To have the biggest impact in a community, you need to have boots on the ground and local expertise. Business and civic leaders should build their investments in community-based organizations, with a specific focus on capacity building. For example, the MANNA Food Bank serves 16 counties in western North Carolina. Many of these communities are remote. Getting food and resources to them can be a real challenge. Blue Cross NC supported MANNA’s efforts to create a Mobile Food Pantry, because it is the most cost-effective means to reach food deserts spread across a 6,434-square mile service area.

In many parts of the United States, there is a crisis caused by people having limited access to healthy & affordable food options. This in turn is creating a host of health and social problems. What exactly is a food desert? What causes a food desert? What are the secondary and tertiary problems that are created by a food desert? How can this problem be solved? Who are the leaders helping to address this crisis?

In this interview series, called “Food Deserts: How We Are Helping To Address The Problem of People Having Limited Access to Healthy & Affordable Food Options” we are talking to business leaders and non-profit leaders who can share the initiatives they are leading to address and solve the problem of food deserts.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. John Lumpkin.

John Lumpkin, MD, MPH is the President of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation and Vice President of Drivers of Health Strategy for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC). In his roles, Dr. Lumpkin leads efforts to improve the health and well-being of all North Carolinians through innovative models, philanthropy and investments in systemic change to address non-medical drivers of health, such as food security, housing and transportation. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research and as chair of Digital Bridge, a multi-sector forum to collaborate on solutions for a nationally consistent and sustainable approach to using electronic health data. Dr. Lumpkin’s current efforts to improve health equity and establish more effective protocols for sharing electronic data is the culmination of a career driving innovation in health care, which includes his service as the first African American resident in emergency medicine in the United States, the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health and as Senior Vice President of Programs for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

From my earliest age, my parents instilled in me the importance of a life lived helping others. I’ve held fast to those personal values. A commitment to social justice and fairness has guided my career choices.

Both my parents overcame real hardship. My father, Frank, was the grandson of an enslaved woman raped by the slave owner. He experienced firsthand the brutality of the Jim Crow South. He picked cotton. He chauffeured. He even boxed professionally before moving north for work in steel mills. My mother, Beatrice, was one of four children of Russian Jewish immigrants who fled the pogroms of 1903. She earned a degree in education and a master’s in mathematics. She started out laundering clothes, but would end up training radar technicians during World War II, working as a chemist in the steel industry, writing for the electronics industry and teaching. She went on to develop and publish multicultural approaches to teaching elementary mathematics and science and is still publishing today.

Frank and Beatrice embodied the ideal of perseverance. They led remarkable lives, full of change and transformation. Through it all, they always prioritized community and helping others above individual gain.

My own childhood unfolded against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, and by this point in their lives, my parents were really active in local politics. I vividly remember when my father was elected to serve as the Democratic precinct committeeman for our area in Gary, Indiana. He organized community members and established the Wooded Highlands Democratic Club as a place to gather and discuss the events of the day. When I was quite young, my father would let me join him at these sessions. Later he led Wisconsin Steel Works worker protests following a mill closure that resulted in lost pensions for thousands of long-term steelworkers. His efforts helped the workers land a 14 million dollars settlement and the restoration of pension funds.

So, from an early age, I understood that, armed with compassion, commitment and a little strategy, any individual can truly make a difference in someone else’s life.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

My career in state government began when I was asked to serve as the Associate Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. In this position, I was in charge of health care regulation, which included overhauling the state’s oversight of nursing homes.

My team embraced a new motto: “Fair, Firm and Consistent,” and we worked hard to create efficiency and weed out cronyism. About a year into my tenure, I met with a group of Jewish nursing-home owners who were frustrated by an inspection report that cited a facility for having unpalatable food solely because it was kosher. Reading the report, I understood right away that the finding was based either on anti-Semitism or ignorance. Either way, I quickly withdrew the citation.

On the surface, the incident might seem like a minor affair. But it has stuck with me over the years because it drove home a simple point: you can’t be “fair, firm and consistent” without cultural competency. Fairness in regulation and policy development depends on understanding and respecting the values that all of your stakeholders bring to the table.

