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From left, BCBSNM outreach specialists Tony Nichols, Consuelo Bolagh-Cowder, Thomas Butler and Amy Fisher.

Making Kindness Calls to Members During COVID-19

As infections from the novel coronavirus began spiking and New Mexicans followed stay-at-home public health orders, Amy Fisher and Tony Nichols still found opportunities for connection.

In the spring, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico Medicare outreach specialists transitioned from meeting Medicare members in person to calling them and helping them receive wellness rewards earned through their plans. They also checked to determine whether members were healthy and safe while staying home during the pandemic.

“The impact has been so great that making these calls to our members has to be a priority."

So far, Fisher and Nichols have helped about 125 members collect more than $9,000 in gift cards they earned for achieving wellness benchmarks such as getting colonoscopies or annual flu shots and wellness exams. They reached out to thousands of members to help them redeem gift cards and answer questions about their benefits.

“Many of these members were not aware they were earning this money,” Fisher says. “These folks are on a fixed income. A $100 gift card can make a huge difference.”

With an 18% poverty rate, New Mexico is one of the poorest states nationwide. Fisher and Nichols know the gift cards may help many of these members buy groceries and prescriptions.

“The impact has been so great that making these calls to our members has to be a priority,” Fisher says. “With the pandemic, there’s no other way to reach out to our members. It’s super important to keep these relationships going.”

While on the phone, she and Nichols also asked whether members had access to food and other necessities and answered members’ questions.

“To get a call from somebody who lives in the same community as our seniors shows we care,” says Cynthia Baldonado, senior community health initiatives manager for the New Mexico plan. “It becomes more personal. Giving someone these few moments on the phone matters in business.”

Checking in on members

At the end of March and through April, Medicare members, many of whom suffered chronic conditions, stopped going to their doctors’ offices after the national health crisis was declared.

Eric Siegmann, a manager of BCBSNM’s Medicare and dual-eligible quality programs, wanted to reach out to them to determine whether they were healthy and safe. So, in May, the company began making compassion calls to thousands of members to help them redeem their wellness rewards and asses their access to food and medicines.

Health care managers followed up with members who shared that they needed additional assistance or referrals.

Siegmann’s team has made similar outreach efforts since 2015. But restrictions caused by the pandemic demanded a springtime relaunch of the program to check in with members, including those with diabetes and high blood pressure, to make sure they maintained their health.

“We wanted them to use their plans to stay well,” Siegmann says. “We let them know they had already earned gift cards, which could be a big boost to someone on a fixed income.”

Offering compassion

Most members who received calls appreciated hearing from someone based in New Mexico who seemed genuinely interested in how they were doing and could answer their questions, Nichols says.

Although a vendor could have made the calls on behalf of the insurer, the pair volunteered to call their members to stay connected to them.

“It was just such a no-brainer,” Fisher says. “It just made sense.”

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association