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Elevance Health: Trailblazing Support for Working Family Caregivers

We are so grateful to Donna Gibson, Staff VP Benefits at Elevance Health, who joins us this week for a standout episode of the I Am Not Alone podcast. 

While there is so much buzz around the need to support family caregivers in the workplace, Elevance Health remains dedicated to innovation, ensuring every associate has exactly what they need to feel supported and successful. By relying on data to inform decisions and determine the types of support associates need, Elevance Health has identified caregiving as an integral part of its innovative and inclusive benefits strategy.

Listen to the full episode to hear why Elevance Health believes now is the moment to support working family caregivers, and why ianacare remains the best choice for the organization.

About the Guest

Donna Gibson is Staff VP Benefits at Elevance Health. She is passionate about supporting Elevance Health associates with the support and resources they need to remain healthy and successful. Donna has been an incredible leader and trailblazer in bringing support for the organization’s working family caregivers.

As a family caregiver herself, Donna deeply understands the need for employers to support this employee population and has led by example with Elevance Health’s innovative benefits package and its inclusion of the ianacare platform.

[00:00:00] Jessica: So hello, Donna. I am so excited to do this podcast with you. Thank you so much for your time. I am beyond excited to have this conversation. You and Elevance Health have had tremendous impact on ianacare’s success, and honestly, really deeply influenced us as co-founders.

[00:00:18] Jessica: Uh, so. Always forever grateful, but your impact is much greater than ianacare alone. We, as a society are at this pivotal point right now where the realities and the impact of caregiving have come to light in a whole new way and we no longer can ignore it. So we have a lot to unpack here, but before we get into that, behind every advocate and leader, there is a personal story and you have quite a powerful one.

[00:00:45] Jessica: So I’d love to start with you sharing. What made you so passionate about caregiving and caregiver support? 

[00:00:52] Donna: Yeah, happy to share that and glad to be here. I am pretty passionate about caregiving and supporting those that are caregivers. Um, I’ve been with Elevance [00:01:00] Health for four years now, and I’ve been in employee benefits, well, for a very long time. Over the years, I’ve really seen the role of caregivers change. It’s evolved. So many employees are working full time, caring for their children, caring for parents or other extended family and friends. In my role here at Elevance Health as a Staff vice president of associate benefits, I get the opportunity to design benefits for a hundred thousand associates.

[00:01:24] Donna: That requires me to really understand what our associates are facing, um, and put the benefits in place that can really meet their needs and help them live the healthiest lives that they can. Claims and leave level detail, really tell a story. Um, you really know the health challenges that someone’s facing, um, because you see it in the claims and you know, if you see it in the claims, you know, they are actually caregiving or giving care to someone else.

[00:01:50] Donna: I relocated for my role here in Wisconsin to Indiana. And just before my move to here to Indiana, my sister called me one day and had just found out that she had [00:02:00] terminal lung cancer. She was the caregiver to my great niece who had some significant needs. I was devastated to learn that I was going to lose my sister.

[00:02:08] Donna: um, but trying to figure out how we could help her with her being so far away was really challenging. We didn’t know how we would get her to appointments. We didn’t know who would take care of my niece. We didn’t know how this was going to work. So it was very, very difficult. We did the best we could, but unfortunately that was only the tip of the iceberg.

[00:02:27] Donna: About a year into it when my sister was just getting really bad, my mother-in-law called us and told us that she was very ill and in the hospital. So my spouse had to take time off of work, had to travel to another state, unpaid to take care of my mother-in-law. They stayed for a long time, but eventually had to come back.

[00:02:48] Donna: At this point, when my spouse came back home to Indiana, my mother-in-law was still in the hospital and had just gotten released to go home. Then my sister passed, we began a legal battle [00:03:00] to get custody of – get guardianship over my great niece. And, we’re trying to figure out how to put food on the table for my mother-in-law trying to figure out how to get her to appointments, trying to figure out how is anybody taking care of her?

[00:03:11] Donna: How do we get help? So it was a lot, it was a lot to handle and it was a lot to overcome. And this was all while I was in my first year of work here at Elevance Health. 

[00:03:20] Jessica: I mean, Donna, every single time you share that story, I learn something new and I will never forget when we launched at Elevance Health and you shared your story, it impacted the hundreds and thousands of people that were just really listening to you.