A few years later, when I took the helm as the department’s director, one of my priorities was to address the health disparities impacting communities of color across the state. I established an Office of Minority Health Affairs, and I pursued a top-down equity-based approach to policy. As I was pursuing those initiatives, I recalled the lesson I had learned through my earlier experience with the Jewish nursing-home owners and realized something critical: none of our efforts would succeed if our staff did not better understand the people we served and the problems they faced.

That’s why, in 1992, I led the Illinois Department of Public Health to become the first state public health agency in the nation to require all staff to complete a cultural competency course.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

My service as Illinois’ public health director began under Governor Jim Thompson in an acting capacity right before the election. Jim Edgar, a Republican, was elected governor. I’d been actively involved in Democratic politics for some time. I’d been active in the anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights movements. Needless to say, at first, I was a little concerned that, even if I managed to keep my job, my values and priorities might not align with the new administration’s.

At the same time, I had worked hard to build fruitful relationships with key leaders in Illinois public health and members of both political parties. I didn’t let my own party affiliation blind me to the possibilities of finding common ground and reaching across the aisle to get important work done. When Governor Edgar and I met to discuss whether I would stay in my role, we both discovered something important about one another: our political differences were less important than protecting the health of the people of the state.

We shared mutual respect, and this blossomed into a strong working relationship. In addition to establishing the Office of Minority Affairs during this administration, I was also able to modernize the state’s public health laboratory and introduce enhanced information technology to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

This experience demonstrated that disagreement in a civil society need not lead to unpleasantness and conflict. In fact, it can be extraordinarily productive.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Well, it’s impossible to overestimate the influence of my parents.

In the professional realm, the folks who’ve offered guidance and support along the way are too numerous to mention … though I should certainly single out the influence of Dr. Vera Markovin, an early practitioner of the specialty of emergency medicine. She was the first female surgical resident at Cook County Hospital and a co-founder of the emergency medicine residency at the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

As fate would have it, she was also the first true groundbreaker I’ve had the privilege to know in my career in medicine.

When I was a first-year medical student, I shadowed Dr. Markovin as she worked the Christmas Eve shift in the Oak Park hospital emergency department. That evening, I knew right away that I was hooked. The pace was so stimulating. I was fascinated by the challenge of seeing one unknown patient after another. The wide array of problems matched my broad range of interests, and I liked the idea of having an immediate impact on people’s lives.

After the holidays, I returned to school determined to figure out how to become part of this field, which was still in its infancy.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • The first is compassion. That’s what motivates my concern for others and my long-standing commitment to equity. As I mentioned earlier, my family’s commitment to the labor and Civil Rights movements instilled in me the importance of recognizing and fighting for every American’s fundamental right to pursue happiness and health. In 1966, we all marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Chicago. A year later, we traveled to Washington to protest the Vietnam War. Growing up, it felt like anyone who was leading the charge for civil rights, worker’s rights, equity and peace was a role model to me. In high school I participated in the typical activities: science and chess clubs, athletics. Yet, in an environment of racial unrest, political activism was also on my agenda. I formed a student group that pressed the school administration for fairness and justice for students of all races. These youthful experiences became an important part of my moral compass, serving as the foundation for my subsequent work and the basis of my approach to leadership.
  • The second is integrity. You know, I still try to live by the motto we deployed during my time with the Illinois Department of Public Health: “fair, firm and consistent.” I remember when my team issued a prominent nursing home with a significant violation after a resident died because staff had improperly placed a feeding tube into their lungs. The nursing-home owner — a rather prominent figure in the community — protested the decision, which I personally reviewed and upheld. A while later, the same man called me directly. “The word on the street is that you cannot be reached,” he said. Naively, I defended myself by saying that I promptly return all my calls. “That is not what I mean,” he responded. When the true meaning of his comment sunk in, I took it as a compliment. The office I was leading was doing its work with honesty and integrity. We couldn’t be bought or influenced. Fines were assessed and our rate of enforcement rose to meet national standards. We issued reports of findings and sanctions so that the public could make more informed decisions about care of their loved ones. I have no doubt that my reputation as someone whose work was “fair, firm and consistent” helped me land my position as the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Finally, I would attribute my willingness to embrace change as critical to my success. I’ve always been fascinated by the possibility of turning what could be into what is. It’s no surprise that science fiction is my favorite genre in cinema and literature! When I was a child, my mother wrote instruction manuals for build-it-yourself electronics kits. Lucky for my mom, she had some ideal subjects to help her test the clarity of her writing: me and my siblings. She’d give us the kits and challenged us to build the devices using the manuals she’d written. This experimentation with gadgetry, not to mention the influence of older siblings who excelled in math and science, stimulated an early interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Fortunately, I had some great public school teachers who recognized and nurtured my interest in science. Obviously, this led me to my career in medicine.

