David Holmberg, president and CEO of Highmark Health
January 5, 2021 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm

Joyce is so excited to start 2021 with a champion of competitive employment for Americans with disabilities. David Holmberg, president and CEO of Highmark Health will be her guest. Mr. Holmberg launched an initiative in 2020 to hire 30 people with disabilities from Bender Consulting Services to honor the 30th anniversary of the signing of the ADA, called the Highmark 30/30. Even during the pandemic, Highmark was able to achieve the goal becoming a national example. During the show, David will talk about the initiative and how it happened. Highmark Health is a $19 Billion-dollar integrated health care delivery organization with headquarters in Pittsburgh, PA.


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JANUARY 5, 2021

2:00 P.M.





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   >> ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Disability Matters with your host Joyce Bender. All comments, views and opinions expressed on the show are solely those of the host, guest and callers. Now the host of Disability Matters, here's Joyce Bender.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Hey, everyone! Hi. Welcome to the show. I hope all of you are having a great day in the United States and around the world. I cannot thank you enough, all the countries that follow this show. The largest being ‑‑ the largest country, China. To all of you, even if there's one person, such as in Finland, one person makes a difference. Thank you all so much. Keep spreading the news about quality of life for people living with disabilities.

    Hey, Yoshiko Dart, special shout‑out to you. As I tell everyone on every show, she is the wife of the late and great Justin Dart who is a legendary disability rights leader. Boy, I knew he was famous, Yoshiko, when he was a Jeopardy question. But he is and was a great, great man. And she is carrying on that mantle. And why I always do this is, it's upsetting that people with disabilities, that we don't have our history prominently in our school systems. So, Yoshiko, I'll always be reminding everyone about the General behind the ADA.

    Also whether we're talking about around the world‑‑ Tim my friend in Okinawa, Japan; Richard in South Korea; Sheryl Harris Indonesia; Fenmen in Kazakhstan; these are all the folks I told you about with the U.S. State Department. They are diplomats at those embassies. Every one of them work with me trying to find more employment for people with disabilities.

    And from Morgan O'Brien, thank you for getting us ‑‑ last year ‑‑ a one‑year sponsorship. Wells Fargo for being a sponsor. The Employment Options. But guess who has been a lead sponsor for six years? No surprise, it's Highmark. The company I always talk about saying Highmark sets the "high mark" for other companies to follow when it comes to helping people with me, people with disabilities. As you all know, I live with epilepsy. Really being a national example of employment. Because you know what I always say ‑‑ you've heard me say it over the past 17 years many times. Where the rubber meets the road is employment.

   And that is why ‑‑ oh my goodness, like, I am so on top of the world because we have the Chairman, CEO and National Champion ‑‑ National Champion; I just think so highly of him and the company. But David Holmberg is in a class by himself when it comes to a CEO that has led the charge for hiring people with disabilities. And we are going to talk about the Highmark 30/30 in a little bit. But may I tell you, to everyone listening and to all the members of Highmark, he is the real deal.

   David, welcome to the show.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Well thank you very much, Joyce. It's an honor and I appreciate everything that you had to say. I'm calling in from the front lines of the war on COVID right now, and I think you'd be pleased to know that among our 20,000 caregivers in our many hospitals as well as the 20,000 people that work for Highmark above and beyond that, that many of our folks who have disabilities are on the front lines of this battle. And carrying their weight and they're leading by example. And you should be very proud.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: I am very proud. I am very proud. And it couldn't happen without a great partner like Highmark. But of course, you on your own, the employees of Highmark, on those front lines, remember, everyone, that there are many healthcare systems ‑‑ and I'll let David talk about that in a minute. But Allegheny General Hospital, for example, Cindy Hunderfean the CEO, is wonderful. Her new employee Veronica who is very disability oriented and has a disability. All of them are working every day to save lives and that's why we're so proud to say that about this company.

    So, David, since we do have listeners not only across the United States but around the world, how about if you tell everyone first about Highmark Health.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Sure. Thank you very much, Joyce.

