Employers Honored for Reducing Health Care Disparities

By SHRM Online staff Mar 22, 2011

Six companies were honored for their continuing commitment to reducing health care disparities in the workplace and for supporting a diverse workforce by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), a nonprofit association of large U.S. employers.

The companies—Aetna, American Express, H.J. Heinz Co., St. Francis Medical Center’s Franciscan Clinic, Verizon, and Wyndham Worldwide—were recognized with “Awards for Innovation in Reducing Health Care Disparities” at NBGH’s 2011 Business Health Agenda, held in March 2011 in Washington, D.C.

“A growing number of employers are recognizing how important it is that their health care benefits and health improvement programs meet the needs of a culturally diverse workforce,” said NBGH President and CEO Helen Darling in presenting the awards. “These employers recognize that by addressing health and health care disparities, they are improving the value, quality and effectiveness of the services their employees receive through health care benefits and productivity programs.”

Best Practices

The winning companies and the key components of their programs were described at the awards presentation as follow:

Aetna has addressed racial and ethnic disparities in health care by researching, developing and delivering culturally appropriate care for its employees. The company's efforts include its:

Breast Health Ethnic Disparities Initiative.

Beginning Right Maternity Program.

African American Hypertension Study.

ER Utilization in Minority Asthmatic Populations.

A key component of the effort has been the company-supported and employee-managed employee resource groups (ERGs). The ERGs have helped reduce barriers to collecting racial and ethnic data on a voluntary basis, leading to more culturally focused disease management and wellness programs.

American Expresssuccessfully created an integrated data warehouse to better understand health care disparities for its employees. As a result, all ethnicities have migrated from high-risk to low- and medium-risk categories. The company is using this data to address disparities through its use of on-site health clinics, its wellness program and partnerships with health plans.

Heinz has a bilingual culture of health and provides all written communications in English and Spanish as well as having translators available where possible to accommodate speakers of other languages. The company has on-site health champions, including bilingual support leaders, who encourage participation in a wide range of wellness activities among U.S. employees of all cultures. Heinz covers 100 percent of the cost of preventive screenings and flu vaccinations for all U.S. employees and their families to reduce potential barriers to early detection.

The Franciscan Clinic is a ministry of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System and was created to provide employees with greater access to timely, appropriate care. Prior to the clinic's opening, many employees were forgoing much needed care because of the cost. The clinic serves to eliminate social disparities within the organization and increase access through a medical home model that has increased the use of preventive services. Attention to health and wellness includes a focus on mental health and emphasizes education and diabetes management.

Verizon excelled in partnering with health care vendors, empowering employees through education and supporting and partnering with its own ERGs. The company’s annual vendor renewal process assesses the work that health plans are doing to identify and address disparities. In addition, Verizon implemented on-site mammography screenings to increase screening rates with minority women, aged 35 and over.

Wyndham Worldwide put in place an extensive “Be Well” program delivers benefits, health initiatives and resources to all U.S.-based employees across the company’s extremely diverse workforce. The program includes:

A full-time wellness advisor who works with the vice president of diversity to meet the wellness needs of a diverse population.

Domestic partner benefits available under most of Wyndham Worldwide’s benefits plans.

A wellness council comprised of a diverse group of employees to help enhance the organization’s wellness programs and resources.

ERGs through which black and Hispanic employees and veterans can voice their opinions and offer suggestions regarding company offerings.

“Health disparities affect all employers, and failure to address them will seriously hurt the health, productivity and quality of life of their employees and dependents,” Darling concluded. “With the current economic challenges, it is becoming important for employers to help keep their employees and dependents as healthy, engaged and productive as possible. We strongly encourage other employers to follow the lead of these leading organizations in addressing the issue of health care disparities.”​

Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job


The SHRM Member Discounts program provides member-only access to discounts on products and services you can apply to your life and career, and share with your company.



Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect