by Mark Wager

President and CEO
Empire BlueCross BlueShield

I have had the good fortune to live and work in several states. At every stop, I learned more about diversity and the richness it adds to one’s life. But, it wasn’t until I moved to New York, where millions of people live, work, eat, shop and commute shoulder-toshoulder, that I have come to understand why it is known as the “melting pot” of America and how transcendent a concept that is. Empire BlueCross BlueShield is the largest insurer in New York, covering nearly six million people. Our membership includes hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers of African American, Hispanic, Russian, Arab, Italian, Asian, Irish and Native American descent, and many others—a cultural mélange that is fascinating and profound. If Empire didn’t strive to understand our broad marketplace, we wouldn’t be a company that people choose to do business with. Nor would we be a company that attracts top talent. Here are some of the ways we’re incorporating diversity into our business.

Workplace Welcoming to All

We work hard to recruit a diverse staff that reflects our membership demographic. We established a Strategic Diversity Committee that works to champion diversity, and Workplace Diversity and Culture Ambassadors to involve associates in worksite events. Our Community Ambassadors actively relationship-build with leaders and activists in several ethnic communities.

We communicate about diversity. When New Yorkers were worried about a mosque being built near Ground Zero, we talked about the Ramadan celebration and the commonalities of religious faiths. I sent my holiday card out at the beginning of December, acknowledging and honoring not just Christmas, but Chanukah and Kwanzaa, too.

Focus on Our Members’ Needs

We tailor service to cultural dictates. When one of our Haitian members needed hospital care, but couldn’t understand his doctor, we got one of our Creole-speaking associates on the phone to translate. We work to break down communication roadblocks between physicians and our members to improve health outcomes. For example, we have worked with providers on how to improve their communication with our female Asian members, who may be uncomfortable making direct eye contact with a male physician.

We are addressing health disparities. Our Healthy Weigh To Change weight loss program is offered in both English and Spanish, and we’ve seen exceptional results for our Spanish-speaking participants.

Supporting Diversity Efforts in the Community

I sit on the boards of, and we support, dozens of community initiatives that impact New Yorkers’ health status, increase access to key services and help build strong communities, including organizations like:

The Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, which aims to reduce morbidity and mortality by increasing healthcare provider diversity.

Union Settlement, which improves the lives and health of lowincome and immigrant residents living in East Harlem.

The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families’ “Healthy Living” program, a nutrition and fitness program for families in the Central Bronx.

New York has the richest ethnic diversity in the world. I feel blessed to be part of this beautiful population mosaic, and to have come to more fully understand the value of being responsive to the entirety of our broad marketplace.

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