    Highmark Health is one of the largest Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance companies in the United States. The fourth largest actually. In addition do that, we have the Allegheny Health Network which is 12 hospitals and, as I mentioned before, over 20,000 clinicians who are delivering care in the states of Pennsylvania and for people from not only around the country but who come in from around the world to seek specialized care. So it's a very diverse organization, integrated health system. One that is on the advanced side of transforming healthcare. We call it Living Health. But it's really about maybe doing things differently than have been done before and bringing innovation to the front lines of healthcare sooner rather than later and finding ways to improve access to care, affordability, and improve outcomes.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: And what a great hospital ‑‑ all the hospitals. I am the most familiar with Allegheny General Hospital. But your healthcare ‑‑ even when I've been to the Westford Health Pavilion, everyone has been outstanding to work with and carries that same feeling of caring for the customer, and I so do appreciate that.

   But just as you mentioned when you first got on, you are ongoing working to fight COVID throughout all of these hospitals through Allegheny Health Network. What has been going on? Could you share with your listeners what it has been like?

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Sure, Joyce.

   I mean, it's been extraordinary. You know, going all the way back to, you know, February. And obviously, we've got listeners in China. We were following very closely what was happening in China and Italy and it became very apparent that this was a global pandemic that was emerging. And so we assembled our teams. And you know, just like with 9/11, it became a defining moment for our leadership teams. Because it was very clear to us that while other parts of the country were under siege, it was coming our way. And you know, this virus doesn't discriminate between people without disabilities and people who do have disabilities. It doesn't discriminate between what your race is or your religion. It attacks everyone. And you know, and it's been very, very important to us that we bend but not break. That we find ways to navigate this, to take care of all the people that we serve and be on the front lines of innovation. And we're very proud of the fact that here in Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, that we've been able to innovate and advance some of the care initiatives that have been successful around not only in the U.S. but around the world as we've learned how to fight this virus, help people survive, and get them back home as soon as possible.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: And you know, something you said earlier about people with disabilities, you know, working on the front lines. It has been very meaningful to the employees that you hired ‑‑ that I know that you hired from Bender, celebrating the Highmark 30/30 ‑‑ to be able to say, yeah I'm in the IT area but I'm still helping at an organization that is saving lives. You know, that is very meaningful to everyone, and I think that's such a great thing.

    And right now ‑‑ okay, we have a caller on the line. Tony, are you on?

   >> TONY COELHO:  I am, Joyce.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Hello, Tony Coelho. How are you?

   >> TONY COELHO:  Good. How are you?

   >> JOYCE BENDER: It is such an honor to hear your voice. By the way, the first show of 2021.

   >> TONY COELHO:  Thank you, Joyce. I'm honored to be calling in while David's your guest.

    David, I've always been a big admirer of yours and what you've done. I was just hearing Joyce commenting about the 30/30. I remember when that was announced; You know, hiring 30 people for the anniversary ‑‑ 30th anniversary of the ADA. The last part is special to me as you know. But hiring 30 people with disabilities is really very important for our community. I've told the previous five Presidents that there's only one group in our country that I know who wants to pay taxes, and that's those of us with disabilities because that means we have a job. We have income, and we are committed to doing the job the right way and making sure that the employer appreciates our efforts and talents. But having a job is one of the most important things for people in our community. And I appreciate all that you have done to help Joyce over these years to make that dream come true for so many people in the Disability Community. You're one of my heroes because of your willingness to really be aggressive and set an example for other companies to work with Joyce and provide jobs to those of us with disabilities. So I applaud you and thank you, David, for all you've done.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Tony, thank you very much. Supporting an inclusive workforce is more than the right thing to do; it makes Highmark Health a stronger business and more valuable to our customers.

   And the 30/30 initiative really came out of a simple breakfast that Joyce and I had where I said to her that I wasn't seeing enough people in our lobbies and in the elevators that had a disability and I thought that we could do better; So for the 30th anniversary, for the work that you did to set the table for all of us, you know, it became a logical thing to do.

   What I didn't count on was, you know, the pandemic and the fact that we would take, you know, literally tens of thousands of people and have them start working from home. And what we found was that many of the people who have disabilities that we've brought on, as well as the folks who were already with us, that while their challenges are different in this environment, they've been incredible assets to us and they've helped us really understand our customers better and what they were dealing with. And they've carried their weight ‑‑ more than their weight in making a difference for everybody that we serve. So it's really been an honor.