[00:03:37] Jessica: And it was just so powerful how vulnerably and openly you shared. And I think it’s, so I just wanted to encourage you and thank you for, for sharing your story as a key leader that you know, people would look at you and not think that you’re dealing with any of this. Um, but you had so much going on. So I’m curious that while you were going through this and that whole experience, [00:04:00] did you formally call yourself or recognize yourself as a caregiver?

[00:04:06] Donna: Wow. Interesting question. Never once did I think of myself as a caregiver during that time.

[00:04:10] Donna: Never once. It wasn’t until after they had both passed. And we had an eight year old who needed a lot of care that I recognized myself as a caregiver, then COVID happened. And I found myself with more work than ever, a child that wasn’t in school that I was caring for and trying to figure out how to make it all work.

[00:04:26] Donna: But we find this a lot. We find that leaders or individuals working in companies are caretakers, but they don’t share it with anyone else. They just bear that burden on their own and try to take it all on and get it all done. Yeah, totally. 

[00:04:38] Jessica: And I think a huge part of it is that, uh, if we don’t name something, it’s not actually real.

[00:04:44] Jessica: Right. And so that’s why, you know, there’s a whole debate. Whether we call ourselves caregivers or not, I am totally in the camp of, we need to call ourselves caregivers because it’s only, then that we will be recognized even to ourselves and other people. Um, and [00:05:00] even in this moment, many employers still wonder, right?

[00:05:02] Jessica: If caregiver support is truly needed. And in contrast, your personal experience gave you such conviction and you really put action behind it as a leader. So take us back a little bit. When you first approached the idea of caregiving support, as part of the benefits package offered to Elevance Health associates, how did you think about it in terms of what they needed?

[00:05:27] Donna: Well, our strategy is really important to us. Elevance Health is dedicated to serving members across their entire health journey, and that includes our employees. So my focus is on our employees’ health journey. Caregiving is absolutely part of that health journey. So advancing healthcare is part of what we do.

[00:05:42] Donna: And when we found ianacare, it met a need. It was in line, not only with our company’s vision and mission, but it was in line with our benefit strategy. It was absolutely the right thing for us. 

[00:05:52] Jessica: Hm. And your story’s always such a powerful representation of how we can be completely thrust into caregiving at a moment’s [00:06:00] notice, right?

[00:06:00] Jessica: With no preparation, no formal support, no training. And you learned firsthand the types of support caregivers actually need on a day to day basis, not just on these case basis, that open and close, but caregiving is ongoing. So we need tools and resources to allow them to sustainably integrate the way we live, work and care.

[00:06:23] Donna: Yeah, one place to manage it all is really nice, which is exactly what ianacare does. I get the support from knowing that others are facing the same challenges and flexibility at work. So then 

[00:06:33] Jessica: let’s break this down a bit. So what were some of the gaps in support you realized in your own caregiving journey that made it hard to balance care alongside your responsibilities at work?

[00:06:43] Donna: Oh, wow. There was so much going on. Um, when you’re caregiving and taking care of the person you’re worrying about your job and what your employer thinks. So you’re taking care of them and you’re worrying about work. And then when you’re working, you’re worrying about the person you’re supposed to be taking care of.

[00:06:57] Donna: Do they have what they need? Are they getting to their appointment? [00:07:00] Have their needs been met. So either way you feel guilty. Employers can eliminate that worry though. And they can close the gaps by providing things like time away for caregiving, um, tools, just like ianacare, mental health support, like through your EAP program, behavioral health programs, and really most importantly flexibility at work 

[00:07:19] Jessica: And so, you know, there are a lot of solutions out there, right. And there’s even other solutions for caregiver support. But I remember you saying it, I’ll never forget that you said, you know, ianacare was the right choice for our associates. So being in a leading position as advances health is, you know, you’ve had your pick of caregiving solutions. You’ve seen it all. So what made ianacare the best caregiver support resource for Elevance Health? 

[00:07:45] Donna: Well, there were a lot of reasons. It was the right tool for us and you’re right. We did look at a lot of solutions, but ianacare is an innovative digital tool that really partners with one-on-one support.

