CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases publishes annual immunization rates for children between the ages of 19 and 35 months. Only 21 percent of African-American children and only 11 percent of Hispanic children in Tennessee received their recommended immunizations last year.

That’s why BlueCare Tennessee has set a goal of partnering with more than 1,000 faith-based institutions to reduce racial, ethnic and other health disparities throughout Tennessee with its “Lifting Our Members” health information toolkit. With the campaign in its third week, BlueCare has already partnered with more than 200 houses of worship.

“The faith leader’s voice can be powerful in promoting good health,’ said Rafielle Freeman, director of quality improvement for BlueCare. “Just as they encourage and lift their members’ spiritually, they can help us take those health disparity populations to higher levels of understanding about their role in better health.”

Examples of health care disparities include: - African-American women are 34 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. - 64,431 of BlueCare members in Shelby County did not obtain appropriate preventative care screenings. - 74 percent of non-Hispanic whites received flu shots during the 2009-2010 flu season, while only 61 percent of Hispanics and 58 percent of non-Hispanic blacks were immunized.

In 2013, BlueCare Tennessee formed a statewide Disparities Advisory Panel made up of local leaders across Tennessee who were already working to eliminate disparities in their own communities. Based upon the recommendation of this panel, BlueCare developed a faith-based toolkit to assist leaders of worship in addressing the health care disparities faced by their own congregations.

The “Lifting Our Members” toolkit includes a health care calendar, which focuses on important health issues each month, and a preventive health guide with flyers and information relevant to various health concerns faced by different population groups. The first phase of the initiative will target childhood immunizations among African-American, Hispanic, and rural white Tennesseans.

And to help distribute and train religious leaders in how to use the toolkits, more than 100 employee volunteers from BlueCare and its parent company, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, will hold training sessions onsite at various religious organizations throughout the state.

For more information about the “Lifting Our Members” toolkit initiative, and for the toolkit itself, visit bluecare.bcbst.com and search for faith-based toolkit.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.