   And again, respectfully, you set the table for this 30 years ago with legislation here in the U.S. so I can't help but thank you for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

   >> TONY COELHO:  Thank you, David.

    But you know I talk about what you folks have done for our community and working with Joyce several, several times and that it's an example of what a lot of companies could do but it takes leadership from the top to get that done. And you've proven that, and that's a really important thing for our community. And so I wanted to make sure that I got on the call today to let you know not just how much the community appreciates but how much I personally appreciate all of your work and efforts and support for the community. So I just wanted to call in and say thank you.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Thank you.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: And also, Tony, thank you for calling. You are the author of the ADA. I know you have worked with the Disability Community during the recent presidential election, and I know that you have talked to the candidates about supporting people with disabilities. And isn't it amazing that our next President has a disability. Do you want to talk about that one minute?

   >> TONY COELHO:  Yeah, I will.

    For the first time, David, we ‑‑ every candidate running for President on the democratic side this time talked about disabilities ‑‑ developing a disability program ‑‑ and talked about disabilities during the campaign. This is the first time that's ever happened. And that's a big plus. And then we've got on the democratic platform 87 different references to disabilities. So great progress in getting involved and engaged. And what I am doing now is that I am heading up an effort to have the Biden Administration hire people with disabilities for the Administration, and we're involved in those negotiations and those efforts right now. But it's exciting to see what's coming and what hopefully will happen. Obviously, COVID changes everything as you pointed out, but we still have to move forward and have to handle these programs and hire the right people to run them. So it's been an exciting time.

   And the one thing that I'm happy about is that during the campaign there were people who were talking about Biden having mental difficulties. But really what was happening ‑‑ and, as you know, that stutterers ‑‑ what they do is when they get to a word that they can't bring out, they immediately change the sentence or change the thought so they can keep going. And Joe's been stuttering since he was four years old. So much so now that he doesn't even know he stutters. It's just so automatic that he turns. But it was important for the public to know that he stutters. And so at the convention this young man ‑‑ a lot of you on this call probably saw him talk about his stuttering and talking about the impact that Joe Biden had on him personally in accepting his disability. And then after that in several of the ads and so forth the issue of Joe's stutter was open and so forth.

    So having a president that openly acknowledges his disability and works with young people who stutter is a great thing for our community; because it shows that many of us in our community, if you set your mind to it, you can accomplish a lot. And ultimately becoming President of the United States is a big one. So it's been great to work with President‑Elect Biden on this whole effort with the Disability Community.

    I just want to make sure that people on this call realize that I'm also very fond of Papa Bush and W. Bush and Clinton and Obama because they all addressed certain parts of the movement on disability. Papa Bush signing the ADA; W. Signing the ADA Amendments Act; Clinton enforcing the ADA; and then Obama aggressively enforcing the ADA better than it ever had in the past. So this was a journey over the last 30 years that a lot of people have participated in. It's not a partisan issue. It's a very bipartisan issue. And I've appreciated all the efforts of all these individuals in making the ADA real.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Tony, I think the work you are doing with the Biden Administration is critically important. And leadership matters. And for the President to lead on this issue is critical not just for this community but also for the country in general. And you know, what I've found is a lot of well‑intended people who don't necessarily know how to put the pieces in place to be able to actually make a difference. And so for the Administration to do that is good. For companies like Highmark Health to do that through how we've developed workforce education, the recruiting pipeline, business resource groups, things like that, that's the key to moving from it's a good idea to action. And the work that you are doing and the Administration is doing will pay off in dividends.

   >> TONY COELHO:  Thank you, David. I happen to agree with that. And the most important thing is getting people on the train ‑‑ as you call it ‑‑ on the job train. Our community is way behind in regards to other communities. But just giving us the opportunity to fail ‑‑ as I tell Joyce all the time‑‑ means that if we are given that opportunity we can succeed. But if we don't get the opportunity to fail, we can never succeed. And so this movement that's taken place today is so critical for our community. Because the unemployment rate among our community is extremely high; in the 80s. And so it's something that we have to address. And you are addressing that and President‑Elect Biden is addressing it now. So on behalf of the community, we're all very appreciative of our efforts and President‑Elect Biden's efforts.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Thank you, Tony.

