The mission to “Unite Us”

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As a person experiencing homelessness, Michael Fields’ biggest challenge in addiction recovery was not simply achieving sobriety but finding the social support to maintain it. 

“I ended up back on the street every time, back in drug addiction,” says the 45-year-old West Virginia native who completed several treatment programs. “When you’re in recovery, you have to change everything about your life, or you change nothing.”

Michael’s story illustrates how social determinants of health can directly influence a person’s wellbeing outside a doctor’s office – with factors like affordable housing, food insecurity and education impacting up to 80% of health incomes.

William Turley does his laundry inside the Peer Center (a drop-in center for individuals experiencing homelessness) in Charleston, West Virginia.
William Turley does his laundry inside the Peer Center (a drop-in center for individuals experiencing homelessness) on Thursday, June 4, 2020, in Charleston, West Virginia. (Credit: Chris Cone/CVS Health)

To build healthier communities, especially during these unprecedented times where COVID-19 has contributed to massive layoffs and fewer resources for assistance, CVS Health and Unite Us launched a digital social care network in Central West Virginia. It provides essential services around substance abuse and mental and behavioral health. It also addresses other crucial needs such as employment, education, housing and food security.

“As an extension of our traditional plan offerings, we’re helping vulnerable community members access the non-clinical resources they need to improve their everyday health,” says R.J. Briscione, senior director of Social Determinants of Health Strategy & Execution at Aetna, a CVS Health Company.

Aetna, according to R.J. will also make the Unite Us network available to its Medicaid and dual-eligible Medicaid/Medicare customers in the region.

“This network opens up a whole new world to people who have access to limited resources,” says Jim Smallridge, RN, manager, Community Development for Aetna Better Health of West Virginia. “It’s an extension of possibilities for so many people in need.”

Amanda sits in the parking lot outside the United Way Drop-in Peer Center in Charleston, West Virginia.
Amanda sits in the parking lot outside the United Way Drop-in Peer Center in Charleston, West Virginia. She looks forward to the services she will be provided.

Looking toward the future, CVS Health and Unite Us are looking to provide similar networks in Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky and North Carolina.

Today, because he’s found the support he so badly needed through this program, Michael Fields now has greater hope for long-term sobriety. The United Way, a local Unite Us member, helped him apply for housing and food assistance. He’s also applying for a grant that would allow him to attend a local technical college.

“I’m definitely not taking anything for granted. I’m working every day to keep everything I’ve got,” he says. “It isn’t much, but it’s a whole lot more than I’ve had for a long time.”

Non-profit soup kitchen Manna Meal, a partner of Unite Us, prepares to serve meals June 4, 2020, in Charleston, West Virginia.
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Expanding COVID-19 testing for those who need it most

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Communities across the country are grappling with how to recover and rebuild during COVID-19, especially in traditionally underserved neighborhoods hit hard by the pandemic. As just one example, although African Americans make up 14 percent of the overall population in Michigan https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/MI/PST045219, they account for approximately 31 percent of COVID-19 cases and 40 percent of deaths caused by the virus in the state.https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus/0,9753,7-406-98163_98173---,00.html

We firmly believe that increasing the availability of COVID-19 testing and improving access — especially for those who need it most — is a crucial step toward recovery. Given our local presence in communities across the country, we are uniquely positioned to play a significant role in community-based testing efforts.

We are expanding access to testing in communities and neighborhoods most impacted by COVID-19, even beyond the more than 1,200 testing sites we have available at CVS Pharmacy drive-thru locations across the country.  To accomplish this we’ve partnered with national organizations such as the National Medical Association, local community groups including free and charitable clinics and community colleges, and state government and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Working with our community partners is an important part of our comprehensive testing strategy, as it allows us to tap into the network of a trusted organization with strong community ties,” said David Casey, Chief Diversity Officer, and Vice President, Workforce Strategies, for CVS Health. “Given our longstanding commitment to underserved communities, it only made sense to expand our testing efforts to the areas of greatest need and leverage our partners to help get the word out.”

A woman holds a nasal swab as part of a COVID-19 test while a medical professional, (wearing personal protective equipment) advises her on to use the swab to conduct the test.

