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A main Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) aim – serving communities – is shared by Casa Central at 1343 N. California Ave. in Chicago. Its mission is "to transform lives and strengthen communities with a special focus on Hispanics." So BCBSIL and Casa Central are natural community outreach partners.
Founded in 1954 with three employees and $26,000 but now boasting 450 staffers and a $16 million yearly budget, Casa Central is Chicago’s largest Hispanic social service agency. The organization serves everyone, including older people: Programs include the Over 55 Employment Program, Home Care Services, Adult Wellness Center and Foster Grandparents Program.
Each year, Casa Central promotes healthy, active lifestyles for participants in all four programs. At the Adult Wellness Center, for example, 150 people (including caregivers who need breaks from their duties) socialize, take field trips and take part in other stimulating activities. About 1,500 homebound people get Home Care aide visits.
BCBSIL supports other Latino projects
Clarita Santos, BCBSIL’s director of community health initiatives, says the health insurer gave about $2 million in 2010 to 170 Illinois nonprofits that promote health and wellness. "We’re interested in making a long-term impact on health in the state," Santos says. "So we’re teaming up with organizations that know what it takes to support healthy behaviors in their neighborhoods."
Besides Casa Central, some other community groups receiving BCBSIL’s financial backing include Centro de Salud Esperanza, Latinos Progresando, Pilsen Homeless Services, San Jose Obrero Mission, Villa Guadalupe Senior Services and the National Museum of Mexican Art.
Santos says these partnerships are aimed at direct health and human services, nutrition education, healthy eating, mental health coping skills, medication management, parent education and joint monitoring of the programs. Already, charting their effectiveness has shown progress, which in turn drives down medical costs.
Diabetes is one success story. Santos notes diabetes management programs coupled with more health care access for the homeless result in fewer costly emergency room visits. BCBSIL also joined forces earlier this year with the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, Walgreens, Denmark’s Novo Nordisk (a worldwide leader in diabetes research) and the American Diabetes Association to educate Chicago’s Latino community about diabetes prevention and management.
A third of Hispanics/Latinos have diabetes; one in two youth will develop diabetes sometime in their lives. Participating groups offer free health screenings, educational materials and access to community resources at Chicago Fire home games.
BCBSIL, Mexican museum link
Another example of Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s community commitment is its support of the National Museum of Mexican Art, founded by Carlos Tortolero. The museum is located in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, a mostly Hispanic community on the near South Side. Tortolero knows he could draw more visitors and tourists downtown. But he says the Pilsen site lets visitors soak up Mexican culture right outside its doors. "People are visiting a community, not just a museum."
And the Museum of Mexican Art serves its community in some unusual ways – including a health outreach program that prompted 100 women to get mammograms for the first time. It does so without charging admission. Tortolero believes the arts are for everybody, which can only happen if the arts are free.
A fund-raising gala hosted by the Arts & Business Council honored 25 of Chicago’s "cultural leaders who have made a significant and lasting impact on Chicago’s arts community." The National Museum of Mexican Art was among the 25. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, along with Crain’s Chicago Business, were the two "presenting sponsors" for the event.