'That's our mission' addressing health equity beyond COVID-19 with strong community relationships

Published May 10, 2021

Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield (Arkansas BCBS) is looking to build on its successful Vaccinate the Natural State initiative and community relationships to address on-going barriers to health commonly known as social determinants of health.

Strong collaborations across the country are bringing together community organizations and partnerships that are driving up vaccination rates as well as laying the groundwork for future strategies designed to achieve health equity beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

In Arkansas, the Vaccinate the Natural State initiative serves as a community engagement model leveraging business and hyper-local relationships to encourage people to get vaccinated. The initiative launched in early March. Vaccinate the Natural State is one part of the state's overall outreach efforts.  As of April 26, almost 25 percent of the Arkansas population of approximately 3 million people have been fully vaccinated.  

"It’s our responsibility as citizens and professionals to become solution-oriented," Dr. Creshelle Nash, Arkansas BCBS

The success of those vaccination efforts serves as a blueprint for addressing additional barriers to health like access to nutritious food, transportation or internet access.

 "When I talk about this to people, I always say, this is not a sprint," says Dr. Creshelle Nash, medical director of health equity and public programs at Arkansas BCBS. "This is a marathon. And this marathon is teaching us how we need to engage with communities around health equity."

Dr. Nash has spent a career in public health and she understands the importance of strong relationships.  Especially when she recently served as a volunteer putting shots in arms in the small town of Cotton Plant, Arkansas.  Dr. Nash and the team vaccinated approximately 200 people. That's nearly half of the town's population. Many of the residents are among the community's older population and experience barriers to good health like transportation – a  need that will not go away when the pandemic is over.

That's where Dr. Nash sees the value of community partnerships and the Arkansas BCBS commitment to address the underlying reasons that prevent people from living their healthiest lives. Dr. Nash makes it clear that one organization cannot do it alone.

"Somebody was asking the question 'what can we do about social determinants of health?' Well, it's not just what one organization does. It's what we all do collectively. And to improve health, we need to have policies and programs that improve the lives of people on the ground day to day."

"We build the capacity of the community to roll to the next important issue. It might be maternal health. It might be diabetes," said Nash. "We are a statewide organization, and we are committed to the health of our community.  That's our mission."

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, an association of independent, locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.