   >> TONY COELHO:  And we appreciate Joyce Bender's efforts. There's probably no one in America who does more in the area of placing people with disabilities in professional jobs. And Joyce knows, I brag about her all the time, but she is a dynamo in regards to our community, and we love her for that. Thank you, Joyce. I don't want to take up any more time but I just wanted to make sure I got on the line to thank David for all his work.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Thanks, Tony. Thank you. Thanks so much for calling in.

    And I see we have more than one caller here. So, Rich, are you on the line?

   >> RICH FITZGERALD: I am indeed, Joyce. How are you?

   >> JOYCE BENDER: I'm good. Hello Rich Fitzgerald, how are you today?

   >> RICH FITZGERALD: Good. Good. I wanted to call in and thank David for his commitment. You know, his company and David himself have been great partners in our community. And you know it's a big initiative in Allegheny County and Southwestern Pennsylvania to be as inclusive as we can. And the Disability Community who often is left behind when it comes to employment opportunities is certainly, you know, an initiative that we all want to get behind. And the fact that David Holmberg and Highmark are doing this is ‑‑ they're to be commended, and I want to thank you them publicly.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Well thank you, Rich. I would say the feeling and the admiration is mutual. You've been an advocate for the Disability Community. You've been a true leader in the battle against COVID‑19. And you know, you've been incredibly inclusive, you know, looking for ways to help all members of the community and not just some. And so we are very grateful for the partnership and grateful for our commitment to the Disability Community.

   >> RICH FITZGERALD: Well thank you. That is a great announcement today. And obviously, Joyce and her work over many, many years, you know, this great partnership of hers, and we certainly are able to get the advice and guidance where she can give us to where we need to go. But obviously, having great corporate partners like Highmark and David are incredibly important to what we need to do. And yeah we've got a lot of work to do in the next year with the vaccine and getting, you know, back to normal, whatever that means again, but we want to make sure everybody is included in the inclusivity of people from the Disability Community. We're going need their efforts, their commitment and their energy to move forward.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Hey, Rich, I just want to say something. For everyone listening to the show, this is our County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. And I want you to know that we have this event every year at the Heinz History Center. This year it was virtual. And what it is the Bender Leadership Academy is a not‑for‑profit from Bender. But before I did this as a volunteer for 20 years. Every single event for these high school students with disabilities, every time I have asked Rich, he has been there. He is a great leader. And, Rich, on behalf of every person with a disability in Allegheny County including me, thank you for your leadership.

   >> RICH FITZGERALD: Well, thank you. And I look forward to these events being in person again. That's a great event you have every year at the Heinz History Center. To see these young people and the energy they have is very exciting. Yeah, let's hope this year we're able to do it again. So good luck you guys. Thanks for everyone. And thank you again, David. Talk to you guys.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Thank you, Rich.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: You won't believe this, we've got another listener. But before we take that listener ‑‑ I mean, person that called in ‑‑ I want to say something about something David said earlier.

   First of all, if there wasn't a Highmark, there wouldn't be a Bender Consulting. Because 26 years ago Bill Lowry ‑‑ I mean, when he passed away a couple years ago I was so devastated because he is the first CEO that stood behind me to get this company started. And every CEO since then has kept this commitment. I mean, it is an incredible partnership. David, I can't begin to tell you the levels you've taken this to.

   But I just want to comment on something he did no CEO ever has done. And that is every year we have this little holiday breakfast. This year it will be a breakfast but a virtual breakfast. But we have this little holiday breakfast. And I've done this with all the CEOs. So, you know, when you're trying to see people with disabilities hired, you go to meet the CEO and you are thinking, I hope he keeps his commitment, I hope we can keep this going. And before I could say almost hello David, he says, hey Joyce, I just want to say something; You know, I haven't seen enough people in the lobby in wheelchairs, and I haven't seen enough people signing; you know, we've got to do something about this.

   I'm telling you, I almost fell off my chair. No one has ever done that. And that's how he has been. And then he came up with this idea of the Highmark 30/30. I want to make sure you get this again. That was in December. Then the pandemic hit. He kept his commitment even through that. Even through the pandemic.

