dr. Christopher Lim, M.D., Senior Clinical Advisor, Aetna Medicare. Isolation is objective and can be measured by factors like the size of a person’s social network. In contrast: Loneliness is a subjective and personal feeling. Both are common among older adults.

A 2020 study found that nearly a quarter of Americans aged 65 and older are socially isolated, and some 43% of adults aged 60 or older report feeling lonely. Add on the isolation felt with the pandemic, and these people face increased risk for heart attack, stroke, or even reduced antiviral protections that are so important right now.

“Loneliness is not a normal state of being for a human,” says Lim. “Biologically, we depend on others to survive in the world.”

Making connections

Fortunately, there are ways we can all help older adults stay connected while respecting social distancing:

  • Resources For Living consultants call at-risk seniors identified by the Social Isolation Index to offer customized local solutions, such as food delivery.

  • SilverSneakers, now offers members age-appropriate online video workouts from home.

  • Papa, Inc. program connects college students and seniors through “Assistance from a Distance” to encourage positive thinking, help with ordering groceries and medicines and explaining telehealth tools.

  • Through an Aetna Foundation grant, the Meals on Wheels program is developing a training curriculum to teach seniors how to use technology to make online connections.

Dr. Robert Mirsky, Chief Medical Officer, Aetna, talking with an older woman outdoors.
Dr. Robert Mirsky, Chief Medical Officer of Aetna.

“We are continuing to look holistically at our social connectedness offerings to build out a variety of approaches to identify and support our members who are lonely or isolated,” says Dr. Robert Mirsky, Chief Medical Officer for Aetna Medicare.

You can help, too. Consider adding your neighbor’s shopping list to your own. Call your elderly relatives to remind them they aren’t alone. Schedule a virtual visit between your children and parents. The connections you make during this time could be lifesaving.

Help older adults stay connected

  • Make a plan how to social distance and sanitize their home. Update phone numbers for pharmacy and other home deliveries.

  • Schedule regular phone calls and video chats.

  • Organize a virtual game night using online board games or set up identical game boards and use a speaker phone. 

  • Create a virtual book club or have grandparents read bedtime stories.

  • Host a long-distance dinner party with meal delivery and phone or video conversation.

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The Impact of Our Investments

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Officials cut the ribbon on a mixed-income community in Georgia.
Our recent investments have included Gateway Pointe, a mixed-income community in Georgia that celebrated its ribbon-cutting (above) in the fall of 2019.

Since 1997, CVS Health and Aetna, a CVS Health company, have combined to invest more than $1 billion in affordable housing and community investments. These investments have led to the building and renovation of over 93,000 affordable rental units, positively impacting hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals, families, and seniors. The company’s efforts to address housing insecurity are a core part of Destination: Health, a series of CVS Health business programs dedicated to helping people improve their health outside of a clinical setting. CVS Health is continuing to make significant investments in affordable housing across the country.

With a continued focus on addressing housing insecurity in underserved and at-risk populations, CVS Health is looking forward to further cultivating invaluable relationships with community organizations and combining its strategic investments in housing with services to address the specific needs of individuals and communities across the country.

To learn more about the impact of our investments, read our press release and the local coverage below highlighting the ways we’re making a positive impact in communities nationwide.

Officials cut the ribbon on a mixed-income community in Georgia.
Our recent investments have included Gateway Pointe, a mixed-income community in Georgia that celebrated its ribbon-cutting (above) in the fall of 2019.
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Convening Local Experts to Address the Social Determinants of Health

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A group of panelists discuss local health solutions.
Panelists at the CVS Health-sponsored POLITICO event discuss the benefit of local health solutions.

CVS Health recently brought together a group of health leaders in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to explore how local solutions can have a big impact on residents who are grappling with environmental factors that impact health such as housing, education, transportation and food. The event was part of the POLITICO Health Care Innovators series, which CVS Health sponsors.

Following opening remarks from Tom Moriarty, chief policy and external affairs officer, and general counsel at CVS Health, the expert panel discussed how the social determinants of health are fundamentally changing the way we think about health care delivery. Among the experts, there was consensus that we must put patients at the center of their care, utilize a combination of high-tech and high-touch solutions and realize the power of public-private partnerships.

