Employers need wellness toolbox to recruit, retain top talent

Panelists speak at the 2022 Lehigh Valley Business Health Care Summit. PHOTO/STACY WESCOE –

Since the “great resignation” happened in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers in the Lehigh Valley, and nationally, are having a more difficult time recruiting and retaining top talent. 

To attract and keep the best employees, it’s not enough to just offer a good job with good pay said Judd Mellinger-Blouch, director pf the Pennsylvania Primary Care Career Center. 

“The battle to keep employees is very real,” he said. And, he said leaders in the health care field are discovering that benefits beyond the traditional fee-for service health insurance can come from offering plans that encompass a more comprehensive wellness plan. 

“It shows that you care,” he said. “It gives them the knowledge that you give a darn about them.” 

Speaking at the 2022 Lehigh Valley Business Health Care Summit, Amanda Marie Greene, director of operations at Lehigh Valley Business Coalition on Healthcare, said the good news is that employers in the Lehigh Valley have a lot of support in providing health and wellness care. 

She noted that between Lehigh Valley Health Network, and St. Luke’s University Network there are more hospitals in the Lehigh Valley than there are in some states. In fact, she said, the Lehigh Valley has more hospitals than nine states in the country. 

She said employers need, however, to work with these health care and other service providers to develop strategies that not only focus on wages and traditional benefits, but also look into things such as flexibility and emotional and mental health. 

The key is finding out what those people you are attempting to attract or retain really want. 

“Test different options on benefits to find out what the employees want,” she said. 

And what employees want can be very different based on their age and socio-economic status. 

Kristin Behler, director of health promotion and wellness at Populytics, said she can’t stress the importance of data enough. She said that’s especially so in lower-income communities where there are factors impacting employee health that the employer might not think of. 

She said in some populations transportation issues, access to health food, child care and stress can all impact health. 

For example, an employer could offer free gym membership or weight management, but can the employee get to those sites to take advantage of them? 

“Who’s going to the gym if there’s no one to take care of the kids?” she said. 

Dr. Mark Jacobsonmedical director of pharmacy and clinical market services for Highmark, said employers need to look at the population they’re targeting and look at the drivers in the population. 

“Medicare patients are very different from Medicaid patients and commercial [health insurance] patients. A younger population is very different than how you would approach an older population,” he said. 

Greene said that it’s not just about recruitment and retention but having those employees on the job stay healthy, so they don’t take as many sick days – cutting into productivity. 

“Eighty-percent of chronic conditions can be prevented,” she said. 

Kevin Davis, senior benefits consultant & senior vice president at Univest Insurance said having a more robust Employee Assistance Program can be a big help, and employers should also make sure they are addressing both mental health issues and emotional well-being. 

He gave the example of someone who’s trying to lose weight. A big key to that is why a person eats. Is it stress? He said help from the right wellness coach who understands the dynamic can better help solve food issues. 

“So, I’m controlling the food, the food isn’t controlling me,” he said. “We need to connect the dots for people.” 

Nick Lukow of Capital BlueCross said the discussion is an important one. 

“Education is key. The more you know about the topics the better. It all comes down to spreading the information and data,” he said. 

Capital BlueCross releases free mental wellness toolkit

Employers with health care coverage through Capital BlueCross now have access to a suite of mental health resources through the insurer’s new mental wellness toolkit.

Capital BlueCross announced on Wednesday that it is offering a free toolkit to help employers address mental wellness issues in the workplace.

The toolkit is downloadable through Capital BlueCross’ website and offers 50 customizable communications that can be used to engage employees both online and in-person. Employers with Capital BlueCross coverage will have access to the entire toolkit while those without access will see a portion of it.

Todd Shamash, president and CEO of Capital BlueCross, said that there continues to be a reluctance for individuals to seek help for mental health issues.

“The stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic only underscore the need to proactively help address mental wellness issues that impact so many of our friends, family, coworkers and members of our communities,” he said.

Through the communications in the toolkit, Capital BlueCross expects businesses to be able to promote a constructive dialogue about mental wellness issues, educate employees on available services and erode the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

Shamash said that he toolkit is part of a strategic decision by the company to help employers tackle mental wellness issues among employees before it impacts the workplace.

“Struggles with stress, anxiety or depression can sometimes be reflected in employee morale, absenteeism or productivity,” Shamash said. “If we can create a productive, ongoing discussion in the workplace around mental wellness, maybe we can help people recognize problems and seek help faster.”

Capital BlueCross plans health and wellness center in downtown Allentown

An artist’s rendering of the renovated offices. SUBMITTED


Capital BlueCross plans to open a health and wellness center at its offices in downtown Allentown as part of a renovation and expansion project.

The Harrisburg-based health insurer said work has begun on its Lehigh Valley offices at 1221 Hamilton St. and plans to have the project done by February. The expansion effort on the three-story building will include a new façade and a full interior remodeling in addition to the new health and wellness center.

Ann Baum, market president Capital BlueCross said the renovations will make the building fit into the redevelopment efforts going on in the downtown area.

“This is part of a renaissance in downtown Allentown,” Baum said. “We wanted to lend our hand to the redevelopment of the largest city in the Lehigh Valley. We’re committed to the health and well-being of the people and communities here, so this makeover is not just to provide a great space for our employees – it’s to provide a great space for the people of Allentown.”

Once the new health and wellness center is complete members and the public can visit for one-on-one consultations related to health plans or Medicare options.

The can also meet with a health coach, get biometric screenings and attend health care-related seminars.

This will be the health insurer’s second health and wellness center in the Lehigh Valley. It has a similar center in the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley.

It also has health and wellness centers in Cumberland and Franklin counties.

Capital BlueCross executive Anne Baum’s book helps professionals be on their best behavior

We’ve all had that overly-ambitious co-worker who drives us crazy with their behavior.  And of course, you likely know a colleague who forces meetings to start late while everyone awaits their arrival.  Heck, at times, we have probably even been one of “those” coworkers.

In Anne Corley Baum’s book series, Small Mistakes, Big Consequences, the Lehigh Valley-based health insurance industry executive shows us how to manage problem behaviors like this at work. 

“For years, I have been writing down ideas in my notebook about ways in which I noticed myself or others could perform better,” said Baum, executive and vice president of distribution channels and labor relations for Capital BlueCross. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I make it easier for people by writing a book? Make it a little fun, a little funny, but helpful.’”

Baum is no stranger to helping others to be the best that they can be in business. She left an executive position at Bethlehem’s St. Luke’s University Health Network in 2003 in order to start her own business, Vision Accomplished, which taught leadership through executive coaching programs and seminars.

The Chicago native was soon recruited by Capital Blue however, and the position was too attractive to pass up. “The job description read like I had written it myself,” Baum said.

While working at Capital Blue, she published her first book, Small Mistakes, Big Consequences, in 2019, and just published her second in the series, Small Mistakes, Big Consequences for Interviews, in late summer of this year. 


In the first book, she created 16 characters, who each had names of a specific workplace bad behavior, like the “overconfident overachiever.”

“People really relate to ‘Oh I hate when someone does that,’” Baum said. “It’s not about labeling, it’s about learning.  We can learn how to correct or manage that problem behavior.”

The “overconfident, overachiever” shows up to the interview full of themselves, talking about everything that they can do for the company, she explained. “The problem is that it is insulting,” she said. “That doesn’t show the person as a team player. Yes, show that you are talented, but show how your skills can help the company achieve their goals. It is important to come to the interview with confidence, but humble confidence. You aren’t going to be able to help the business if you don’t get the job.”

Baum said that every behavior she talks about in the books, she has either seen someone do, or she has done herself. 

With years of experience in the corporate arena, she has learned that integrity and accountability are critical to being a good leader, and highlights that fact in her books.

“If you don’t operate with integrity, your team won’t trust you,” she said. “You have to trust people and you have to let them make mistakes, that’s how people learn.”

Accountability is also important, she said, because if you don’t ever take blame, no one is going to want to work with you. “When you are accountable, people trust you,” she said.

As a female who has risen to the top of her field, Baum is also aware that women sometimes are held back from leadership positions because of their own fears and biases. 

“My biggest advice for women is to take the lead,” she said. “Be involved. Women can be afraid to take over in a meeting for being perceived as angry or bitchy. We need to let go of those fears.”

In fact, Baum believes that women have natural talents for multi-tasking and leadership  that can translate well to the workplace. “Women in general are in charge,” she said. “We innately take on the burden of managing the family.”

The task of managing both a family and work life, however, can leave many people, both women and men alike, feeling stressed and off-balance. For Baum, there is no simple formula to address work/life balance.

