Family Focus

Blue Cross NC awards nonprofits millions to narrow state’s racial, health disparity gaps

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) announced the first round of recipients of its $4 million commitment to address and eliminate racial, health and geographical disparities in North Carolina.

Seventeen organizations across the state are being awarded grants, totaling $3 million, for the company’s “Addressing Maternal and Infant Health Disparities” and “Strengthen NC” programs.

“We know the health of our state depends on the health of all our communities – and this statewide effort helps get resources into the hands of those who can make an impact,” said Cheryl Parquet, director of community engagement and marketing activation at Blue Cross NC.

Additional funding is now available for nonprofit organizations and public health entities improving access to behavioral health care in rural and underserved communities.

Last October, Blue Cross NC began inviting organizations to apply for awards when it announced its three-pronged statewide effort to improve the state’s maternal, infant and behavioral health outcomes and support organizations led by or serving historically underrepresented communities and people of color.

“We’re proud to support deserving organizations who are on the ground creating culturally relevant solutions and supporting better and more equitable access to health care,” Parquet said.

North Carolina data shows that the people most impacted by health disparities belong to Black, Hispanic, American Indian, rural and other underserved communities.

The state has the 11th highest infant mortality rate, with Black, Hispanic and American Indian babies up to 2.4 times more likely to die before age 1. And their birthing parents are more likely to experience increased levels of severe maternal morbidity or unexpected birth outcomes with health consequences.

The state also ranks 38th nationally in access to mental health care. Out of its 100 counties, 27 have no psychiatrist at all and 69 lack any child psychiatrists.

Blue Cross NC’s first round of funding will support the following efforts:

Addressing Maternal and Infant Health Disparities - $2 Million

These multiyear initiatives, led by diverse community organizations and state agencies, will help improve the experiences of birthing people and babies from historically underserved communities and contribute to Blue Cross NC’s goal of reducing racial disparities in maternal and child health in North Carolina by 50% in five years.

Organizations receiving funding of up to $500,000 are:

• Chatham County Embrace to create a person-centered system of care oriented around women of color, their lived experiences, their full personhood and their well-being. Embrace is made up of: UNC Chatham Hospital, the Chatham County Department of Social Services, Chatham County Department of Public Health and Piedmont Health Services.

• University of North Carolina at Pembroke to improve access to quality care for expecting and parenting mothers of diverse ethnic groups by targeting health care and education professionals as systems for change within the southeastern region of North Carolina.

• The Foundation for North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University to support its Pathway 2 Program and implement training for more people of color to become certified internationally accredited lactation consultants with the goal to open a lactation clinic to serve the minority population in Guilford County and surrounding areas in North Carolina.

• Queen City Cocoa B.E.A.N.S. to launch a breastfeeding education program for new and expecting families from communities of color in Mecklenburg County and a mentoring program for health care providers and/or health profession students from underrepresented communities of color who would like to become international board-certified lactation consultants.

• Lincoln Height Community Center to launch a grassroots prenatal program, where local expectant mothers are educated in nutrition, provided with transportation to prenatal appointments and provided with childcare for their existing children, if necessary. The center also provides meals to expectant mothers monthly, transportation to errand runs and legal appointments, affordable housing resources, and regular wellness checks conducted by staff.

• Nurse-Family Partnership to support nurse education, capacity building and caseload building for nurse home visitors across North Carolina. Nurse-Family Partnership is a community health program that connects specially trained nurses to first-time parents early in pregnancy and provides advice and support via home visits and telehealth through the child’s second birthday.

• North Carolina Black Alliance to address breastfeeding rates disparities in Eastern North Carolina by coordinating with state and local institutions to support the development of more lactation consultants in Eastern NC.

Strengthen NC – $1 Million

Through Blue Cross NC’s Strengthen NC program, organizations led by or serving underrepresented communities and people of color will receive operational support and up to $100,000 in funding from Blue Cross NC over a two-year period.

The program is designed to increase organizational capacity and help build future sustainability for its participants.

“The capacity being offered through Strengthen NC will help bring Eustress to the next level of operational, programmatic, financial and organizational maturity, so we may more effectively and efficiently advance our mission into the future,” said Rwenshaun Miller, Eustress Inc. executive director.

Organizations will also receive peer mentoring, technical assistance, training and other capacity-building support.

Ten NC nonprofits with a mission of promoting health equity in maternal or behavioral health have been selected to participate.

• Equity Before Birth works to improve health outcomes for Black birthing people and their infants by increasing access to critical services and support.

• MAAME, Inc. empowers Black, Indigenous and other birthing people of color with resources, services and support for a holistic approach to maternal health and wellness.

• H.E.A.R.T.S., educates and equips young pregnant and parenting adolescents with the tools needed to become independent and self-sufficient.

• Wounded Healers of North Carolina embraces and supports individuals reentering the community following incarceration through peer support and resources.

• NC FIELD works with migrant and seasonal farmworker youth and families utilizing grassroots organizing principles to teach leadership, promote education and facilitate opportunities.

• LGBTQ Center of Durham supports LGBTQ+ people through services, programming, resources and support networks that support their well-being and allow them to thrive.

• Vecinos, Inc. provides culturally appropriate health and wellness services to the uninsured Latinx community.

• El Centro Hispano empowers Latino families through education and leadership development.

• Eustress, Inc. raises awareness of the importance of mental health in the Black community, allowing individuals to identify and overcome challenges to achieve a healthier and more productive lifestyle.

• Rural Opportunity Institute strives to end generational cycles of trauma and poverty by preventing adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress for communities in Edgecombe County.

“Through the Strengthen NC program and along with Blue Cross NC, Eustress wants to assess our current models to improve our organizational success and better serve the mental health needs of the Black community across the state,” Miller said.

These funding initiatives are part of Blue Cross NC’s efforts to advance health equity in North Carolina through strategic partnerships and investments.

To learn more about Blue Cross NC’s long-standing commitment to advance diversity, equity and inclusion and drive health equity across the state, visit its website.

If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.

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