These test sites are hosted by our community-based partners within their facilities, so they are familiar to and more easily accessible for nearby residents who may not have a personal vehicle or reliable transportation. All of our community-based test sites can accommodate patients arriving on foot, and appointments are made by phone, so patients do not need internet access. Signage is offered in English and Spanish, and testing is available to patients at all of our test sites at no cost.

At this time, we are planning to open ten community-based testing locations.

Our expanded testing efforts are just one example of CVS Health’s commitment to diverse communities, which also includes sponsoring free Project Health screenings in predominately Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx neighborhoods, workforce development programs that break down barriers to gainful employment, and supporting a variety of efforts that address Social Determinants of Health.

“Having seen the data that pointed to disparate impacts in Black and Brown communities, we knew we needed to do more when it comes to providing testing access,” said Casey. “Through our community testing sites, we are able to meet people where they are, bringing to life our company’s Purpose of helping people on their path to better health.”

Several people walking into a CVS Health community test center in Atlanta, Georgia.
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Addressing maternal mortality rates

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The United States is one of just a few high-income countries where deaths related to pregnancy or childbirth are on the rise. 

“It is more dangerous now to have a baby in the U.S. than it was two decades ago,” says Dan Knecht, MD, CVS Health’s vice president of clinical products. “That’s really alarming.”

Watch the video to see how CVS Health and Aetna’s combined capabilities are trying to turn that trend around by getting expectant mothers on a path to better health.

The company’s efforts include: 

  • Looking at racial disparities, including social determinants of health

  • Identifying high-risk patients through analytics

  • Mailing bottles of low-dose aspirin to expectant mothers to help reduce the risk of preeclampsia

  • Dedicated nurses working directly with members

“We have delivery channels that I think both surprise and delight patients through the retail side,” says Joanne Armstrong, MD, senior director of clinical solutions for CVS Health. “And then we combine that with a care management program where we have highly trained, dedicated, and passionate nurses who understand this clinical area, understand the diseases we're talking about and have relationships with the patients.”

COVID-19 has complicated matters further, but, again, CVS Health has stepped up to help. Along with an algorithm to help identify at-risk patients, liberalized telemedicine policies have allowed more virtual checkups.

An African-American woman, in an examination room, talks with her doctor about her pregnancy.
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At the heart of health

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We are working on the frontlines, supporting health care systems and delivering care to patients in communities across America.

Delivering frontline care

We are partnering with federal and local governments to ensure more people have access to testing and immunizations, bringing testing to over 1,000 communities. We have increased telemedicine visits by 600% and prescription deliveries by 1000% since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. And Aetna is supported thousands of our most vulnerable members, helping them find necessary health resources and ensuring their access to care.

Supporting hospitals

Together, we are serving patients with complicated illnesses and transitioning eligible IV therapy patients to home-based care, lowering the risk of exposure, and keeping more hospital beds open.

Serving communities

Together, we are putting our heart to work in communities across America, delivering medications to temporary medical facilities and making investments to support key priorities, including addressing food insecurity among vulnerable populations, personal protective equipment and mental health support for front-line workers and investments in community resilience funds.

CVS Health President and CEO Larry Merlo joined the hosts of ABC’s Good Morning America to discuss our expanded COVID-19 testing capabilities, the strength of our supply chain, and the company’s decision to return more than $43 million received through the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund.

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Addressing food insecurity in local communities

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A volunteer (wearing a face mask) loads temperature-sensitive food into an insulated bag for distribution. A woman in a red coat observes him loading the insulated bag.

Families across the country are facing significant challenges as they work to keep people safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, for many families, these health concerns are coming hand-in-hand with an unfamiliar worry: food insecurity. Lost jobs, reduced incomes and loss of access to school lunches have left many struggling with having enough to eat. Across the country, local nonprofits are stepping up with expanded services and innovative approaches to meet the sudden surge of need in their communities — and CVS Health is joining them to help. CVS Health and The CVS Health Foundation have provided more than $900,000 to organizations in local communities working to provide food to vulnerable populations, especially school-aged children, seniors, and the uninsured.