Experts included:

  • Teresa Miller, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services

  • Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, PhD, Chair, Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania;

  • Katherine Kinsey, PhD, Director, Philadelphia Nurse-Family Partnership; and

  • Katie McPeak, MD, Medical Director of Health Equity, Primary Care Network, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

View a video of the full POLITICO Health Care Innovators panel discussion.

Putting Patients at the Center of their Care

Each patient has their own unique health care needs. Oftentimes, those needs are determined by where they live and work. According to Dr. McPeak, “It’s not as simple as screening for social stress among families. We have to create interventions in places where they are already getting care.”

Dr. McPeak further noted that we must understand the intricacies of each patient and be embedded in their community to fully be able to address the factors that are impacting their health. This is where CVS Health can make a difference. We serve as a front door to health care in nearly 10,000 communities nationwide and are utilizing our community footprint to expand access to high-quality health care services.

High-Tech to Enable High-Touch

To maximize the impact of high-tech solutions, such as mobile apps and connected tools, the panelists agreed that they must be matched with personal touchpoints to care. According to Dr. Kinsey, “We’re all very interested in high-tech today, but it is really the relationships that we establish with patients over time that help us address the social determinants of health. We want to be high-touch and use our high-tech tools to better connect with people.”

This type of integration between technology and patient engagement is key to the model of care CVS Health is leading. We’re using technology to support our efforts to provide real-time and trusted counseling on adherence and lifestyle management, increase communication between doctor visits and improve care connectivity.

The Power of Public-Private Partnerships

Partnering with organizations that are on the front lines of addressing the social determinants of health every day is key. According to Secretary Miller, “Health care is a piece of what determines our overall health, but it is just one piece. With our managed care organizations, we’re seeing a handful of really creative partnerships addressing the social determinants of health.” In turn, these partnerships improve outcomes and impact overall health care spending.

Secretary Miller highlighted the Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance (MANNA) – an organization providing medically appropriate meals and nutrition counseling to those who are battling life-threatening illnesses – as one example of success. For example, data show that members receiving services from MANNA saw a 30 percent decrease in inpatient admission. Since 2016, we have been proud to support MANNA in its mission to improve access to healthy food.

The panel agreed that housing has the greatest impact on health and well-being and we must do more to support vulnerable patient populations. Aetna Better Health of Pennsylvania recently contributed $4 million to the Inglis Methodist Gardens project to support the development of a four-story, 47-unit apartment building in West Philadelphia – serving a mixed population of long-term care recipients and people at risk for homelessness.

For more information about CVS Health’s efforts to improve care across the nation, visit our News & Insights page and the CVS Health Impact Dashboard. To stay informed about the latest updates and innovations from CVS Health, register for content alerts and our Leaders in Care newsletter.

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POLITICO Partnership Elevates Discussion on Social Determinants of Health

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Tom Moriarty, chief policy and external affairs officer, and general counsel, recently spoke to 100 health care and policy influencers at a POLITICO Live event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, about the importance of local and personalized solutions in addressing the social determinants of health. The event was part of the Health Care Innovators series, sponsored by CVS Health, which showcases leading voices and practices in health care innovation.

Watch the full remarks here.

Understanding Community Health Care Needs

Most of our health and well-being happens outside of the doctor’s office where we live, learn and work. Furthermore, data show that 60 percent of our life expectancy is determined by factors such as housing, transportation, education and food.

Moriarty noted that these factors underscore why we must understand and analyze how local environments impact health—and the importance of data in the U.S. News & World Report Healthiest Community Rankings. In Philadelphia, nearly one in five residents smoke and more than one-fourth are grappling with obesity. According to Moriarty, our communities are ripe for health care innovation and we have an opportunity to improve health outcomes by creating meaningful touchpoints to care.

Expanding Access to Care Locally

Access remains a key challenge in helping patients manage their conditions. According to Moriarty, community health care access can be defined by two tracks: the availability of primary care and the ability to get to where care is offered.

To demonstrate how CVS Health can address these tracks, Moriarty shared an example of “Diane,” a single mother of two who recently received a diabetes diagnosis. There could be a number of obstacles in her way. First, it may be hard for her to take time off during business hours for appointments. Next, she may face difficulties in getting the testing and labs she needs for diabetes. Research shows 40 percent of physician-ordered lab tests aren’t completed—oftentimes as a result of facilities not having extended hours and the patient lacking access to public transportation to that facility.