This youthful curiosity has also shaped my keen interest in utilizing new technologies to improve our health care system. So, there I was as a child, figuring out how to build radios and other devices for my mother. By 1983, I was a computer enthusiast and the proud owner of one of IBM’s first personal computers.

Not long afterward, I introduced enhanced information technology to the Illinois Department of Public Health, helping to implement the first integrated, paperless maternal/child health information system in the nation, Cornerstone.

Today at Blue Cross NC, I’m part of teams leading innovative work that relies on compiling and analyzing electronic data. We’re creating a health equity index to measure and help us address health disparities and testing models to determine how best to positively impact non-medical drivers of health

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Nelson Mandela famously said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

Those words capture how I’ve tried to make career choices that give me something much greater than personal gain. I’m proud to look over what I’ve accomplished and see that helping others has been the defining feature of my professional output.

From my early experiences in Chicago’s emergency departments to my current role leading Blue Cross NC’s efforts to address the non-medical drivers of health that shape well-being, I’ve remained steadfastly committed to work that makes an impact and improves health.

What’s changed is the scope. In the emergency room, I focused on triage — helping individuals in moments of crisis. Over the course of my career, I’ve grown more and more focused on communities. We can’t make individuals healthier without addressing community needs. This means addressing drivers of health that affect entire communities — like food deserts — while also focusing on individual needs. As I do this work each day, I am able to directly and indirectly make a significant difference in the lives of others.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about Food Deserts. I know this is intuitive to you, but it will be helpful to expressly articulate this for our readers. Can you please tell us what exactly a food desert is? Does it mean there are places in the US where you can’t buy food?

The term food desert is a bit misleading. For many, it might conjure up images of famine and starvation. That’s not what most Americans who are food insecure deal with.

A food desert is a geographical area where residents have limited or unpredictable access to affordable, nutrient-dense foods. Typically, these areas might have fast food restaurants and convenience stores stocked with inexpensive junk foods — chips, sweets and canned meats loaded with salt, sugar and preservatives. What they don’t have is fresh produce, legumes and unprocessed meats.

According to the USDA, a food desert is a low-income area where residents live more than a mile from the nearest supermarket in urban areas or more than 10 miles in rural areas. Without a car or access to efficient public transportation, these distances are insurmountable, especially with bags of groceries in hand.

By these standards, nearly 19 million Americans — that’s more than six percent of our population — live in a food desert.

Can you help explain a few of the social consequences that arise from food deserts? What are the secondary and tertiary problems that are created by a food desert?

Food deserts present serious health and safety concerns to those living within their borders.

Individuals living in food deserts are more likely to depend on junk foods that are high in fat and refined carbohydrates, simply because that’s what is available. Without nutritional foods, these individuals experience vitamin deficiencies. They are more susceptible to chronic illnesses, including diabetes, obesity and hypertension.

Children are especially vulnerable. They are more likely to face developmental and health challenges, including anemia, asthma and issues related to oral health. Eventually, deteriorating health threatens their academic prospects. Children facing food insecurity are more likely to lag behind their peers in reading and math. They are more prone to disrupt class and get into trouble because of anxiety and aggression. This isn’t because they are bad kids. Behavioral problems can be a physical response to poor diet.

This is one reason why food deserts are an especially tragic and complicated social problem: their impact is cyclical and tied to the problem of intergenerational poverty.

Where did this crisis come from? Can you briefly explain to our readers what brought us to this place?