A $250,000 grant to Feeding America supported efforts to pack and deploy emergency food boxes to high-need areas across the country, including Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New York and Washington. These boxes will help local food banks provide children, families, and seniors with the food and nutrition they need, even as the need for food assistance increases.

A volunteer arranges pre-packaged cooked meals, in sealed containers, on a tray for distribution.

Many other organizations have developed entirely new approaches to respond to the unique needs created by COVID-19 and CVS Health is proud to support this work in the communities we serve. In Kansas City, Missouri, Feed Northland Kids received a grant of $20,000 to develop Community Food Kits. With shelf-stable foods, these kits are provided to families through in-school pantries, which will help address food insecurity among school-age children. And in Austin, Texas, a $25,000 grant to the Central Texas Food Bank helped the organization shift to a drive-through model to allow clients to still receive food while ensuring safety for clients, staff, and volunteers. Safety is a top concern at many nonprofits; Community Servings in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, used a $15,000 grant to streamline operations and continue to distribute more than 2,000 food boxes in April, even without the assistance of the as many as 75 volunteers they previously relied on each day.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented need and continues to present unique challenges in meeting that need. At CVS Health, we’re proud to support the local organizations that are rising to the challenge to continue to feed their communities.

To stay up-to-date on the latest CVS Health Social Responsibility news and content, sign up for email news alerts.

A volunteer (wearing a face mask) loads temperature-sensitive food into an insulated bag for distribution. A woman in a red coat observes him loading the insulated bag.
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Meeting the nutritional needs of at-risk populations

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A female volunteer pushes a cart full of food donation while wearing a face mask.

People facing serious illnesses often have specific dietary needs to support their health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, those needs are compounded in many ways. CVS Health and the CVS Health Foundation are working to support local nonprofit organizations across the country to address the challenges presented by the pandemic, with a particular emphasis on organizations helping people on their path to better health by meeting their unique nutritional needs. We have awarded nearly $200,000 in grants to support 13 community organizations across the country, providing medically-tailored meals for individuals with serious illnesses.

One such organization is God’s Love We Deliver in New York City, a community particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. Through a grant of $15,000, our support will help them continue to deliver their medically tailored meals directly to clients’ homes while accommodating the changing needs created by COVID-19. CVS Health also awarded $100,000 to the California Food is Medicine Coalition, repurposing a portion of its three-year, $40 million commitment to invest in California’s health care delivery system to respond to the pandemic. This grant will support six local sites across the state as they expand their meal services in response to the pandemic.

A female volunteer, wearing a red coat, delivers a box containing food donations to female senior citizens, who is smiling while standing in the doorway of her house.

“The grant from CVS Health enables the six California Food is Medicine Coalition (CalFIMC) agencies to increase their services — delivering thousands of nutritious meals to low-income and medically fragile Californians who are sheltered in-place and at great risk of contracting COVID-19 and more vulnerable to complications and death,” said Ann Thrupp, Director of CalFIMC. “We greatly appreciate the support CVS Health has provided CalFIMC to help respond to urgent community food needs for highly vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Funding for these organizations, and others like them in highly impacted areas, meet a critical need. With the support of CVS Health, these local nonprofits will continue to navigate these challenges and ensure that nutritious food gets to the members of their communities who need it most.

To stay up-to-date on the latest CVS Health Social Responsibility news and content, sign up for email news alerts.

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Supporting relief efforts in our local communities

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A woman, wearing a face mask and gloves, handles produce in cardboard boxes.

For years, our purpose of helping people on their path to better health has guided us and remains the North Star on our journey to transform health care. Today, our purpose is more important than ever, as we work to address the most critical public health challenge in our lifetime — the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many individuals and communities in need and we are finding meaningful ways to support our employees, patients, customers and partners nationally and in the communities we serve.