According to Moriarty, this is where CVS Health is making a difference. Today, 71 percent of Americans live within five miles of a CVS Pharmacy location. And people come to their pharmacy frequently: whereas a patient with diabetes like “Diane” might only see her physician four to five times a year, she will likely see her pharmacist as many as 18-24 times in the same year.

Moriarty highlighted how we’re utilizing our community footprint to provide timely and targeted interactions with patients like “Diane.” For example:

  • Our MinuteClinic offering is complementary and collaborative to primary care—and helpful to the system overall. We offer treatment for 125 conditions from trusted providers. Furthermore, our extended hours and broad community reach can help address gaps in care.

  • To build on our MinuteClinic services and improve care coordination, we recently piloted HealthHUB—a new, first-of-its-kind concept offering new product categories, digital and on-demand health tools and trusted advice. This concept will be brought to the Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey market in the coming months.

Improving Health Care Affordability

Along with access to care, affordability is a top health care priority for patients. Moriarty emphasized how CVS Health is doing more to help ensure patients get the medications and care they need at the best possible cost.

For example, data show that 40 percent of patients do not pick up their prescriptions when out-of-pocket costs per prescription exceed $200. Moriarty noted that if patients are unable to afford their medications, they get sicker and their care becomes even more expensive. CVS Health has developed solutions to change that.

  • Through our real-time benefits program, we’re providing tools to doctors so they can see what a medicine is going to cost, and recommend lower cost, clinically appropriate options to the patient. More than 100,000 prescribers are using this program—leading to an average of $90 savings per prescription.

  • We’ve also pioneered digital tools, including the Rx Savings Finder, which help our retail pharmacists find patients savings when they do reach the pharmacy counter.

We look forward to continuing to address the social determinants of health in the communities we serve.

For more information about CVS Health’s efforts to improve care across the nation, visit our News & Insights page and the CVS Health Impact Dashboard. To stay informed about the latest updates and innovations from CVS Health, register for content alerts and our Leaders in Care newsletter.

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Aetna Foundation and U.S. News & World Report host Social Determinants of Health Roundtable in Harrisburg, PA

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Aetna Foundation and U.S. News & World Report host Social Determinants of Health Roundtable in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Aetna Foundation and U.S. News & World Report host Social Determinants of Health Roundtable in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Following the release of the second annual U.S. News & World Report 2019 Healthiest Communities rankings, the Aetna Foundation convened a roundtable in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with state officials, community organizations and local providers to promote a dialogue about addressing social determinants of health to improve the health of communities across the Keystone state.

Aetna Foundation and U.S. News & World Report host Social Determinants of Health Roundtable in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller joined the event as the keynote speaker.

“A person’s health is more than just what happens inside of a doctor’s office. Their job, education level, access to food, and their housing situation all affect their health,” said Secretary Miller. “Our goal is to empower Pennsylvanians to live fulfilling lives and build stronger communities. Understanding the whole person and the individual circumstances they face is critical as we work to ensure that services provided are putting the people we serve on a path to improved long-term outcomes like better health, success in employment or education and training, or self-sufficiency.”

The Healthiest Communities rankings, underwritten by the Aetna Foundation, are part of a $100 million commitment by CVS Health and its affiliates to making community health and wellness central to the company’s charge for a better world. The new Building Healthier Communities initiative, which will be funded over five years by CVS Health and the CVS Health and Aetna foundations, builds upon the outstanding tradition of community investment by CVS Health and Aetna and advances CVS Health’s purpose of helping people on their path to better health.

The roundtable event specifically highlighted food access and nutrition, which is a critical issue facing both urban and rural residents, across the state of Pennsylvania.

Around 115 people attended the roundtable, which, in addition to Secretary Miller, featured U.S. News & World Report Editor and Chief Content Editor Brian Kelly; U.S. News & World Report Executive Editor Tim Smart; U.S. News & World Report Reporter Gaby Galvin; State Rep. Joanna McClinton; The Food Trust President and CEO Yael Lehmann; Central Pennsylvania Food Bank CEO Joe Arthur; and Welsh Mountain Health Centers Chief Quality Officer Kate Millay.

“We have a significant opportunity to improve the physical and economic health of the country by changing our priorities and focusing on how we address social determinants of health,” said Patti MacRae, Executive Director, Aetna Foundation. “Thank you to everyone who took the time and joined us for this important conversation. We are building healthier communities, one community at a time, and these types of dialogues are truly critical to our work.”

