Providing access to food in Boston

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While the City of Boston has created food access points to help address food insecurity caused by COVID-19, for many in the city, limited mobility or lack of transportation means that these resources are still out of reach. Boston Medical Center recognized that for their most medically fragile patients, alternatives would be necessary to ensure they received nutritious food appropriate for their specific dietary needs. With support from CVS Health, they developed a COVID-19 Emergency Social Services Fund to help support this vulnerable population.

One family helped by this program were connected with the fund after both parents were admitted to Boston Medical Center for inpatient COVID-19 care, leaving their oldest son, just a teenager, to take care of his younger siblings as they quarantined at home. Unable to leave the house, they were in dire need of food. A volunteer was able to work quickly with food pantry staff to pack a box of food for delivery and bring it to the family’s home. Since the volunteer couldn’t hand the box directly to the family, to ensure they received it safely, she instead left it on their doorstep and waited in her car while they collected it.

Funding from CVS Health allowed Boston Medical Center to provide no-cost meals to over 2,000 low-income individuals, many of whom are hourly wage earners without paid sick leave or who are unable to work due to the pandemic. All told, the program has distributed 17,000 meals so far, providing support and security to families in need.

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Helping local students thrive

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As COVID-19 closed schools across the country, parents and educators were forced to figure out how to transition students to remote learning. While teachers adjusted syllabi and schools invested in education software, a more basic need quickly became apparent in households across the country: not every student that needed a computer with internet access had one.

In our hometown of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, CVS Health was prepared to help. When the Rhode Island Foundation issued a challenge to businesses and individuals in the state to support the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), we responded with a $150,000 donation to provide 750 Chromebook laptops to students in grades three through five.

This donation helped to close the technology gap for Woonsocket students by providing pre-k through grade 12 students in the district the technology they needed to succeed at remote learning.

“Seeing Rhode Islanders come together to generously support our students and our teachers is inspiring. By focusing on the tools that make Distance Learning possible for every student, we are making equitable learning opportunities possible during this public health crisis,” said Rhode Island Foundation President and CEO Neil D. Steinberg.

“CVS Health has been an incredible partner in our state’s response to this pandemic, and I am so appreciative of their support of Woonsocket students,” said Angélica Infante-Green, RI Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. “Access to technology can make all the difference between making school happen and preventing students from all participation. This donation will have an incredible impact to close the tech gap and help Woonsocket students make the most of their distance learning experience.”

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2020 Healthiest Communities Rankings: Improving health through data

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Location, location, location.

It plays a fundamental role in determining the health, well-being, and life expectancy of the approximately 330 million Americans around the country. A key component to creating long-lasting improvements in population health lies in the collection and analysis of data to identify and address the diverse needs of specific communities across the country.

The Aetna Foundation's multi-year collaboration with U.S. News & World Report on the Healthiest Communities rankings does just that, by providing data-based insights on how counties around the country are minimizing chronic diseases and providing access to health care at lower costs.

A look at 2020

The rankings assessed nearly 3,000 counties nationwide in 10 crucial categories – Community Vitality; Equity; Economy; Education; Environment; Food & Nutrition; Population Health; Housing; Infrastructure; and Public Safety. This year’s rankings also applied new metrics to provide an in-depth look at the unprecedented impact of COVID -19, and its relationship to the social determinants of health in communities across America.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to the existing disparities in our health care system that have a significant impact on underserved communities,” said Garth Graham, Vice President of Community Health and Chief Community Health Officer, CVS Health.

“Using data from the Healthiest Communities rankings can help create insight on how to better address COVID-19 at the community level, while also helping health care organizations develop solutions to combat the health inequities that have historically plagued underserved communities.”

America’s healthiest communities

For 2020, the top five Healthiest Communities scored above the national average in at least eight of the 10 categories. Taking the top spot as the healthiest community in the United States is Los Alamos County, New Mexico. The community – with a population of approximately 17,000 people, and  known as a major site of the Manhattan Project in the 1940’s –  received perfect scores in 12 metrics, and ranked among the best for low racial segregation and low preventable hospital admissions. Los Alamos was second on the annual listing in 2019.

Where did your county rank on the list? Find out on US News & Word Report's county profiles and rankings.