[00:07:55] Donna: So it’s digital, but it also provides that one-on-one support that caregivers need. And even [00:08:00] better, it integrated with our own benefits. So oftentimes employees don’t know what type of benefits they have available to them. So the fact that we could integrate our benefits into the actual tool and still provide digital resources and one-on-one support was absolutely the right choice for us.

[00:08:15] Donna: And at the end, it was in line with our company and our benefit strategy. It was cost effective and it was scalable to our large workforce. 

[00:08:22] Jessica: Yeah. So it’s interesting. We’ve done a lot of work of integrating all of that. You already have as well to make it really effective and efficient and to see all the benefits.

[00:08:30] Jessica: And it was really successful at Elevance Health. Um, so. You kind of touched upon this, but, so how did you think about the comprehensive nature of the platform in comparison to other very point solutions that were focused on a narrow slice of it? 

[00:08:46] Donna: Well, the fact that ianacare incorporated our specific benefits and offered both digital and live support is what made it the clear choice for us.

[00:08:53] Donna: It was that combination of those three things. 

[00:08:56] Jessica: Okay, so you’ve yeah, so it’s like the technology and the [00:09:00] combination with the human factor. So we have very, you know, white glove concierge, personal help. Um, but we also have tech layers to enhance that. So was that a key part for you that you felt like was really important?

[00:09:15] Donna: It absolutely was. So when it comes to caregiving, you need both. The digital tool coordinates and pulls things together. Like it pulls together all of the tasks that a caregiver needs to do and get covered. So you can put in that my person I’m caring for has an appointment on Friday and I’m working and then all the people in your support group can just

[00:09:32] Donna: pick up that appointment and it gets taken care of without you ever having to go out person to person and ask for help. So that’s really good. On the digital side, it really helps get things coordinated and gets, gets tasks covered. But then on that human side, it offers an outlet for that caregiver where they can get the emotional support that they need or get help

[00:09:50] Donna: with the, with the things that they’re facing and some of the challenges that they’re facing, they feel less alone. Mm-hmm . 

[00:09:56] Jessica: Yeah. And you know, I think everyone does know that the I A N A [00:10:00] of ianacare stands for, I am not alone. That is like the core mission. And we always think about that whenever we think about our solutions, um, and you touch upon this and, you know, we see a lot of point solutions and instead we don’t need another point solution, right?

[00:10:12] Jessica: We need an infrastructure of support designed to meet caregivers where they are. And as we evolve as their care evolves, um, and the partnership with you and your team have made this a total success, but it couldn’t have been possible without you Donna, I honestly can say that we’ve learned about the importance of the leader to be that internal advocate.

[00:10:35] Jessica: And so when you saw the opportunity to support associates with, ianacare, how did you advocate for caregiver support internally? How 

[00:10:43] did 

[00:10:43] Donna: you sell it up? Well, it wasn’t all that hard. We make decisions based on data and our data told us we needed something like this. Um, with the help of our analytics team, we were able to segment our data out and we could clearly see that we had a large portion of our workforce that are caregivers.[00:11:00] 

[00:11:00] Donna: We already had critical caregiving leave in place. And we had had that for a few years and we know how many associates are using that paid leave program. So that alone made it a really no brainer. 

[00:11:09] Jessica: I love your focus on data. I think that’s so important. Um, especially given that we launched our pilot right as the pandemic began in a time of uncertainty for every employer, you know, did this inspire you to push harder for bringing the support to associates as everything was being pushed into the home?

[00:11:27] Jessica: Like, how did that 

[00:11:28] Donna: impact your decision? Wow. I guess the timing couldn’t have been better. Um, we know that many of our associates were in, were able to use ianacare during the pandemic to help with their caregiving needs. Um, and many of them continue to use it today. But during the pandemic, it was such a helpful tool for our associates that were at home and had children at home with them and they needed tasks covered.

[00:11:49] Donna: So they could use it and get support and help from family and friends for getting kids, um, tutoring and getting childcare set up and just getting things covered that, that they didn’t know how they [00:12:00] were going to do. 

[00:12:01] Jessica: Yeah. And it’s interesting cuz we did launch in the pandemic, but we’ve seen even the engagement grow since then.