The roundtable is part of a multi-year Healthiest Communities collaboration between U.S. News & World Report and the Aetna Foundation. In addition to being the state capital, Harrisburg is the county seat of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, which did not rank is this year’s Healthiest Communities rankings. However, 7 counties in Pennsylvania were part of this year’s top 500 Healthiest Communities List: Montgomery, Chester, Bucks, Cumberland, Butler, Montour, and Elk.

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A Creative Collaboration; The United Way and Aetna Launch Venture Fund

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The United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, in collaboration with Aetna, held the first-ever Venture Fund competition. The “Shark Tank” style pitch event was held in Boston on May 22, 2019, with a focus on seeding new, innovative and collaborative solutions to further the finalist organization’s social missions.

An expert panel of judges and the broader community selected four winners out of eight finalists – who will be awarded up to $75,000 to implement their initiatives with a one-year grant. This progressive community impact program selected the winners after they pitched their ideas live on issues including family homelessness, school readiness and the need for skilled workers. The winners chosen were: Urban College of Boston, FamilyAid Boston, Lawrence CommunityWorks and Our Neighbors Table.

This collaboration is designed to approach a significant problem in a new way. Communities that have access to housing, jobs and career support have healthier residents because consumer health is affected by more than access to healthcare. This is why Aetna is working hard to bring additional resources into the community which will improve health ambitions. This Venture Fund competition supports the holistic long-term vision of achieving lasting change.

“Health starts in the community, and the most innovative solutions to help improve community health are often developed by individuals and organizations that experience these issues firsthand on a daily basis,” said Leila Nowroozi, Aetna Business Strategy. “We are committed to supporting community-based groups that address social determinants of health. The grants from the United Way Venture Fund will give these organizations additional resources to make greater impact and generate data so that we can all learn from their best practices.”

Michael K. Durkin, President and Chief Executive Officer at United Way said “we know that together, we can do more than any one organization can do alone.” Additionally, they were “looking for partnerships and collaborations among existing organizations that are shovel ready and focused on creating financial opportunity and ensuring educational success for people in need in our region.”

Visit the website of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley for more information on the winners and the rest of the finalists.

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Aetna Is Helping Lead the Way on the Evolution of Precision Medicine

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There are many reasons people get sick — from the quality of their health care to environmental factors and behavioral patterns like diet or smoking. Genetic factors — including those aspects of our individual physical makeup that can offer clues to the kinds of diseases for which we are susceptible —also impact our health.

And with the number of genetic tests increasing to more than 50,000 in the last five years, “precision medicine” or “personalized medicine” can play a part in helping to screen for, diagnose, prevent, treat and even cure disease. By tapping into a deeper understanding of a person’s genetics, precision medicine has the potential to unlock opportunities for prevention as well as more focused and effective treatments.

“As our understanding of genomics continues to grow, we are seeing the development of a new generation of genetic testing and targeted treatments,” said Joanne Armstrong, M.D., M.P.H., senior medical director at Aetna. “Although we have a long way to go to replace the current ‘one size fits all’ medical model with individualized genetics diagnostics and hyper-specific treatments, the evolution of this field is exciting.”

Aetna, a CVS Health company, has helped lead the way in that evolution, developing the first comprehensive program for breast and ovarian cancer testing using the BRCA gene test. Aetna also was the first health plan to create and implement a genetic information privacy policy and the first to develop telephone genetic counseling services.

“Aetna has been at the forefront of personalized medicine for more than two decades,” said Heather Shappell, precision medicine program manager, Aetna. “We’ve driven many firsts in this field. High standards and a focus on member safety and health are the foundation of what we do.”

Armstrong noted that as genetic testing and precision medicine become more common, the health care industry must take steps to ensure the quality of results so that patients can get the care they need.

Toward that end, Aetna became the first health plan to require quality credentialing of participating genetic testing labs. The company continues to lead on this front, requiring genetics laboratories with which they contract to enter test results into a public domain database called ClinVar. This database compiles information about human genomic variations in order to advance our scientific understanding of the relationship of genes to overall health.