For more information on Healthiest Communities, follow coverage on Facebook and Twitter using #HealthiestCommunities

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Heart At Work: Helen Volf

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During the early months of COVID-19, Karen, a Type 1 diabetic patient called her CVS Pharmacy in tears, afraid she couldn’t get her life-saving insulin. Pharmacist Helen Volf diligently went to work to resolve the issue. Months later when Helen and Karen finally met there were tears again, but this time, tears of gratitude. Watch the video. 

Thank you, Helen. Your concern and follow-through for your patient provided relief when it was desperately needed. #CVSHeartAtWork  

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Frank talk about suicide

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"Just asking if someone is OK could be life-saving."

When she was younger, Aimee Prange struggled with thoughts of suicide. Following multiple attempts to take her life, she is in a healthier place, having learned positive coping skills and — perhaps most critically — how to ask for help: “Recovery is absolutely possible,” she says.

Anyone can have suicidal thoughts, says Aimee, now a licensed social worker and manager with Aetna Behavioral Health. “People often have an image of what a suicidal person looks like or what that means for their life forever after. I’d like to be a part of changing that conversation. We have to talk about it.”

That’s why CVS Health is supporting National Suicide Prevention Month by expanding access to mental health and suicide prevention resources.

“The focus of the health care system should be on early identification and support,” says Cara McNulty, President of Aetna’s Behavioral Health unit and EAP. “We can address vulnerable populations, and we can reduce suicide attempts. Our message is: It’s preventable, and you're not alone. There is access to care, and you do not have to be in this much pain.”

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34. And, according to Cara, adolescents are especially vulnerable to pandemic-related grief. “We need to help these young adults access that grief, and that's going to take time. Without that grieving process, we will continue to see adolescent suicide rise.”

Young people of color face multiple vulnerabilities, Cara adds. “There are specific populations of Black and brown communities where we need to focus our efforts, so we are providing support.”

During the pandemic, CVS Health’s virtual mental health visits have exponentially increased. The company’s multifaceted approach to suicide prevention includes the Talk Saves Lives training program and a safety intervention for suicide attempt survivors. 

“If someone is dealing with anxiety or depression or suicide ideation, it's hard. To then say, ‘I need help,’ is really, really hard,” says Cara. “It’s so important that we have the courage to have conversations that help people feel included and accepted and seek the help and care they need.”

Aimee agrees. “Don’t assume somebody else will reach out. You’ve got to be the one to show there are people that care. That one little thing — just asking someone if they're OK — could be lifesaving. Don't wait.”

If you are thinking about suicide or know someone who is, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255).

Warning signs of suicide risk:

  • Withdrawing from activities

  • Sleeping a lot or sleeping very little

  • Aggression

  • Giving away possessions

  • Talking about hopelessness or being a burden to others

  • Increase in alcohol/drug use

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Healthy Conversations, Episode 2: COVID-19 Recovery

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In the second episode of Healthy Conversations — an open discussion among healthcare professionals about innovation, what we're learning on the front lines of this pandemic, and how our industry is changing in real time — we turn our attention to Recovery. Data is critical in addressing the challenges of COVID-19 and influences so many of our daily, clinical decisions. How will big data, more specifically “distilling multiple biometric data streams,” transform medicine moving forward?

Join our hosts, Doctors Dela Taghipour and Daniel Kraft, in conversation with Dr. Eric Topol (Scripps Research Translational Institute), Dr. Caroline Buckee (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), Adam Pellegrini, and Firdaus Bhathena (CVS Health).

To learn more about the future of wearables, telemedicine, biometric data modeling, the DETECT study, and beyond, click to play the full interview with Dr. Eric Topol, Adam Pellegrini, and Dr. Daniel Kraft below or simply search for Healthy Conversations wherever you listen to podcasts.

Subscribe to the Healthy Conversations podcast

Tune in to Healthy Conversations wherever you listen to all your favorite podcasts.

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Suicide rates are on the rise, how we’re working to reverse the trends

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While suicide rates have been increasing over the last 20 years, the COVID-19 pandemic is further threatening the mental well-being of all Americans. A CDC survey, conducted in June 2020, found that 11 percent of U.S. adults having seriously considered suicide 30 days prior to completing the survey. 