    And another person I want to commend is Larry Kleinman who worked as a partner with us on this. But David kept that commitment. That is why, as you will see soon, this new story is being told everywhere nationally. But, David, I just want to tell you that's what made it even more amazing. That people with disabilities like with quadriplegia and bad enough as it is but they would have never had a job. So I want to thank you again.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Well, thank you, Joyce. I mean, the thing that I had to learn was how to do this. I knew what my gut said, what my heart said, but you know the Bender Leadership Academy, you know, figuring out how to not only bring people on board, give them a hand up not a handout and learn how to do this successfully, you and your organization played a critical part of it. And I can't emphasize that enough. We needed to learn how to do this well. And so I'm very proud of the work that's being done. I'm proud of the people because they're carrying their weight and more than some others might be; because, you know, they are passionate about the opportunity. And the best thing that happened for me, Joyce, was at one of those events that we were able to do in person a year or so ago, you know, an 18‑year‑old who was graduating from high school and going on to college came up to me and introduced himself. And he didn't clearly have a disability but he was at the event. And he said, I just want to thank you. I said, why? And he said, because ‑‑ and he pointed across the room. He said, that's my dad. And he said, and because of Highmark and what you guys did to create an opportunity, I grew up in a normal household with a normal lifestyle. And he said, you know, you have no idea what a difference that's made; You know, we're not any different than any other family. And so it was impactful for me and helped me understand, you know, that this isn't just about helping one person; it's about helping multiple people when you figure out the secret sauce here that makes this work. And Bender Leadership Academy has been a critical part of that.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Well, thank you.

   Well as I said this has had a huge impact and we have two people on the line. Peri, are you on?

   >> PERI JUDE RADECIC: Joyce, I'm here. Thank you.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Okay. And could you introduce yourself so everyone knows. I know they know my anchor person but I just want to put in perspective with David.

   >> PERI JUDE RADECIC: Well it's really such an honor to be able to do this, Joyce. And as a Pennsylvanian, as a former person from Pittsburgh, and Allegheny County and as someone who leads Disability Rights Pennsylvania, we're an organization that helps support the needs of people with disabilities. I want to thank David and Highmark for their commitment to people with disabilities. Highmark is a terrific company and I think it's as a result of David and the great team he's built underneath him. And we're just so proud of all the work he's done with the 30/30 program and hiring people with disabilities in such a difficult, really a difficult year. And what a tremendous effort. And I just really wanted to call in and thank David for that work. And it's just been tremendous. Really, thank you.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Well, thank you. And again, I can't emphasize enough the importance of the work the community does. Whether it be the Bender program working with the public schools here, you know, bringing kids in so they can experience the work environment while they're in high school, working with some of the kids or adults who have gone through college and need a partner to be able to make the transition, post‑college co‑op programs, the recruiting fairs, all those things are part of how this program has been so successful. And our ability to do the 30 for 30 commitment was on the basis of a strong foundation that was built well before me. So I appreciate the compliments but you know it's the entire team that's pulled this together and it really is a team effort.

   And the important thing to recognize for most people is other organizations can duplicate this. This isn't something that's so unique to us. It's a blueprint for success if others are willing to go on the journey.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: And, Peri, thank you so much for calling in. CEO of Disability Rights Pennsylvania for the State. Thank you for calling us.

   >> PERI JUDE RADECIC: Thank you, Joyce. Bye.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: David, I wonder if I'm going to get to talk to you. I'm not sure about that. This is so exciting that all these people are calling in.

   Maria, are you on the line?

   >> MARIA TOWNE: Yes, I am, Joyce.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Hello, Maria Towne. How are you?

   >> MARIA TOWNE: I'm fine thank you. How are you, Joyce?

   >> JOYCE BENDER: I am doing great. And Maria is the CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities. I met Maria when she worked for the Department of Labor in the Office of Disability Employment Policy. But then I saw her the most when she was with the Obama Administration right on the side of that White House where the president is. And, David, actually she worked with Valerie Jarrett. And now we're so lucky to have her as the CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

   By the way, Maria, you know, that show that you were on with Kelly is already in the top ten.