[00:12:07] Jessica: Um, and so it, it does really emphasize the fact that this whole integration of life and work is continuing to happen. It’s a forever change. Um, but let’s get real here. Like did you meet any pushback in bringing caregiving support, uh, and benefits to the table and what was the reception like from other internal stakeholders?

[00:12:27] Jessica: Well, 

[00:12:28] Donna: I think there’s always pushback here and there, but as long as you have the data to, to support your idea or support what you need, I think things are easy to get through. Timing was clearly on our side in this situation, the data showed that we needed it. Um, we had the results from the pilot, which were great, and most importantly, it aligned with our company’s mission vision, and it aligned with our benefit strategy.

[00:12:50] Donna: So our internal stakeholders were really highly receptive of it. 

[00:12:54] Jessica: Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s great to hear. And, um, I know sometimes a pushback can be, oh, but we have so [00:13:00] many other existing things, you know, to offer them. What about this sliver of the piece or this other sliver? Um, but how did you think about caregiver support interacting, uh, with existing complimentary benefits?

[00:13:12] Jessica: Like you mentioned, it was good that was integrated, but, you know, um, how did you see it strategically and how it was gonna kind of get launched at Elevance Health. Yeah. 

[00:13:23] Donna: Well, I didn’t really think of it as a way of interacting with our other benefits. I wanted it to be the launchpad for connection to other benefits.

[00:13:31] Donna: As I said earlier, associates and employees at companies, they don’t know all of the benefits they have available to them. They don’t sit down and learn them all, and they don’t know about them until they need them. And that’s when we need them to be in front of them. So the fact that we could integrate the benefits that we have in the ianacare app, so employees had direct access to them as soon as they logged in, that was really helpful for us. And I think that was a pivotal piece of making it successful for us. So I saw ianacare not only as a caregiving support tool, but a way to [00:14:00] connect our associates to all of the other benefits that Elevance Health offers.

[00:14:03] Donna: And it was truly support for them and their families. Yeah. 

[00:14:06] Jessica: And, and just, uh, seeing how you saw it and how it got implemented. We really learned from that, and we can learn from so much from the way you really rallied the whole company around caregiver support. It really is having such a big impact. So let’s dig into those results then.

[00:14:21] Jessica: So, um, the actual impact. So as you reflect on your own experience, and now you’re seeing ianacare in real time supporting Elevance Health associates who are caring for a loved one right now? Um, what were your hopes for the way that this benefit would support associates? Like what were the reactions from associates directly?

[00:14:42] Donna: Well, those of us in benefits, we always have the best intent and the highest hopes for our employees, through the benefits that we put in place. You hope that it’s going to help someone live a better life. Stay or get healthy, support them through a difficult time or retain them as an employee. And ianacare did just that for us. We [00:15:00] have one associate who’s a young single parent of a toddler and their mom was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and they had just had their driving privileges, revoked. They were trying to juggle their full-time job, a toddler, a demanding workload, and all this while they were taking care of their mom.

[00:15:16] Donna: So they had gotten connected through ianacare through our benefits team. Um, and they used it and it really helped them. And they reached out to us and they told us we don’t want this to go away. This has really helped me in supporting, taking care of my mom while still being able to focus on work and take care of my toddler.

[00:15:34] Donna: We don’t want our associates to feel stressed and ianacare is a great tool to help them manage it all. 

[00:15:41] Jessica: And it’s been a true honor to really dig in and serve your associates alongside you. Um, and so as we look at the future as, as a trailblazing champion of caregiver benefits in the workplace, as you are, where do you see caregiver support in the larger benefit and rewards landscape moving forward?

[00:15:59] Donna: Well, [00:16:00] you know, I don’t think most people would go to a company today that didn’t offer medical insurance. And I hope in the future, that’s where we land with this. I think it will evolve to be one of those benefits that all employers have to offer to attract and retain associates. Um, it will be just like vacation, medical, dental, or vision. Candidates will come to expect some type of caregiving support.

[00:16:18] Donna: But until it becomes that way, I really think that the employers that offer caregiving benefits will have an advantage over the ones that don’t. I mean, 

[00:16:26] Jessica: I think that’s critical. And we’re this is like the pivotal moment that we’ve been talking about. And so, you know, why is it, why does now feel like that right moment for employers to advocate and focus on caregiver, support benefits like ianacare.

