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Highmark Foundation announces $1 million grant to Food for Mountaineers program

Innovative pilot with WVU Medicine will reduce food insecurity and improve community health

West Virginia Press Association

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. – The Highmark Foundation has announced a $1 million grant over two years to support Food for MountaineersThrough this innovative collaboration, patients facing food insecurity will be provided prefunded debit cards to purchase nutritious food at Kroger, Walmart, and Dollar General.

According to Bread for the World and USDA data, West Virginia is the fourth hungriest state in terms of food insecurity. Simultaneously, the state faces the second highest rate of diabetes diagnoses in the country.

“Food insecurity lives in every community, exacerbating health inequities,” said Nebeyou Abebe, senior vice president, social determinants of health of Highmark Health. “Addressing social barriers to health, like food insecurity, is paramount to ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.” 

This is part of our long-term commitment to improving the whole person health of West Virginians,” said Jim Fawcett, president of Highmark West Virginia. “Highmark and WVU Medicine have worked together for years to create environments that make people fully healthy – mentally, physically, and socially, and we’re pleased to continue building on those efforts with today’s announcement.”

In the United States, social factors, or social determinants of health, the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age, can impact up to 80 percent of someone’s health. Food insecurity is one of those factors and contributes to several chronic conditions.

“Health-related social needs, like food insecurity, are significant drivers to overall health outcomes,” Sarah Patrick, WVU Medicine Population Health medical director, said. “We are thrilled to work with the Highmark Foundation and InComm Healthcare to provide improved access to nutritious food, so that patients can focus more on their health.”

Food for Mountaineers will serve community members receiving care in the Eastern and Northern panhandles of the state. It builds on an earlier grant by The Highmark West Virginia Charitable Fund for Health to support a similar collaboration with healthcare providers in the Huntington and Charleston regions. Through InComm Healthcare restricted use debit cards, eligible individuals will be able to purchase nourishing food at Kroger, Walmart, and Dollar General locations.

“This is an exciting partnership with WVU Medicine and its population health department,” said Yvonne Cook, president of the Highmark Foundation. “This opportunity allows us to advance food insecurity efforts in West Virginia and continues the Highmark Foundation’s commitment to supporting key drivers of health in the community.”

“Supplemental benefit funds are an effective way to promote healthy options in communities, and we are honored to help make this offering a reality with our payments solution platform,” said Dave Etling, senior vice president and general manager for InComm Healthcare. “We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Highmark Health and improving access to healthier foods throughout the region.”

About the Highmark Foundation

The Highmark Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) private, charitable organization dedicated to improving the health, wellbeing, and quality of life for individuals who reside in the communities served by Highmark, Inc. and its subsidiaries and affiliates. We fulfill our missing by awarding high-impact grants to charitable organizations that implement evidence-based programs aimed at improving community health. Central to the Foundation’s mission is identifying and continuously reevaluating our region’s prevailing healthcare needs. By doing so, the Foundation remains at the forefront of those needs, well-equipped to pinpoint the issues that more urgently need support.  

In 2021, two new restricted funds were established at the Highmark Foundation – the Highmark West Virginia Charitable Fund for Health and the United Concordia Dental Charitable Fund. These funds support the ongoing work of the Highmark Foundation across its footprint and beyond.   

For more information, visit www.highmarkfoundation.org and follow the Highmark Foundation on LinkedIn. 

About WVU Medicine

The West Virginia University Health System, which operates under the brand WVU Medicine, is West Virginia’s largest health system and the state’s largest employer with more than 3,000 licensed beds, 4,000 providers, approximately 30,000 employees, and more than $5 billion in total operating revenues. The Health System is comprised of 21 hospitals – including J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, a 700-bed academic medical center, and the 150-bed WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia – and five institutes. To learn more, visit WVUMedicine.org.

About Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia
Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia serves approximately 240,000 members through the company’s healthcare benefits business and hundreds of thousands of additional members through the BlueCard® program. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of West Virginia holds the largest share of the commercial market, and more West Virginians carry a Blue Cross Blue Shield card than any other insurance carrier in the state. Highmark West Virginia employs approximately 600 people and serves as a key economic driver in the state with its total economic impact reaching $352 million.

About InComm Healthcare

InComm Healthcare is the leader in innovative payment platforms and restricted-spend capabilities, serving more than 320 healthcare plans and reaching 8.5 million cardholders. Our proprietary OTC Network currently consists of 66,000+ retailer locations. Our online and mail order options give your members the convenience they expect. Our InComm Healthcare Dual Network Benefit Card ™ is revolutionizing supplemental benefits by allowing the flexibility to combine multiple benefits all on one card, including OTC products, healthy foods, produce/meal delivery, dental/vision/hearing, and more. Learn more at www.incomm.com/products/healthcare-solutions/.

Photo caption:

Front row left to right:

Sarah Patrick, medical director, WVU Medicine Population Health; Douglass Harrison, president and CEO, WVU Medicine Wheeling and Reynolds Memorial Hospitals; Stacy Castello, Food for Mountaineers enrollment coordinator; Yvonne Cook, president, Highmark Foundation; Jim Fawcett, president, Highmark West Virginia; Cathy McAlister, executive director, Highmark West Virginia Charitable Fund for Health

Second row left to right:

Chris McCormick, director, WVU Medicine Population Health; Albert L. Wright, Jr., president and CEO, WVU Health System; Aaron Henry, vice president of ambulatory operations, WVU Medicine Berkeley and Jefferson Medical Centers; Nebeyou Abebe, SVP Social Determinants of Health, Highmark Health, Jason Landers, president, Highmark Health Options West Virginia

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