   >> MARIA TOWNE: Oh wow that's incredible!

   >> JOYCE BENDER: I know. Go ahead. I know you didn't call to talk to me, Maria.

   >> MARIA TOWNE: Well, Mr. Holmberg, I just wanted to say thank you so much for your commitment to hiring people with disabilities. As you know, employment for people with disabilities still lags behind employment of people without disabilities even 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act. And this is probably under reporting, but we know that during the pandemic one in five workers with disabilities have lost their jobs; those very, very hard gained jobs. And so the fact that Highmark has hired 30 people with disabilities in commemoration of the anniversary, and I'm sure will continue to hire people with disabilities, is just incredible.

    And you know that a job is more than a job, right. It helps people stay connected to their communities. We know that people with disabilities who are employed are also ‑‑ vote at the same rates as people without disabilities. And it is also a great way for people to maintain their mental health which has also been a huge concern during the pandemic. So I just wanted to say thank you and to communicate the significance of what you and Highmark are doing during this time.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Well, Maria, thank you very much.

   From our perspective, what we've seen in this pandemic is that it's disproportionately hit certain groups of people and the disability group or category has been disproportionately hit and a tremendous impact. So we made a decision early on in ‑‑ understanding that that is a historical fact that we made a decision early on to make sure that we held on to as many people as possible and we helped everyone transition to a work‑at‑home environment that possibly could. Again, it was the right thing to do but it was the smart thing to do. Because as an organization this group of people makes us better and helps us be more effective with our customers. It also helps us as we work with the government around some of the national healthcare programs, those kinds of things. And so it was part one of our early decisions that we made in how we would bend but not break. So I thank you for your work that you are doing, and I look forward to the President‑Elect and the opportunities ahead of us as we drive out of this and we start focusing on the future.

   >> MARIA TOWNE: Yes, thank you so much.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Maria, thank you for calling in and we are going to have another great year at AAPD with our rock star Maria Towne. She is so awesome.

    Well David, as you can see, you have made a big impact. So I better hurry up and ask my questions or I won't get to talk to you much longer.

   So there is something I want to talk about. But first, David, isn't it amazing that, you know, someday, years in the future people will be saying did you know they used to have to call a CEO and thank them because they hired people with disabilities. To put that in perspective, do you know they had to call a CEO and tell them, wow that's great you hire women. Do you know what I mean? Someday people will look back on this and they'll be astonished.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Well Joyce, I find it astonishing today that we even have to think that way.

   You know, I'm very proud to say that among our Executive Leadership Group that the senior positions in the organization, we're 50 percent men and 50 percent women. I'm proud to say as an organization, you know, we pay equally regardless of gender. And I'm very proud to say that we're one of the best places in America to work if you are a person with disabilities for the sixth consecutive year.

   What I'm not proud to say is that there's more work to be done. And the fact that we stand out in the environment tells you how much more work that needs to be done.

    You know, I want to get to the point where, you know, as we all discussed, that when you walk through the lobby of our organization or any of our facilities that it's just normal and not unique to see people with disabilities. And you know, we will get there. And you know, I think people have to remember that diverse workforces and diverse talent really strengthens organizations; it doesn't hurt them; it makes them better.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Yes, it does. It's not about pity. It's never about pity. You do a good job, you keep the job. You don't do a good job, you don't keep the job. Equal treatment. But I'll tell you what, I'll put my employees or people with disabilities hired against anyone. You know Jamie, David. And here's someone that because his wheelchair broke down and no one could help him on his way to work when he was on the sidewalk, only a few blocks from Highmark, he called the police to get an ambulance and went back on a stretcher because he did not want to miss work. Thank God that they were able to fix that wheelchair when they got there. But, folks, that's why when you get a chance to work it is the greatest thing in the world and David's right. Everyone listening to this show, I will tell you right now ‑‑ you know how I am with being careful who I endorse ‑‑ this is the best company in America for any person with a disability to work for.