In many cases, food deserts are physical indicators of longstanding, structural socioeconomic disparities and injustice. Research shows that food deserts are more likely to be located in communities of color, where economic disinvestment traces back to the redlining practices of the Jim Crow era, when banks refused to issue loans for homes located in or near Black neighborhoods. These economic practices, which were intentionally designed to enforce segregation, are no longer legal, but their impact lingers. It is obvious in the economic stagnation that continues to affect these neighborhoods.

Today, large supermarket chains with the purchasing power to stock shelves cheaply and efficiently routinely cite crime and low profit margins as reasons for not locating in communities of color. Ironically, as some studies have shown, this means that wealthier communities not only have greater access to fresher foods, they also have greater access to cheaper foods as well.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact to address this crisis? Can you share some of the initiatives you are leading to help correct this issue?

Blue Cross NC is committed to improving the health and well-being of our customers and communities, and we’re determined to make health care better for all. We understand that access to basic needs beyond traditional medical care is the foundation for good health, but everyone doesn’t have access to the same resources to meet basic needs.

In 2020 alone, Blue Cross NC invested 7.1 million dollars to help underserved individuals get better access to nutritious food and to help communities and farmers bring structural change to North Carolina’s food system. Our work extends well beyond traditional philanthropic efforts.

We are also implementing innovative new models to enhance access to the resources that can improve health. Just as importantly, we are rigorously measuring the impact these models have on well-being. If the data shows that these initiatives improve health and well-being, we’ll have an informed incentive to scale up these models.

Three of our model programs focus explicitly on promoting food security.

  • First, we have teamed with several community-based organizations to increase enrollment in FNS (Food and Nutrition Services) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). We assist individuals when they are eligible for these programs and connect them to resources that offer support through the enrollment process. We’ve been focused on this project for a little over a year, and have already seen significant impact, with 5.3 million dollars directed to more than 4000 households that need support putting food on the table.
  • Second, in collaboration with Pack Health, we have implemented a new food delivery program for eligible members with Type 2 diabetes who are also experiencing food insecurity. In addition to bringing boxes of healthy food directly to their doorstep, this program also offers participating members one-on-one nutrition-health coaching. The goal isn’t just to improve access to food — it’s to help members develop the eating habits and meal-planning skills that will transform their health.
  • Third, our prescription-based food purchasing program, Eat Well, led by Reinvestment Partners, provides eligible members with a monthly benefit stipend, which can be used to purchase fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables without added sugar or salt.

These model programs, along with the many other benefits and value-added services more widely available to our members, reflect a fundamental belief at Blue Cross NC: to make health care better, simpler and more affordable, we must address the non-medical drivers of health that impact lives. These include food security, along with housing, transportation, social isolation and other factors.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

To be honest, I feel immense pride practically every day, because I know our work impacts lives in tangible ways. It’s not just pride I feel — it’s gratitude. I am so thankful to be surrounded by my many teammates, who all are so dedicated to this noble purpose.

Some days, we’ll receive specific feedback from a member whose life has been positively affected. Those moments certainly energize me and the rest of my team.

Just recently, I was moved to hear from a woman who’s now enrolled in SNAP as a result of our program. She explained that, not too long ago, she routinely had to decide between buying groceries or her prescriptions. She described how rough it was eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because she’d spent her food money on medications.

“Well, I’m no longer just eating peanut butter and jelly … or just bread and butter,” she said.

Could there be a more powerful testament to how food security can improve a person’s quality of life? More than that, by helping her change her diet, we will likely help her improve her health and in turn lower her health care costs. This relieves some of the pressure on our state’s hospitals, and this is key to helping lower health care costs for everyone.

These personal stories are always an inspiration, but the real point of pride will come when we begin to see the data measuring the impact of our model programs that we can use to improve outcomes for all of our members and, by publishing the results, to improve outcomes for people across the country. We certainly hope to see evidence that these investments help members establish habits for good health that actually stick, and if these habits ultimately reduce the need for expensive medical interventions. We’ll use the information we gather to scale up the programs that prove effective.

In your opinion, what should other business and civic leaders do to further address these problems? Can you please share your “5 Things That Need To Be Done To Address The Problem of People Having Limited Access to Healthy & Affordable Food Options”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. One area of focus that can have a fairly immediate impact is investment in initiatives that help individuals overcome the barriers to accessing nutritious foods, specifically transportation. Without transportation, people can’t get to grocery stores and other resources they need to be healthy. As I mentioned earlier, help can be as simple as bringing food to an individual’s doorstep. But even bolder steps could empower people by giving them more agency over their food choices. For example, revised rules could allow them to utilize their FNS/SNAP benefits when they order groceries online for delivery. We can also harness the power of cross-sector collaboration to actually bring people to the store. For example, in addition to the models I’ve already described above, we are also testing an Integrated Companionship Support Model to help minimize the impact social isolation has on an individual’s well-being. This program offers many forms of support to eligible members who are socially isolated, including transportation to markets to help with buying groceries.
  2. For the longer term, communities need to explore ways to enhance food distribution in underserved communities. Obviously, support for food banks, Meals on Wheels and other similar efforts are critical in this arena. But leaders also need to think big to have more of a systemic impact. For example, Blue Cross NC supported the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) to help launch its FarmsSHARE program during the pandemic, which established a network of food hubs, farmers and cooperatives to provide more than 20,000 boxes of locally grown foods to feed North Carolina’s laid-off restaurant and hospitality workers. Those in need didn’t go hungry, and local farmers earned income after seeing supply-chain disruptions impact their livelihood. Based on the program’s success, CFSA aims to build FarmsSHARE into a sustainable, long-term local food distribution program that will reach community centers, churches and housing authorities. Broadly speaking, there needs to be a concerted push to ensure that these efforts reach communities of color, because Black households are twice as likely to experience food insecurity compared to White households.
  3. Enhanced access to healthy food options alone won’t change years or decades of learned eating habits. There’s plenty of research out there that suggests certain junk foods can be addictive. We also need rigorous education programs and health coaching to help people learn how to buy, prepare and store healthy foods. We recently heard from one participant in our Pack Health program that one-on-one health coaching is helping her overcome an eating disorder. That anecdote underscores the importance of the program’s educational component. It’s one thing to stock a fridge. It’s another to help people make those foods part of a healthier lifestyle.
  4. To have the biggest impact in a community, you need to have boots on the ground and local expertise. Business and civic leaders should build their investments in community-based organizations, with a specific focus on capacity building. For example, the MANNA Food Bank serves 16 counties in western North Carolina. Many of these communities are remote. Getting food and resources to them can be a real challenge. Blue Cross NC supported MANNA’s efforts to create a Mobile Food Pantry, because it is the most cost-effective means to reach food deserts spread across a 6,434-square mile service area.
  5. Finally, we need to enhance data sharing across the health care community. This is getting into the weeds a bit, I know, but bear with me. Extensive research shows that food security and other non-medical drivers of health, like transportation, housing and social isolation, have a direct impact on health and well-being. But the lack of data sharing across the health care community makes it difficult for providers and caregivers to coordinate a personalized, whole-person care approach that identifies and addresses how these drivers of health impact a patient’s total well-being. Currently, there are no set standards to help providers track and manage their patients’ social risk factors and social needs. Blue Cross NC is currently participating in the Gravity Project, a nationwide collaborative effort to establish protocols for collecting information regarding the assessment, diagnosis and intervention measures related to drivers of health, and for sharing this information across the health care sector and the social services sector. Establishing a universal language and a uniform set of best practices will foster more coordinated interventions and will help connect patients in need to the community resources that are best situated to help.

Ultimately, we also need to do a much better job gathering and sharing data on how food security and other drivers of health disproportionately impact communities of color. In so many ways, race underpins all of the factors that create barriers to good health. Developing the industry’s capacity to exchange uniform, reliable data on drivers of health will be critical to promote health equity for all Americans, regardless of color or background.

Are there other leaders or organizations who have done good work to address food deserts? Can you tell us what they have done? What specifically impresses you about their work? Perhaps we can reach out to them to include them in this series.

On the national level, Benefits Data Trust is having a significant impact connecting eligible participants to food and nutrition programs to increase their access to food. They are one of our collaborators in our SNAP enrollment program. Also, Meals on Wheels America’s work to deliver well-balanced meals to the homes of older individuals is more critical than ever. As people age, they can find it more challenging to access healthy meals, and America’s general population is aging rapidly… in 40 years, the number of adults over the age of 65 will double.

