Advancing health equity requires an intentional focus on understanding the experiences, inequities, barriers, and biases that lead to disparities in care and outcomes. Reducing disparities requires a combination of fostering an inclusive culture and taking action. In Colorado, Rocky Mountain Health Plans, A UnitedHealthcare company, has made an equity a culture priority through Ambassadors for Belonging, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (ABIDE).
ABIDE is a group of team members that strives to build an intentionally inclusive culture of among employees, members and the extended community. ABIDE members represent many different areas of the business and levels of leadership, bringing diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. In addition to fostering conversations and learnings around equity and inclusion within the Rocky Mountain Health Plan team, ABIDE extends outward to act as ambassadors within the larger community and find opportunities to serve the local community and our members with greater compassion, respect and empathy. The group operates with a philosophy of serving as members of the community and using empathy and curiosity to build connections.
“The ABIDE program is working towards the ideal of being at work, in the community, and everywhere else as your authentic self,” said Gavin Lee, Information Security Engineer at Optum Technology. “We strive to create a sense of belonging that is for everyone.”
ABIDE members participate in trainings and discussions related to understanding bias, building new connections and establishing a foundation of trust and respect. Members also host voluntary meetings for Rocky Mountain Health Plan colleagues to hear from speakers about a range of topics. Recent discussions include breaking down the different types of diversity as well as the use of preferred pronouns. Ultimately, the group does not aim to change beliefs, but to create safe spaces where team members can build awareness and have courageous conversations.
“Taking time to listen to others’ experiences and viewpoints is vital in understanding the world around us and especially the diverse population that we serve,” said Violet Willett, Director of Care Management at Rocky Mountain Health Plans. “Some of the most important things that I have personally learned in the meetings is how people’s cultural beliefs and backgrounds impact how they view or seek medical care or treatment. This has reminded me that I need to really listen to what Members want and need.”
The ABIDE team aims to be outward-facing and connected within the extended community, inclusive of the people they serve and their local neighborhoods. For each ABIDE member, the principles of the group are embedded in their day-to-day work and in the ways they plug in to their own communities. Through community outreach, ABIDE looks to translate discussion and trainings into action.
“Because Rocky Mountain Health Plan began in Grand Junction, we continue to have a strong connection to our community – it’s a part of the DNA,” said Sally Henry, Crisis Resolution Team Outreach Coordinator at Rocky Mountain Health Plans. “It was a natural move for the work of ABIDE to be not only about the workforce but also about our community. We have a very real connection with the people, agencies and organizations who live in and are a part of the western slope. It only made sense for ABIDE’s work to flow out to them.”
ABIDE members have volunteered for clothing drives supporting an LGBTQ+ organization, spoken at community events, engaged with two tribal nations, and worked to connect recently resettled refugees from Afghanistan with local resources. They also used their skills related to empathy, curiosity, and relationship-building in community outreach to foster open discussions about COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. These efforts support ABIDE’s goal of being action-oriented and reaching out to the community to create a shared culture of belonging and support.
The program also supports an equitable, inclusive and empathetic experience for the Medicaid members that Rocky Mountain Health Plans serves. The result has been a notable shift in empathy and inclusive language. ABIDE participants have joined Member Council meetings to gain a better understanding of Medicaid members’ perspectives and experiences. A subcommittee was formed to find opportunities to improve accessibility of member materials. ABIDE aims to instill the spirit of doing right by members and to create an outlet to voice concerns and address systemic barriers.
“One of my goals was to create systems that analyze data and quality improvement support through a health equity lens,” said Bronte Smith, Clinical Program Manager Data Specialist at Rocky Mountain Health Plans. “This paved the way for me to plan and host Rocky Mountain Health Plan’s Health Equity Training targeted for provider and community partners, selected through the network of brilliant minds in ABIDE and focused on how equitable care drives quality.”
ABIDE strives to break down barriers to advance equitable outcomes and build an environment of respect, inclusion and empathy. As a result, the team is empowered to identify inequities and develop solutions. Through a combination of culture and action, ABIDE honors its commitment to advancing equity for employees, members and the Grand Junction community.