“It changes every day, depending on what is going on,” she said. “You have to constantly assess and balance. A sick kid takes precedence over a volunteer board meeting. Lean on your support tribe-your husband, partner, friends and neighbors. They are there to help. And most importantly, if you can, work for a company that understands the importance of work/life balance.”

Conversations like these are crucial to a workplace mentor like Baum.

“I was always interested in best practices in business,” she said.  And though writing a book was never her life’s dream, it has been supremely rewarding for Baum to share her years of knowledge with others, she said. 

“Never would I have imagined that I would combine my love for the health care industry with my interest in best practices in business in this way,” she said. “It’s been wonderful.”

A quick check on bookseller websites like Amazon and Goodreads, shows uniformly positive reviews for Baum’s books. Local Lehigh Valley professionals have embraced the books as well, Baum said.

“It’s been valuable to a broad audience,” she said, “from young people who are just starting college, to older, well-established professionals.”

Baum hopes to expand the Small Mistakes, Big Consequences series with books targeted for Zoom and conference calls, for difficult conversations, and a book aimed specifically at college students.

“I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire,” she said. “The books are resonating with people. It’s exciting.”

A Conversation With: Glenn Heisey, senior vice president of strategy and business operations at Capital BlueCross

Heisey –


LVB: Health insurers have been making drastic changes in the way they see health care in recent years. What do you see as the top trends?

Heisey: Capital BlueCross continues to make strategic investments in technology that are making it easier for people to choose coverage, monitor the use of that coverage, and make smart decisions about their overall healthcare. Our members can use a laptop or phone to securely access all of their personal health information, schedule virtual medical visits for physical or mental health issues, or get tips on how to stay healthy. Technology makes that kind of convenience possible.

Emerging technologies are also reshaping how we manage population health, giving us the data and analytics to identify healthcare issues that might be costly to an employer, so we can work with that employer and their employees to improve health and save them money. Technology also is empowering us to take a more holistic look at healthcare and examine how things like physical health, mental wellness, prescription drug use and other factors all intersect, so we can help people live their healthiest.

As an example, we offer an analytics platform through  one of our subsidiaries. It offers an array of tools to identify healthcare trends and issues and proactively identify populations that could be at risk for health problems, or benefit from intervention or guidance in maintaining health.

LVB: How does offering wellness, exercise and healthy eating programs to your customers benefit an insurance company’s bottom line?

Heisey: A quality wellness program promotes and rewards healthy behavior, which in turn reduces or eliminates medical issues and related costs for the individual. By helping a member stay healthy, we’re helping to ensure the best possible member experience. That member knows we care about their well-being.

Another benefit of a quality wellness program is for employers, who can use these programs to reward healthy behavior by their employees and help reduce absenteeism, work-related injuries, and long-term health issues that could impact productivity.

Capital BlueCross’ wellness program, Healthy Blue Rewards, gives members useful tools and resources to take charge of their health, guiding them to make meaningful progress toward specific health and wellness goals that they help identify.

LVB: Recently, many insurers started covering telehealth appointments because of the COVID-19 pandemic. How is that going?

Heisey: Capital BlueCross has offered telehealth coverage for several years—long before the pandemic—and we worked with local network providers to improve access to telehealth during the pandemic, including further expanding the types of telehealth providers and services we cover during this time.

We also made the decision to waive member costs for telehealth visits during the height of the pandemic. That waiver was one of several proactive steps we took to encourage members to use technology to safely access healthcare and to help minimize in-person medical visits at a time when doctors’ offices and medical facilities were being strained.

We’ve also waived member costs for medical and behavioral health visits on our own telehealth platform, Capital BlueCross Virtual Care. We saw a sharp increase in Virtual Care medical visits in mid-March and then a gradual decline back to pre-pandemic levels; while, we continue to see a steady increase in Virtual Care behavioral visits. We already knew telehealth was an emerging tool, but the COVID-19 pandemic proves it’s here to stay.

LVB: What do you think the next trends will be in health care coverage?

Heisey: The healthcare landscape in Pennsylvania will continue to be shaped by the increasing number of Baby Boomers reaching Medicare eligibility age. This age group is embracing technology and e-commerce at an increasingly fast pace, opening up new opportunities to communicate with them.

COVID-19 Relief fund distributes $350K to Lehigh Valley businesses

The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and business leaders in the community raised and granted $353,000 to local small businesses struggling with COVID-19-related expenses.

After two rounds with $150,000 pools of grant money, organizers of the COVID-19 relief fund were able to raise and distribute a third pool of funds totaling $53,000 thanks to an infusion from Wells Fargo Bank.