“To drive suicide prevention, everyone must play a role,” said Cara McNulty, President, Behavioral Health & EAP at CVS Health. “As employers, health care providers and community members – we have a collective responsibility to do more to intervene at times most vulnerable for those at-risk of suicide.”

CVS Health is committed to helping reverse the devastating suicide trends. We know it is our responsibility as a leading health company to use our voice to raise awareness of these rising rates and to expand our existing services to offer resources and support for Aetna members and the broader community.

Our commitment

Aetna Resources for Living

CVS Health has made Aetna’s Resources for Living (RFL) program available to everyone, whether or not they are covered in an Aetna insurance plan. RFL offers real-time phone support, informational content, community referrals and support for basic needs. Individuals who do not have RFL as an insurance plan benefit should call 1-833-327-AETNA (1-833-327-2386) (TTY:711) for assistance.

Improving clinical processes

We are continually evaluating Aetna’s clinical processes and addressing gaps that previously would have prevented care management teams from reaching members who may be suicidal.

  • Implementation of a new patient safety screener (PSS-3) tool for all members who speak to an Aetna Behavioral Health clinician by asking a series of questions about their mental well-being to help identify at-risk individuals and connect them with support and resources.

     

  • Continued offering of our safety planning template to help prevent future suicide attempts in members who have been recently discharged from the hospital.

  • Ongoing “touch base” contact postcards sent to members who were recently discharged from an inpatient stay following a suicide attempt with messaging to let them know that they are valued, their life is worth living, and that resources are available to them. Aetna is the only health insurer to send this type of communication to members.

  • Continued partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide and Prevention (AFSP) to offer their Talk Saves Lives online training program to help recognize the warning signs of suicide.

"Knowing the warning signs and how to intervene during the most vulnerable times is crucial to making a meaningful difference in suicide prevention,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer, AFSP. “By partnering with CVS Health, we are bringing critical resources and awareness to suicide prevention."

Learn about how you can support someone who is considering suicide in this guide from AFSP.

If you are thinking about suicide, know someone who is or need to talk with someone, we encourage you to immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 741741 to connect with a trained Crisis Text Line counselor.

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Aetna Medicaid backed study finds school pantry programs help with food insecurity

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Aetna Better Health of Florida’s School Pantry Program collaboration with Feeding South Florida played a key role in addressing the growing trend of food insecurity in the communities it serves

As National Hunger Action Month kicks off this month, it’s important to note that one in four children struggle with hunger every day.https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/child-hunger-facts And kids struggling to get enough to eat are more likely to have problems in school and are often affected by other social determinants of health including lack of access to quality health care, economic instability and living in neighborhoods with fewer resources that promote health such as grocery stores, parks and recreational facilities.https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/hunger-and-nutrition,https://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/hunger-health-impact-poverty-food-insecurity-health-well-being.pdf, https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/nu/he/schoolfoodpantries.asp Identifying and addressing the social determinants affecting children are key components in improving health outcomes and reducing health disparities.

For many children and their families, schools serve communities as trusted resources. Teachers, administrators and school staff are often aware of a family’s struggles with social determinants of health, including food insecurity. A school pantry can provide low-income students and their families access to nutritious food.Food Pantries in Schools, California Department of Education, https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/nu/he/schoolfoodpantries.asp,School Pantry Program, Feeding America, https://www.feedingamerica.org/our-work/hunger-relief-programs/school-pantry This is especially true in South Florida where families that were already struggling were also faced with additional hardships as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.This Southern metro area has become the epicenter of the coronavirus — and food insecurity, NBC News online, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/southern-metro-area-has-become-epicenter-coronavirus-food-insecurity-n1233903

A partnership is born

In 2018, Aetna Better Health of Florida® (ABHFL) donated $125,000 to Feeding South Florida (FSF). FSF is the sole Feeding America food bank serving Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties. The one-year funding donation was part of the health plan’s strategy to address the growing trend of food insecurity in the communities they serve. A portion of the donation established a farmer’s market-style School Pantry Program (SPP) for 130 families with students at Melrose Elementary School in the Brownsville section of Miami. The twice-monthly SPP provides nutritious items such as fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as a true pantry with shelf-stable foods that are available on an as-needed basis for families with urgent requests.

