Excellus BlueCross BlueShield announced the recipients of its 2023 Health Equity Innovation Awards. The awards represent more than $520,000 in financial support for community programs that address racial and ethnic health disparities across the Health Plan’s upstate New York service area.

“At Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, our mission is to help people lead heathier more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care. We’re committed to community partnerships and using our resources to support initiatives that directly target health disparities, promote access to care, and address the underlying social determinants of health, to help ensure everyone can reach their full potential,” said Simone E. Edwards, DrPH, MPH, Excellus BCBS’s vice president health equity and community investments.

Earlier this year, Excellus BCBS invited organizations to apply for awards of up to $30,000 each to help fund initiatives, programs, and research that specifically target the root causes of health inequities, with a focus on addressing structural racism. Award categories include, but were not limited to, improving the community’s physical and mental health, reducing social disparities in health care, and ensuring access to health care services.

Excellus BCBS’s funding will support 20 nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organizations across the Rochester, Central New York, Utica/North Country, and Southern Tier regions. With more than 180 applicants, a comprehensive review process included input from individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences to assess each proposal. Grant recipients were selected based on clear, defined goals and measurable results for reducing health disparities and improving health equity.

Excellus BCBS Health Equity Innovation Award funding will support the following initiatives:


  • Cancer Action Inc.– Mapping My Journey in Communities of Color: Program will provide comprehensive outreach, advocacy and education within local African American and Latino communities which focuses on addressing health disparities around preventative health and colon cancer screenings, self-advocacy, and the mental health and social wellbeing of those dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
  • Geneseo Parish Outreach Center: Program will provide access to dental care and medication to underserved populations. The outreach program will also help cover lab fees, costs of diagnostic testing, and transportation for those in need.
  • Rise Up Rochester, Inc.: Program will work to support former gang members and other troubled young men by building safety, work, and education plans to help them make better decisions. Team members will engage with young people through recreation centers, schools, and other programs to mentor and establish relationships with youth.
  • Monroe County Family Coalition, Inc.: Program will provide mental health education, one-on-one consultations with social workers, financial literacy programs, and refer individuals to crisis support resources in collaboration with the 211 Helpline of the Finger Lakes.
  • Ronald McDonald House Charities of Rochester NY, Inc.: Program will provide free housing for high-risk pregnant moms who need to be close to the hospital to keep them and their unborn children as safe as possible, facilitating their access to health care and ensuring local hospital beds are available for more critical patients.
  • Common Ground Health – Get it Done: Program will support African American and Latino barbers and beauticians who serve as community health educators (CHEs) and peer leaders to increase health knowledge, community outreach, and increase health/mental health workshops. Support will also be provided for referrals to health care and health/social service resources.

Central New York:

  • Le Moyne College – Dolphins Spreading Healthy Optimistic Positive Experience (HOPE): Program will utilize a peer-based health promotion approach to reach high school students who are at risk for mental health issues and suicide.
  • Cayuga Counseling Services, Inc.: Program will expand the community’s comprehensive collaborative efforts and create an online database which includes the Child Advocacy Center, the Rape-Crisis Center, the Sexual and Physical Abuse MDT, the Child Fatality Review Team and Runaway/Homeless Youth Taskforce, and the Cayuga County Dually Diagnosed Taskforce.
  • Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service of Tompkins County SPCS LGBTQIA+ Crisis Line: Program will support increasing outreach to those in the LGBTQIA+ community and will formalize training for crisis counselors ensuring they are best equipped to support those in need.
  • The Upstate Foundation, Inc.– Native American Preterm Program: Program will support the implementation of a culturally competent approach to decrease the high preterm birth rate in Native American women in Central New York by increasing access to early and sustained prenatal care, with an emphasis on cultural awareness and sensitivity.
  • On Point for College – Creating Safe Spaces: Program will support On Point’s Creating Safe Spaces project that will facilitate a culture/environment of openness, inclusion, and affirmation, regardless of a student’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or mental health status.
  • Joseph’s House for Women, Inc. – A Home for a Healthier Future: Program will support Joseph House enhanced programming in case management, a life skills program, counseling, childcare, and 24-hour staffing.
  • Seven Valleys Health Coalition – Postpartum Doula Support in Rural Communities: Program will support postpartum doula program research and development, the training of local postpartum doulas, and doula reimbursement for community members. Postpartum doulas will provide support and knowledge, not only to those recently pregnant, but also their families, helping to work through the new season of life that comes with the birth of a child.

Utica/North Country:

  • Madison County Rural Health Council, Inc.– Doula Initiatives: Program provides doula services to pregnant residents in Madison County who qualify as low-income and/or may have challenges accessing prenatal, birth, and postnatal support.
  • Mohawk Valley Prenatal & Maternity Support – Sister Circle: Black Birth & Breastfeeding Initiative: Program will provide a three-day culturally sensitive workshop/training taught by DONA International-certified doula trainers. Through a rigorous application process, women of color (preferably mothers themselves), who are passionate about childbirth and breastfeeding, will be selected to be trained as labor doulas and postpartum doulas, which includes lactation support training.
  • AdkAction.org, Inc. – Nourishing our Neighbors with the Fair Food Program: Program will provide access to local foods by distributing monthly stipends through vendor-restricted smart cards. Smart cards give participants the ability to purchase foods they enjoy and want to cook, from fresh produce to pasture-raised meat, local eggs, dairy, and grains.

Southern Tier:

  • Economic Opportunity Program – ACCEL Clinic: The ACCEL clinic, in partnership with Arnot Health, the Chemung County Health Department, and Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, provides free, accessible preventative health screenings and necessarily follow up care to children and adults.
  • Broome County Council of Churches – Greater Good Grocery (GGG) store: Program will support the GGG store’s mission to provide affordable access to healthy food and the efforts of the mobile grocery bus to serve many low-income areas throughout Broome County.
  • Arnot Ogden Medical Center – Mindful Eating, Active Living (MEAL): The MEAL program seeks to continue to confront and tackle the leading social determinants of childhood obesity, by providing education and resources for children and families in need.
  • Able2 Dental Clinic: The dental clinic will hire additional staff to provide preventative dental care and basic restorative care to help increase patient capacity and broaden restorative care services provided.

For the latest information on the health plan’s community investments and partnerships, members, providers and employers are encouraged to visit, ExcellusBCBS.com/community.

Joy Auch, (585) 238-4374