“It’s unbelievable how much these companies and individuals want to help. We have a big footprint, but our community is tight knit. Matching investment from BB&T, now Truist, Capital BlueCross, Equinox Benefits Consulting, ESSA Bank, David Jaindl, Dynegy, Walmart/Sams Club, Wells Fargo, Nelligan, Unum and individuals like Lehigh student, Angelica Benares along with the chamber funds have made this all possible,” said Tony Iannelli, president and CEO of the chamber.

The third fund was opened and the money disbursed last week. The three funding rounds were set up to provide $1,000 grants to businesses suffering from financial hardship because of the pandemic shut down.

More than 300 businesses received money.

Capital BlueCross board confirms Shamash as president and CEO

Three days into his time as acting CEO at Capital BlueCross, Todd Shamash was promoted to the company’s top leadership role as its permanent president and CEO.

The Harrisburg-based insurer announced in February that Gary St. Hilaire, its president and CEO for eight years, would be leaving the company to lead Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.

Todd Shamash, previously the acting CEO for Capital BlueCross, was promoted to permanent president and CEO by the company’s board, the company announced on Thursday. PHOTO-PROVIDED. –

Shamash, formerly the company’s senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary, accepted a role as the company’s interim CEO as it continued to search for someone to permanently fill St. Hilaire’s position.

On Wednesday the company announced that its board voted to make Shamash its permanent president and CEO and to conclude its two-month candidate search and evaluation process.
“Our need for a trusted, committed visionary and strong leader has been dramatically reinforced with the recent events across the globe,” Kathryn P. Taylor, chairman of the Capital BlueCross Board. “We have worked with Todd for many years and know him to be the best person to guide the Capital BlueCross family of companies through this unprecedented health emergency and beyond.”

Prior to joining Capital BlueCross, Shamash worked throughout the health care industry as a deputy chief of staff for the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office where he oversaw all health-related agencies, and senior counsel for Jefferson Health System.

He has also been a trustee on the Pennsylvania Employee Benefits Trust Fund, a commissioner of the Pennsylvania Banking and Securities Commission and department counsel for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department.

“I am humbled and proud to serve on behalf of our Board of Directors, my colleagues and all of our talented and committed teams,” Shamash said. “This is a remarkable time, in our industry, in our world – and Capital BlueCross will be remembered for doing the right thing for our members in central Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley, and across the nation in this moment and for the long term. Our role as an independent, community-focused health plan has never been more important.”

St. Hilaire leaving Capital BlueCross this April

Gary St. Hilaire, Capital BlueCross president and CEO, will be leaving the company to lead a neighboring BlueCross Blue Shield insurer this April. Todd Shamash, the company’s senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary will be taking over the position in St. Hilaire’s absence. PHOTO SUBMITTED –

Gary St. Hilaire, Capital BlueCross president and CEO, will be leaving the company to lead a neighboring BlueCross Blue Shield insurer this April.

St. Hilaire first joined the Harrisburg-based Capital BlueCross in 2005 and has led as its president and CEO since 2012. The company said Tuesday that he will be leaving to take up the mantle of president and CEO of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield in New Jersey on April 6.

“We are grateful to Gary for his leadership over the past 15 years,” said Kathryn Taylor, Capital BlueCross Board Chairman. “His drive, financial acumen, innovative thinking and commitment to the community have made us a stronger company and cemented our position as the leading health plan in our market.”

In St. Hilaire’s place, Capital BlueCross’ Board of Directors has appointed Todd Shamash to acting CEO, effective April 6. Shamash has been with the company for seven years and is currently senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Capital BlueCross.

During his time at Capital BlueCross, Shamash has been an integral part of the company’s strategic partnerships, diversification strategy and subsidiaries.

“Known throughout the organization for his thoughtful approach and unflappable demeanor, Todd brings both a deep knowledge of the company and its current initiatives, as well as a keen understanding of the industry through his past experience,” said Taylor. “Todd and our exceptional management team will continue to build on Capital BlueCross’ successes as an independent, community-focused health plan and foster the further growth of our subsidiaries in Central Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley and beyond.”

Shamash serves as an appointee of Gov. Tom Wolf on the state’s Health Care Cost Containment Council and is an appointee of the Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore on the Pennsylvania Health Insurance Exchange Authority. He was previously the deputy chief of staff for the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office and senior counsel for Jefferson Health System in Philadelphia.