[00:16:39] Jessica: Well, why 

[00:16:40] Donna: now? Why? Why not now? I mean, the pandemic shed light on the realities of caregiving, many associates face every single day. While they may have been extreme during the pandemic. They are always there and associates are more vocal than ever about the benefits that they need and the flexibility that they need.

[00:16:56] Donna: And I don’t think that’s ever going to go away. While the pandemic was hard on [00:17:00] all of us, there are things that came out of it that have changed the way employers have to think about a lot of the benefits that they provide. 

[00:17:07] Jessica: But I mean, we also do recognize though, and a lot of people who are listening to this will recognize that there’s a lot on HR’s plate.

[00:17:13] Jessica: I mean a lot um, and so a key realization is, you know, is this a priority? So prioritization is key. So why would you recommend companies who are still evaluating caregiving as a need and prioritizing against other benefits? 

[00:17:31] Donna: Well, you’re definitely right. HR has a lot on our plates, but look at your data. It will tell you what you need every single time. And if you don’t have the data, talk to your associates and your employees and give them the ability to tell you what they need, because they will tell you.

[00:17:45] Donna: And funding benefits like this can be challenging. We don’t get extra funds to pay for things like this. So you have to be willing to take a good look at what you’re offering and figure out what’s working and what’s not working and be willing to make some changes. That’s what we did here at Elevance Health.

[00:17:59] Donna: And [00:18:00] I’m so glad that we did that. 

[00:18:02] Jessica: Okay. So if we think about numbers, right? The, one of the biggest questions we get asked is how many employees really need this? Like how many, how big of a problem is it really? So what is your response to that? 

[00:18:13] Donna: Well, we have a lot of people use the benefit, not only ianacare, but our critical caregiving leave.

[00:18:19] Donna: But I would still go back to looking at your data. It will tell you what you need. It will tell you, it will give you a picture of what of what’s going on within your company. Look at your leaves of absence. How many people are taking it for taking care of someone else. Look at your claims. Look at hardship withdrawals from your 401k or retirement plan, and then find out why those things are happening.

[00:18:37] Donna: Ask questions, ask questions about caregiving in things like your associate surveys and ask people when you get the chance, when you get the chance to talk to them, people will share their stories. 

[00:18:47] Jessica: Yeah. And then, you know, as we, especially as we move now through the current climate where employers are reacting to changes in the world around us, you know, so things have changed and they continue to change.

[00:18:58] Jessica: There’s a lot of [00:19:00] swirl around how the economy is impacting us and how it will potentially lead us to cut things out. So when you think about evaluation of these types of benefits, what comes to mind in the climate? In, in terms of like the climate that we’re in right now? 

[00:19:17] Donna: Well, I agree. There’s a lot going on.

[00:19:18] Donna: And there’s lots of new benefits coming to the market every single day. But here at Elevance Health, we evaluate every benefit. We offer our employees every year. So we know which ones are being used and which ones aren’t being used. Um, we stay in touch with what’s going on out in the market, so we know what’s evolving and what’s coming our way.

[00:19:35] Donna: And we also know what we wanna achieve from a strategy standpoint. So the benefits that we offer, reflect those things. There are places you can scale back, and there are places that you can be making improvements on. And that’s just what we did. I love 

[00:19:48] Jessica: that. Well, I truly believe that lasting innovation comes from both knowledge and heart and you have both been and continue to be a working caregiver,

[00:19:59] Jessica: [00:20:00] so you deeply and authentically understand what’s needed. Um, but it’s your heart that is committed to driving these changes through, to impact millions. So thank you so much, Donna. I cannot thank you enough for your innovative approach, your authentic leadership and for all the ways that you have truly ignited this movement of caregiver support, the rippling effect is just getting started and it is truly an honor and joy to partner with you on this journey.

[00:20:26] Donna: Thank you. Well, thank you. It’s been truly a pleasure. It’s been one that we’ve gotten to see from beginning to beginning to full usage and adoption by associates and it’s been great. Thank 

[00:20:36] Jessica: you. 

[00:20:38] Donna: I’m Donna Gibson, staff, vice president of associate benefits, and I’m a caregiver.

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