CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee will officially begin its Black History Month celebration on Feb. 3 at 10 a.m., with a public dedication of the sixth annual Miller Building window display, designed to recognize the contributions of African-Americans to health care.

On hand to launch this year’s observance will be Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Kenneth Robinson, M.D., along with Dr. Edward Reed and Dr. Hiram Moore, graduates of Meharry Medical College, the largest private, historically black institution for educating health professionals in the country.

The 2005 exhibit will again spotlight the significant contributions of African-Americans to society; however, this year’s observance will extend beyond diversity awareness, reaching outside the regular window display and into the African-American community to address one of its biggest threats—its own health.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, African-Americans experience a disproportionately higher rate of health problems than other demographic groups. Impacted by a variety of social and economic factors, African-Americans living in Tennessee suffer from higher rates of disease such as diabetes and stroke, which gives them an average life expectancy five years less than for whites.

“The contributions of African-Americans to the fields of health and medicine have been tremendous. From inventions like blood storage for transfusions to performing the world’s first successful open-heart surgery, their influence continues to be felt,” said Vicky Gregg, president and CEO for BlueCross. “But when the positive impacts of African-Americans to the health care industry are weighed against the health disparities that this population faces, it becomes evident that more needs to be done to address these inequalities.”

To tackle the health differences, BlueCross will partner with other community groups to conduct a health fair and screening at the Piney Woods Family Resource Center on Saturday, Feb. 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The fair will include screenings for health conditions prevalent among African-Americans, as well as education sessions and health demonstrations.

Ron Harris, senior manager of workforce diversity at BlueCross, explained that the health fair coupled with appearances by Commissioner Robinson and the Meharry graduates will strengthen the already important message of diversity and increase needed awareness of health care disparity among minorities.

“Commissioner Robinson and the department of health have placed a special emphasis on eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in Tennessee and he’ll share that message with our audience,” Harris said. “Additionally, we will honor the work of Dr. Reed and Dr. Moore, African-American physicians who’ve provided care to thousands of minorities in Tennessee. Both are graduates of Meharry, a Tennessee-based institution that has produced many excellent African-American physicians and committed itself to the health care of minority and underserved communities.”

Area organizations participating in the February events include: the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society, Pi Omega Alumni Chapter of AKA Sorority, Inc., the Tennessee Black Health Care Commission, Chattanooga Middle Museum Magnet School, Emma Wheeler Homes, Chattanooga Cares, Rose of Sharon’s Senior Villa & Sharon’s Adult Day Center, the Chattanooga African-American Museum, Mountain City Medical Society, Hospice of Chattanooga, Memorial Health Care System, Galen Pediatrics/Galen Medical Group, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, Project Access, Planned Parenthood, the National Kidney Foundation, the Speech and Hearing Center, and Partnership for Families, Children and Adults.

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.