   And David, there is one thing I want to make sure you get to talk about before the show ends and that is the impact that COVID had on telehealth.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Well Joyce, first of all I'm humbled by the things that you've said. And again, as an organization, Highmark Health and the Allegheny Health Network are truly focused on exceeding people's expectations. And the story you told about Jamie ‑‑ a true story ‑‑ just reflects how important it is to create, you know, jobs and education for people so that they have purpose and hope and a feeling that they're in control of their own destiny, and so we're very proud to be part of that.

    You know, as far as telehealth, what we've learned is we went from in February maybe a couple hundred calls that were virtual doctor visits‑‑ you know, FaceTime, et cetera ‑‑ to literally 2‑ and 3,000 per day. As we've learned in the pandemic, there's a way to improve quality of care, improve outcomes, and accessibility by using, you know, Zoom, using My Chart, the Epic Electronic Medical Records, and other tools ‑‑ Microsoft Teams ‑‑ to be able to reach people. For people with disabilities it's not uncommon for them to have a difficult time getting to a doctor's appointment or seeing a clinician. And what we've learned is that, you know, that people are willing to adapt. And about 50 percent of our clinical visits now are virtual and it's been an extraordinary advancement because patients are more comfortable and consumers are more comfortable. Also the clinicians have learned how to do it well. So we tell people that if you don't have to be hands on the patient and there's an opportunity to do it virtually, do it because all of a sudden you are eliminating the barriers of transportation. You are eliminating the barriers that exist in why people miss their appointments. So it's been a tremendous success with the Allegheny Health Network and through Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield across all four states that we appropriate in.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: And I was thinking, you know, when you were talking about all of this and how your staff, your leadership team is. Bender Leadership Academy ‑‑ you know I've been doing this for 20 years on a voluntarily basis; teaching high school students with disabilities.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: How our staff and leadership are?

   >> JOYCE: Your leadership team. Right. Your leadership team. I went to‑‑

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Joyce, I think I lost you.


    I lost you there. Sorry about that.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: I thought maybe you got tired of talking to me.



    I am afraid of you, Joyce, I wouldn't hang up on you.


   >> JOYCE BENDER: What I was starting to say is about your leadership team. Wow! When I wanted to start the Bender Leadership Academy I go to Deb Rice‑Johnson and she says, absolutely I want to do this just the way Bill Lowry's helped you get going with Bender Consulting. And it is Highmark that gave me the first grant ‑‑ I mean, the first contribution to get started at the Bender Leadership Academy. Karen Handlin, she calls me and she said, I just want to make sure is there anything else we can do to help you because it's important to me with our partnership to keep everything going; and if you need anything call and let me know. Larry Kleinman who said, I want to be on top of this to make sure that we've got everything moving, keeping jobs for people. Nick Mallick who called and said, how many can I hire and how fast. Dan Anarado who has been the same way. I mean, I could go on and on and on. I know your new general counsel, Carolyn, is very committed to the employment of people with disabilities. Cindy Hunderfean ‑‑ say no more ‑‑ she has been phenomenal hiring people. So this is what Highmark is like.

   And I'm going to tell you one of the things they've all shared with me is part of what makes all of this right is working for David Holmberg. But that's the example of that leadership team at Highmark.

    And I think we have a caller on the line. Is Lynn on? Looks like we lost her. Okay. Well that's okay, you know, can't keep everyone holding forever. David is so popular here.

    So David, I wanted to ask you what message do you have for your leaders during this pandemic? What message do you give them?

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Well you know, thank you for asking that. I'm very proud of the team that I work with. I love to come to work every day because we have the privilege of making a difference in millions of people's lives. And if you are in China or Finland or here in the United States, you know, I would tell you that the message that I deliver is, keep your eye on the horizon. You know what do we need to do for ‑‑ what do we want to accomplish for a year from now, three years from now to make a real difference. And how do we focus today on the things that are necessary and important in order to deal with this pandemic and to give people the best opportunity they have to live the life they want to live. So what all that means to me is relentless discipline. You know, having the resolve to ‑‑ when we fall to fall forward and get up and keep going forward. To keep looking for innovative solutions and to be resilient. I think resiliency matters ‑‑ both personally and in organizations. And you know, all it takes is one person who champions a cause and who starts ‑‑ sort of ignites it and helps get everybody else on board. And that's what the people before me did. So it was an easy transition to come in here and focus on an environment where people with disabilities could be successful. But it's the same thing with the pandemic, Joyce. We're all relentlessly focused on "bend but don't break." You know, we have a mission here. We're the front line. This is what we were built for ‑‑ both on the healthcare side and the insurance side ‑‑ was to ultimately stand our ground in a pandemic. And that means backing up the people who are touching patients and giving them care. But it also means it's about getting the supplies where they're needed; to the people who can have the most impact. And so when I wake up in the morning I expect us to be better than we were yesterday, and I think we've instilled that in the leadership team and they do the same thing.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Well, you have done that.