This type of validation is particularly important in precision medicine. For example, while a lab may determine that a patient has a specific gene variation, the mere presence of that variation isn’t necessarily linked to the presence of a particular disease. Sharing the anonymous patient data among clinicians from around the world allows researchers to discover patterns and possible connections between genomic variations and specific diseases.

“Genetics is an evolving field where many unanswered, critical questions still exist,” Armstrong noted. “For example, as the science of personalized medicine matures, new challenges are emerging. New gene therapies recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration have the potential to cure genetic-based diseases, many of which are lethal. The staggering costs, however, strain the ability of our health care system to provide access to these therapies.”

Precision medicine is poised to expand beyond single disease and gene tests like BRCA and into processes that map out a person’s entire genome, providing clues to help predict future disease. As this type of personalized medicine becomes a more prevalent part of how patients are diagnosed and treated, Aetna is utilizing its long history of leadership in the field to help ensure that members receive the right treatments in the right place at the right time.

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Aetna Better Health of Florida Supports Food Pantry Conference

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For millions of Americans, hunger is a constant reminder of food insecurity and the challenges they face from it on a daily basis. To win the war on hunger, food banks and their partners understand that one way to solve it is to ease the stigma associated with food assistance programs.

To fight back against this stigma, Aetna Better Health® of Florida (ABHFL), a Medicaid Managed Care Plan, in partnership with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, recently sponsored their annual Partnership Networking Conference in the city of Orlando with a $10,000 donation. The conference brought together over 300 partner agencies and local organizations whose main mission is to distribute healthy foods to needy families in Central Florida. These agencies distribute food at the neighborhood level and partnering with them is a great way to meet Medicaid members where they are. ABHFL was the first Medicaid health plan ever invited to attend this annual conference.

During the conference, there were several speakers addressing the issue of food insecurity and community outreach, including RJ Briscione, senior director, Aetna Medicaid Business Development. RJ discussed Aetna’s work on social determinants of health and food insecurity at the local level, including how the health plan serves Medicaid members in Central Florida.

According to RJ, “With the help of dedicated partners like Second Harvest, Aetna Better Health aims to raise awareness and understanding of the complex issues related to food insecurity, and to develop effective strategies to combat hunger and the health effects that come with it.”

“The conference also provided the health plan a unique opportunity to network with food pantry providers and distribute ABHFL promotional items,” said Carl Lee, ABHFL manager of Community Development and Outreach. “We were able to hand out ABHFL branded posters for attendees to display at their agency locations. Participants praised our presence at the conference and complemented us for being good stewards to the community.”

About Aetna Better Health of Florida

Aetna Better Health of Florida uses an integrated physical and behavioral health approach to the administration of benefits for the Medicaid Managed Care, Florida Healthy Kids, and Managed Long Term Services and Supports populations. The health plan works with members and their families, caregivers, providers, advocates, peer and family organizations and community groups to help them achieve better health outcomes.

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From California to Connecticut, Investing in Health at the Local Level

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In Davidson, North Carolina, chronically ill community members will have increased access to essential services. In West Chester, Pennsylvania, more of the local uninsured population will be able to participate in a non-opioid pain management program.

Those city’s free health clinics, along with nearly 130 others from California to Connecticut, will be better able to meet their community’s health needs thanks to nearly $3 million in grants from CVS Health and its Foundation to the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NAFC) and their members.

The grants furthers Aetna and CVS Health’s commitment to building healthier communities by investing in health at the local level, as these clinics will help better manage chronic disease, provide more wraparound services to address the social determinants of health, support treatment and prevention of substance abuse, including opioids and tobacco, and more.

Ranging from $10,000 – 20,000 each, the grants will be distributed to Free & Charitable Clinics in California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

“Taking on these root causes of poor health will help us create lasting change towards health equity in America,” – Nicole Lamoureux, President & CEO of the NAFC.

The new funds bring the company and the CVS Health Foundation’s total contribution to NAFC to nearly $8 million since 2015.

Supporting Aetna and CVS Health’s combined goals of improving outcomes and lowering costs, more than 17,000 patients across the country had access to needed health care in 2018 as a result of last year’s NAFC grants funding. Two grantees alone saved their local hospitals $9.7 million by providing primary care to patients who would otherwise rely on the emergency room.

For more information on how the Free and Charitable Clinics will be utilizing their grants to improve community health, visit www.cvshealth.com/NAFC.

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