It is widely known that without proper nutrition, children cannot concentrate or perform well in school. Children who have poor nutrition often experience stunted development, this can cause chronic health issues and impact the capacity for academic achievement and future success. Evidence shows the health of students is strongly associated to their academic achievement.Santos R, Huerta G, Karki M, Cantarero A. Social Determinants of Overweight and Obesity Rates by Elementary School in a Predominantly Hispanic School District. J Pediatr Nurs. 2017;37:8-12. doi:10.1016/j.pedn.2017.08.02,Jyoti DF, Frongillo EA, Jones SJ. Food insecurity affects school children’s academic performance, weight gain, and social skills. Journal of Nutrition 2005;135(12):2831–2839.,Johnson AD, Markowitz AJ. Associations Between Household Food Insecurity in Early Childhood and Children’s Kindergarten Skills. Child Dev. 2018;89(2):e1-e17. doi:10.1111/cdev.12764,https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/health_and_academics/pdf/health-academic-achievement.pdf Published May 2014

As such, partnering with an organization like FSF, and supporting food distribution programs in high-need communities, gives Aetna the ability to better understand the social determinants of health issues facing members in specific at-risk communities. Having this information, helps case managers provide members with the most appropriate local social services, allowing families to focus more on education instead of worrying about where they will get their next meal.

That’s why it was important from the get-go for the health plan to engage the Florida Institute for Health Innovation (FIHI). Running alongside the program, FIHI used pre- and post-survey data and focus groups to conduct an independent, qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the Melrose SPP on students’ health, behavior in school, and performance in the classroom through the collection of survey and focus group data.

Access to nutritious food: A catalyst for student success?

The post-survey data suggests that almost 20% of household groceries for respondents came from the SPP, demonstrating a significant contribution to household food security. Respondents were also asked if the SPP allowed them to “meet their food needs for the month.” Fifty-one percent (51%) answered ‘Yes’ and 74% shared that the program increased their ability to eat nutritiously. Of the parents that participated in the pre- and post-survey, there was a 12% increase in parent’s self-reporting their child’s overall health as “excellent.” This emphasized the qualitative evidence from the focus group, in which one parent shared that her children were no longer pre-diabetic after participating in the SPP.

Overall, participants in both the surveys and focus groups underscored the impact of the SPP on behavioral outcomes, reducing familial stressors associated with hunger, and improving their child’s health. When asked about the SPP in relation to students’ performance in school, participants noted that having access to food was a catalyst towards ensuring their children could focus on school without worrying about eating.

“I have five children at home, and it has been hard sometimes to tell them that there wasn’t any milk,” said one parent. 
Another parent shared how their children’s behavior changes when they become concerned about access to food, stating, “They get nervous when they see the refrigerator getting empty.”

Next steps

Since the conclusion of Aetna’s one-year SPP funding contract and the FIHI study, ABHFL has maintained its collaboration with FSF through a $120,000 grant for FSF’s new Mini-Mobile Farmacy (MMF). The MMF is a mobile grocery store that goes directly to at-risk populations and provides nutritious food, interactive public health programming, and a food “farmacy” that personalizes the link between food and wellbeing for food insecure individuals with chronic health concerns.

“Aetna has brought a tremendous amount of recognition and respect to the SPP,“ said Sari M. Vatske, executive vice president of Feeding South Florida. “As a result of our collaboration, FSF’s Feeding Futures School Pantry Program was able to extend the Melrose SPP through an official partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools and received an additional year of funding with the help of County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson.”

About National Hunger Action Month

September is Feeding America’s Hunger Action Month, a month where people all over America stand together to support food banks and to spread the word to act on the hunger crisis and dedicate ourselves to a solution.

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Building patient engagement by connecting local communities to a cohesive health care network

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Leaders and consumers across the country are speaking out about the ways the pandemic has highlighted failures in health care. But health care was broken long before COVID-19, and millions suffer as a result of the industry’s failure to meet and respond to the needs of individuals and patients: according to the CDC, 60% of Americans live with one or more chronic condition. We are seeing the consequences of this failure play out in real time. 

