Kelly Brittain, Senior Program Officer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation
The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation (BCBSM Foundation), the 501(c)3 philanthropic affiliate of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network, was created in 1980 with $800,000 in seed money. Three years later, Michigan physicians endowed the foundation with $19.2 million in incentive funds from a Blue Cross cost-containment program. Since then, the foundation’s assets have grown to almost $60 million after 41 years of grantmaking.
Our mission is to improve the health of Michigan residents by supporting health care research and innovative health programs. We use the lens of health equity to guide how we accomplish our mission. The diversity, relevance, and practical application of the research and service delivery projects we fund has resulted in enhancements to the quality of care, quality high-value care, and access to care for the people of Michigan. Improving access to care for Michiganders requires a variety of partnerships. Many of our partnerships have led to those programs achieving sustainability. BCBSM Foundation thrives on three types of partnerships: local, state, and philanthropic.
Our partnerships with clinics, universities, and community-based organizations have led to improved access to care in the state. BCBSM Foundation has addressed health care access through supporting clinics, supporting a local health department’s programming to increase WIC utilization, supporting the integration of doulas in an OB/GYN practice, pairing post-partum and newborn visits to improve maternal and infant outcomes at a family practice health center, and supporting care management services for individuals and families in permanent supportive housing programs. In 2019, we partnered with the Judson Center to address the needs of children from low-income homes with moderate to severe mental health challenges by supporting the integration of primary health care into their existing behavioral health care center programs. The Judson Center reported that 36 percent of families began receiving integrated care (primary health and behavioral health care) services in two years and received its designation as a Patient-Centered Medical Home and secured over $700,000 in additional funding to support the services and growth of the Center. Local partnerships are integral to tackling access to health care and improving health outcomes in sustainable ways.
The BCBSM Foundation partnered with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to address gaps in funding programs that impact our state’s vulnerable population. The goal of our partnership with the Michigan State Department of Health and Human Services and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan was to improve access and quality of care for pregnant women with opioid use disorder. The project supported the work of the Regional Perinatal Quality Collaboratives in Michigan to implement sustainable evidence-based projects to reduce opioid use and harm to women and their infants. One funded project implemented the Yale University Eat/Sleep/Console model at War Memorial Hospital in Marquette, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Implementing the Eat/Sleep/Console model would decrease the need to pharmacologically treat an infant as frequently as other common Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome management approaches and reduce the infant’s length of stay in the hospital. The outcomes of the project were: 1) the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit transfer rate due to Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome decreased from 19 percent to 4.5 percent in one year, 2) a breastfeeding rate of 72 percent at the time of hospital discharge, and 3) over 90 percent of infants born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome were able to stay at War Memorial Hospital and receive care instead of being transferred to the Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit which is 165 miles trip (one way), thus increasing infant bonding, decreasing parental anxiety, and barriers to care. Partnering with the State of Michigan provides BCBSM Foundation an opportunity to support the structural change in health care access in large organizations.
Our latest approach to partnerships to improve access to health care is philanthropic collaboration. Our funding partnerships have awarded over $2.5 million in the last three years to organizations to address some of Michigan’s most critical health needs, from opioid use disorder, suicide prevention, and food and nutrition insecurity. Our partners in these endeavors have been Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, the Children’s Foundation, the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation, The Jewish Fund, Michigan Health Endowment Fund, Michigan Health & Hospital Association, Superior Health Foundation, Upper Peninsula Health Plan, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Philanthropic partnerships are complex and, at times, complicated because of the requirements of the individual organizations. However, the results are rewarding and enhance our collective capacity to increase the breadth and depth of the programs funded to improve health care access and health outcomes.
Partnerships are essential to improving health care access, and outcomes, and forming partnerships require listening, learning, transparency, and flexibility. Listening to the community, local and state stakeholders, and other philanthropic organizations have improved our partnerships’ quality. Learning from the community, health care providers, and research organzations has pushed us to think about health pragmatically, taking a realistic approach. We have increased our transparency by requiring a concept paper and a meeting with a Senior Program Officer as the first steps for all grant programs. These first steps have increased trust and understanding between the potential applicant and the Senior Program Officer. Flexibility adds to the longevity of our partnerships. Flexibility in approach and vision is a cornerstone in our partnerships, especially our philanthropic partnerships. At BCBSM Foundation, we believe it is better to “go with someone” if you want to go far.