In North Carolina, in addition to MANNA and CFSA, Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA is doing innovative work through its Double Bucks Program, which matches shoppers’ SNAP funds dollar for dollar when they shop at participating farmers markets. This doubles the purchasing power of individuals facing food insecurity. More than that, it also supports our local agricultural economy as well.

It’s particularly interesting to see so many organizations investing in food security as part of a broader effort to build healthier communities. Because food security is so often tied to transportation, housing and other drivers of health, you really need to take a comprehensive approach. I mentioned North Carolina’s Reinvestment Partners earlier … we work with them on our food prescription program, but they also address housing, community development, health, and financial services, often from the legal perspective.

The Camino Community Center offers residents in the Charlotte area an integrated model of support, which combines clinical services, financial-literacy education and support to those with limited access to shelter and food. At the height of the pandemic, the Center transformed its warehouse into a delivery site for meals for school-aged children, enabling them to feed 500% more people.

To be honest, I could speak for at least an hour naming all of the organizations that are doing important work in this space. It fills me with optimism to see so many people dedicated to helping their fellow citizens have healthier, more fulfilling lives. At the same time, all of this work is a stark reminder that food insecurity is a severe problem in the U.S. Last year, more than 50 million Americans experienced food insecurity, including 17 million children. Wouldn’t it be great to get to the point where our nation — one of the richest in the world — didn’t need so many organizations, all focused on helping Americans put food on the table?

If you had the power to influence legislation, are there laws that you would like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

That’s a challenging question. If I had only one shot at shaping legislation, I don’t think I would introduce a new law — I think I would find a way to enhance an existing one. HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) has been instrumental in establishing rules and procedures that protect patient privacy. These same rules that restrict how and where payers and providers share confidential information can make it difficult for health care professionals to connect patients with the non-profits and community-based organizations that can provide access to food and other resources that can improve health.

None of us would want to see HIPAA weakened or dismantled. But, going forward, patient advocates, legislators and health care professionals should work together to refine rules related to the exchange of non-sensitive information for the purpose of helping patients secure the resources they need. I’m hoping that the work of the Gravity Project will be a step in this direction — establishing rigorous new standards for exchanging digital information while still protecting patients’ fundamental right to privacy and information security.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Well, remember that I came of age in the 1960s. I’m an activist and an idealist at heart.

So, I’d say quite simply, create health equity — where everyone has a fair opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This means addressing the historical factors that result in one fifth of our population living in communities that make it difficult to be healthy. This goal requires all of us working together so that every community promotes health and makes the healthy choice the easy choice for all.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I guess my answer reflects my nerdy sci-fi background, but I would love to meet Patrick Stewart who played Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Star Trek series was one of the first to portray people of different races, ethnicities and genders working together in highly technical settings. In addition to being a fan of Stewart’s screen work, I admire what he’s done off screen. He states that his politics are rooted in a belief of fairness and equality and that he has always stood up for his beliefs.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I’m active on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I suppose my LinkedIn channel would be the most logical place to start if you are interested in following my thoughts on health care. Anyone craving the occasional musings on all things Chicago, the Bears and science fiction might tune into my Facebook feed (laughs).

Of course, Blue Cross NC’s work to address food security is a company-wide effort, unfolding in different ways in how we serve our members and communities. I’d also encourage everyone to check out my colleague Cheryl Parquet’s LinkedIn page. She is the director of Community Engagement and Marketing Activation at Blue Cross NC, and much of her social media activity focuses on our philanthropic investments in community organizations.

Finally, Blue Cross NC’s Point of Blue blog regularly features compelling articles on community health, along with a wide range of other topics. Just recently, Feedspot recognized Point of Blue as the nation’s number three most influential health blogs. As we all begin to process the toll the pandemic has taken on our well-being, the blog offers guidance to help support mental health and wellness — not to mention expert tips on North Carolina’s best hikes and other fun ways to stay healthy. You can also find insights on getting the most out of your Blue Cross NC health insurance plan and tips to keep yourself and your family protected from COVID-19 as communities begin to re-open.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.