With investments of more than $50 million in philanthropic support through CVS Health and the CVS Health and Aetna Foundations, we have focused our efforts on supporting the needs of the most vulnerable populations: school-aged children and their families, frontline workers, seniors, those who are underinsured or uninsured and, of course, our own colleagues. Our comprehensive approach includes:

  • COVID-19 resource action funds: CVS Health is providing local support grants, working with key leaders and partners at the local level to identify priority areas and organizations who can help with community resiliency efforts.

  • Food insecurity investments: As a result of the pandemic, many are struggling to access basic needs, including food and personal hygiene products. CVS Health has made $1 million in investments to address food insecurity and other community needs by distributing much-needed funds to local shelters and food banks. In addition, we’re making nearly $40M in product donations to community organizations around the country.

  • Outreach to underserved communities of color: African Americans have higher rates of underlying health conditions and chronic disease and data show COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting this community. CVS Health has launched a multi-faceted public education and awareness campaign aimed at closing the gap on misinformation and lack of information in minority communities, tapping into communications and marketing channels to help increase access to relevant resources and ensure more members of this at-risk community are informed and able to access the care they need.

  • Increasing telehealth and at-home health services: With shelter-in-place orders throughout the country, access to health care remains an important concern for all populations, but in particular those who are underinsured or uninsured. In response, the CVS Health Foundation is investing $2 million to support telehealth and expand capacity for free health clinics and community health partners to make these services more available and reliable for patients.

  • Frontline support: From health care workers and first responders to essential retail colleagues keeping store operations running each day, the safety and security of those on the frontline is critical.

    • Support for health care workers: CVS Health and the Aetna and CVS Health Foundations are donating nearly $2 million to support health care and clinical professionals access much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) and behavioral health services. Grants to Americares, the American Nurses Foundation and Direct Relief will support access to PPE for health care professionals, including those in free clinics and community health centers around the country. In addition, these grants and additional funding for the Crisis Text Line will support behavioral health and mental wellbeing for frontline workers.

  • Workplace and employee support: We have committed to dedicate $1 million in value of colleague volunteerism to address the crisis to support services including clinical work, behavioral health support and peer-to-peer counseling. We also made a commitment to match up to $2 million in employee, board member and business partner contributions to the CVS Health Employee Relief Fund, which will make grants of up to $1,000 available to employees to address qualifying emergency needs related to the pandemic.

Read the full list of our partners supporting communities in need.

To stay up-to-date on the latest CVS Health Social Responsibility news and content, sign up for email news alerts.

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Data analytics uncovers opportunities to help members at risk for COVID-19

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Aetna’s clinical and customer service teams are helping to support Medicare and other members who at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 and may suffer serious illness from the virus. The enhanced outreach is thanks to a new patient risk tool developed by a cross-functional team of CVS Health clinical and data analytics colleagues.

The unique tool, which utilizes data from published clinical studies, Aetna claims data and publicly available COVID-19 tracking information, helps identify members who live in areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases and may be at increased risk for severe infections.

“The COVID-19 pandemic does not impact our membership evenly. Medically complex members living in hotspots are at particularly high risk,” said Daniel Knecht, M.D., Vice President of Health Strategy and Innovation. “This new model, which offers a county-by-county overview, helps us direct our telemedicine, nurse case management, and other patient resources where they’re needed most.” 

A number of pre-existing health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, and hypertension, are believed to increase the risk of serious outcomes from contracting COVID-19. By determining which Aetna members live in geographic areas with large numbers of COVID-19 cases and may have higher risk factors, clinical and customer service teams can connect with members by phone and other means to help them understand their personal risks. Case managers also discuss the importance of proper social distancing, good handwashing and other hygiene techniques, as well as potential symptoms of COVID-19.

“This model allows us to produce a daily map that lets us understand what’s happening across the country,” said Gui Woolston, Vice President, Clinical Product Analytics. “By calculating the high-, moderate- and low-risk Medicare, Medicaid and Commercial populations, we can ensure that our outreach is appropriate to the patient’s needs.”

Engagement ranges from phone calls to digital outreach or mailed postcards, all centered on sharing critical prevention strategies as well as helping to assess symptoms, where needed. Case managers and customer service representatives educate members about enhanced benefits that have been put into place during the pandemic. And they connect members with the additional social support and other services they may need to stay well during the pandemic.

