Allegheny Health Network, Highmark Health make changes after social unrest in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — The social unrest in Pittsburgh and around the nation in 2020 forced many people and companies to take a hard look inward. For Highmark Health and Allegheny Health Network, that introspection identified some issues and led to new programs aimed at change.

“When we started looking at ourselves we noticed this huge disparity gap,” said Highmark Health and AHN Senior VP and Chief Clinical Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Dr. Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew. “And so it’s time for us to now really dig deep and look at the gap in health care, but we also looked at our workforce development and found we have less African Americans and people of color who worked for us.”

Those findings led to several new programs, including ones to get Highmark Health and AHN into communities that couldn’t get to them. One way the company did this was through dozens of mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

“Sometimes we would be there all day and get one or two people. But we kept going back. It was a lot of resources but we knew we were investing in our communities around education, and it’s paid off. So now we’re starting to see an increasing number of people coming out for vaccines,” said Larkins-Pettigrew.

Highmark Health and AHN are also teaming up with local medical centers to decrease the high number of minority babies dying in Pittsburgh. They’re also working with the American Heart Association and going into neighborhoods to educate Black men and women about their high risk for heart disease.

“We’re going to barber shops, beauty shops, and athletics events to figure out where we can make a difference,” said Larkins-Pettigrew.

The company also has started a Straight to Business program. Ten high school students are enrolled in the program right now. They’ll get work experience in the company’s corporate offices and four years of paid college through Purdue University’s Global Online campus. The company is hoping it can expand this program in the new future.

Still, Larkins-Pettigrew said none of this is enough without a more diverse workforce. So the company also has created several programs for minority students, doctors and nurses, hoping if they get a taste of Pittsburgh, they’ll want to stay.

“Studies across the country have told us that people feel they get better care if they are with someone they trust. And many times they trust people who may have had similar life experiences. And so we knew we had to fix that,” said Larkins-Pettigrew.

Finally, Highmark Health and AHN have started a first-of-its-kind National Advisory Board. It’s made up of executives from large companies like Amazon, former U.S. congressmen, Homeland Security executives and college professors. The group met with Highmark Health and AHN top executives in November to find out more about the company’s commitment to inclusion, social justice, diversity and equity. The board will help go over the company’s goals and programs moving forward.