The need to reimagine health care is urgent, and CVS Health is in the proper position to tackle the challenge. In our mission to help people on their path to better health, we understand that health and wellness is a very personal journey, and we are creating a more connected network of support to respond to individuals’ immediate and chronic health care concerns. 

Our unique and extensive health care experience is transforming the industry. Unlike traditional health care companies, CVS Health is embedded in communities, often a routine part of daily life. We work to know our customers personally — their challenges, common questions, needs, and aspirations. Sitting at the intersection of institutional health care and personal, daily life, CVS Health has unique insight into the health of local communities as well as the gaps in the patient experience. As a result, our approach to health care is holistic, accessible, responsive, and highly personalized.

By combining the data, services, and capabilities of our providers, health plans, community partners, health technology, and pharmacists, we unlock new avenues for proactive, preventive, and personalized care. In our model, new and meaningful channels for health care offer individualized, daily support. Our HealthHUB® locations provide an example of this approach, representing a new, critical health care channel for communities.

Launched in 2018, HealthHUB locations combine expanded in-store clinical services, upgraded virtual care and telehealth, personalized guidance, and individual pharmacy recommendations with community resources, offering a supportive network that addresses both the clinical and social determinants of health. At a HealthHUB location, every customer is seen and treated as a unique individual, and personalized guidance is customized to each person’s schedule, budget, and needs. 

The personalized in-store HealthHUB experience is coupled with integrated care management and health plan benefits optimization, resulting in continuous support, regardless of whether an individual is in-store or at home. The resources available through a HealthHUB mean that patients can access everything they need to manage their health whenever and wherever is right for them, keeping them on track with care plans and offering new resources for support. This is especially powerful for those managing the arduous daily demands of one or more chronic conditions.

By offering a patient-centered engagement model for care, our HealthHUB locations can improve individual health outcomes, leading to the successful management of chronic conditions, fewer out-of-pocket costs, and avoided medical procedures and emergency services. Ultimately, these individual successes have an aggregate effect, uplifting the health of entire communities. In this way, CVS Health is helping individuals, families, and communities stem the tide of preventable and reversible chronic conditions. 

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Heart At Work: Nancy Simonelli

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Bill Steel, an 83-year-old living in The Villages, a 15,000-person retirement community in Lady Lake, Florida, likes a lot of things about his local CVS Pharmacy. It’s clean and well stocked. That makes for one-stop shopping instead of multiple trips elsewhere – especially important since he’s in the most vulnerable age group for COVID-19 and Florida has seen a huge resurgence of cases in recent weeks. 

“CVS Pharmacy prices are competitive to what I pay at the supermarket. I use my ExtraCare card and that saves me too,” explains Bill, who visits two to three times weekly. “The staff is always friendly and helpful and Nancy always takes time to talk.” 

Nancy is Nancy Simonelli, a retail store associate who has been a CVS Health colleague for more than 20 years. She knows Bill and many other customers by their first name and makes sure their shopping trips include friendly small talk. A fellow retiree and member of the community, she understands that for some seniors those quick chats may be the only conversation they have that day.   
   
“They’ll come in for their medications, talk to the pharmacist, and then visit with us,” Nancy says. “They’re glad to see you and you’re glad to see them.” 

Those small interactions can make a big difference. Many seniors, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began, are dealing with social isolation, a condition studies have shown can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

As Christopher Ciano, President of Medicare for Aetna, reminds us, it’s even more important that our aging loved ones don’t feel they’re alone during this time. 

Nancy understands. A New Jersey native, she moved to Central Florida with her husband after retiring and knows the community.  She understands customers, like Bill, may have lost a spouse and do their own shopping. Family may live far away. 

“I’ll learn about their children and grandkids.” Sometimes she’ll hear a familiar accent and ask, “What part of New Jersey are you from?” 

Like other CVS Pharmacy locations, things have changed. Colleagues and customers alike are required to wear masks. Where once there was a handshake, or a pat on the back, now there are air high-fives.  

What hasn’t changed is colleagues like Nancy and the social connection their friendly chats provide customers like Bill. Thank you – and a big “air high-five” – for bringing your heart to work, Nancy. 
 

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