“If there’s a second wave of the pandemic, it will be important that we have this infrastructure in place and ready to deploy,” Knecht said, adding that the model could be helpful in other types of public health incidents.

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Quarantined seniors face unseen dangers

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With an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that adults 60 and older "stay at home as much as possible." But, studies show that isolation and loneliness can cause seniors physical and mental harm. In fact, it can be more harmful to a person’s well-being than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Why loneliness is lethal

The first step in finding solutions is to understand that loneliness and social isolation are related, but different problems, says Dr. Christopher Lim, M.D., Senior Clinical Advisor, Aetna Medicare. Isolation is objective and can be measured by factors like the size of a person’s social network. In contrast: Loneliness is a subjective and personal feeling. Both are common among older adults.

A 2020 study found that nearly a quarter of Americans aged 65 and older are socially isolated, and some 43% of adults aged 60 or older report feeling lonely. Add on the isolation felt with the pandemic, and these people face increased risk for heart attack, stroke, or even reduced antiviral protections that are so important right now.

“Loneliness is not a normal state of being for a human,” says Lim. “Biologically, we depend on others to survive in the world.”

Making connections

Fortunately, there are ways we can all help older adults stay connected while respecting social distancing:

  • Resources For Living consultants call at-risk seniors identified by the Social Isolation Index to offer customized local solutions, such as food delivery.

  • SilverSneakers, now offers members age-appropriate online video workouts from home.

  • Papa, Inc. program connects college students and seniors through “Assistance from a Distance” to encourage positive thinking, help with ordering groceries and medicines and explaining telehealth tools.

  • Through an Aetna Foundation grant, the Meals on Wheels program is developing a training curriculum to teach seniors how to use technology to make online connections.

Dr. Robert Mirsky, Chief Medical Officer, Aetna, talking with an older woman outdoors.
Dr. Robert Mirsky, Chief Medical Officer of Aetna.

“We are continuing to look holistically at our social connectedness offerings to build out a variety of approaches to identify and support our members who are lonely or isolated,” says Dr. Robert Mirsky, Chief Medical Officer for Aetna Medicare.

You can help, too. Consider adding your neighbor’s shopping list to your own. Call your elderly relatives to remind them they aren’t alone. Schedule a virtual visit between your children and parents. The connections you make during this time could be lifesaving.

Help older adults stay connected

  • Make a plan how to social distance and sanitize their home. Update phone numbers for pharmacy and other home deliveries.

  • Schedule regular phone calls and video chats.

  • Organize a virtual game night using online board games or set up identical game boards and use a speaker phone. 

  • Create a virtual book club or have grandparents read bedtime stories.

  • Host a long-distance dinner party with meal delivery and phone or video conversation.

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Supporting causes that matter to our employees

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When Erin Wright’s daughter was born 15 weeks premature, she weighed 1 pound, 5 ounces and had to stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 16 weeks.

When leaving the hospital to bring their daughter home for the first time, Erin’s husband turned to her and said, “We are going to give back to this place because this place gave us our daughter.”

That’s exactly what Erin and her husband have done thanks in part to the CVS Health Foundation Volunteer Challenge Grant Program. The program helps colleagues like Erin, a healthcare category manager, provide even more support to the causes that matter to them.

When leaving the hospital to bring their daughter home for the first time, Erin’s husband turned to her and said, “We are going to give back to this place because this place gave us our daughter.”
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Grants, which range from $500 to $5,000, are awarded directly to the organization on the colleague’s behalf.

“We hear all the time from the organizations that receive challenge grants that they really rely on those funds,” says Joanne Dwyer, CVS Health Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability. “They're critical in helping them advance their mission.”

Along with Erin, watch the video to see how the program is supporting colleagues like CVS Pharmacy intern Willie Dunnam. Willie is working with the underserved population in Mobile through a student-run free health clinic, which recently used $1,000 from the program to purchase an AED (automated external defibrillator).

“Everybody has a chance to volunteer,” says Willie. “It shows you what you can do.”

A photo of Erin Wright in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UMass Memorial Health Care.
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