   I'm sorry, I know you don't like it when people make a big deal over you because you are that leader who serves but to me you are just a giant. And I hope other companies listening to this show today will realize that people with disabilities right now are frightened; what's going to happen to me after this pandemic. Because if you notice, it was 70% were not working and now it's gone up to 80%. I mean, not part of the workforce. And that is scary. What's going to happen after. So, you know, that's why what you're doing is so unbelievably important.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Well, thank you.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Do you have a message for our listeners today?

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: Self‑rescue. My message is, if you want to make a difference and you want to have an impact ‑‑

   I've told this story a number of times, but I had the opportunity to learn to white water kayak a couple times. And the first thing they teach you ‑‑ you know the instructors teach you is self‑rescue. Don't wait for somebody else to bail you out of the problem. So taking the initiative to make a difference, both personally and you know, from an organizational standpoint. Again, it doesn't matter what country you're in. It doesn't matter what your circumstances are. What matters is you take one step forward every day virtually or physically and you know, you look to find people that are willing to help you on this journey because they're out there.

   Mr. Rogers, you know, used to talk about look for the helpers. I mean, they're there. And you know, I think that in everything that we do, you know, there's all sorts of things that are going to happen that you can't control. So control what you can control and reach out to a Bender Academy. Reach out to others that are willing to join you on the journey. And again, you know, if you are a decision maker, if you are in a position as an influencer or can have an impact, hand up is a very powerful thing. And everybody needs it at different times in their lives, so it's best to, you know, to stick that hand out when you don't need it if you expect some day down the road you might need a little bit of help. It's amazing how many people will show up when you've had an impact on them throughout their lives.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Well, how true that is. True, true, true.

   You know, I want to mention, if you are listening ‑‑ well if you are listening and want to tell someone, you've got to share this show. They can still hear it on demand ‑‑ Apple or Spotify or voiceamerica.com. You can share this podcast and you can give this message of hope to other people living with disabilities. And you can give this challenge to other business leaders. If you are listening now and you are even at a small business, tell everyone to listen to this show.

    And I have to ask this final question. Now, David, I wish I could say oh yeah I could think of five other CEOs that accomplished what did, and have accomplished what you have over the years. Why do you think that is, that you are the way you are? I've always wondered this.

   >> DAVID HOLMBERG: I don't know, Joyce. I mean, I think it has a lot to do with the way I grew up. I didn't grow up in an environment that ‑‑ you know, I grew up in a family where we ate Mac and cheese for two weeks in a row because that's what we had in the cupboard. And the reason why we did because if it was nineteen cents a box and came from Kraft. So I'm very cognizant of where I came from. And you know, I've also been very cognizant of the fact that people have sponsored me or mentored me along the way and that's made a difference.

   So when I see people who might need a hand up or sponsor or mentor to help them figure things out, you know, I go back to, you know, the way I grew up and recognize that by the Grace of God and maybe some determination, you know, on people's parts, I've been very fortunate and benefitted from it. So I do try to give back. I try to recognize ‑‑ and so does my wife. I mean, in the end we believe that a very important part of our success has been being grateful and being willing to make a difference for others and give them that shot as well.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Well, what a great example you are from where you came from to where you are today.

    With that, again David Holmberg, CEO of Highmark Health. Look them up. Highmark Health, one of the best countries in America and for people with disabilities in the country in America.

   We end every show with a quote and this so fits David's philosophy. "A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business" said Henry Ford.

    This is Joyce Bender, America's voice! Where disability matters at voiceamerica.com. Talk to you all next week.



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