My last column included the “Findings” and “Conclusion” of a Blue Cross Blue Shield audit completed in early of January this year to examine the financial management practices of the African American Health Alliance (AAHA), a program directed by Natalie Johnson Lee under the supervision of the Council on Black Minnesotans (COBM). Based on that audit, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the overall funds administrator, ended its contract with the Council on Black Minnesotans.
The audit findings introduced several areas of concern for this columnist, also a former board member of the COBM. My efforts to reach the AAHA executive director for comment were not successful; nor were similar attempts to obtain comment from the current chair of the COBM, Donavan Bailey.
This discovery of the council’s failure to properly oversee the use of these funds comes on the heels of the resignation of the Council’s executive director, Lester Collins, and is very likely related to the audit findings that led to his departure insofar as it reflects a general mismanagement of COBM resources. The council has simply not been taking good care of its business, a concern that I had during my time on the board.
So I asked the AAHA director, COBM Board leadership, and State Representative Rita Moran as well to respond to the audit, but after the deadline given had passed, none had done so. Why not? I asked the good question, I’ll answer the good question: chickens.
I also asked Blue Cross Blue Cross to respond, and guess what? They did, as follows:
“While our work with the Council of Black Minnesotans has ended, we remain very engaged in a variety of efforts aimed at reducing health inequities in Minnesota,” said Zachary Meyer, vice president of Health & Wellness, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. “One example is our long-term relationship with NorthPoint Health & Wellness. With Blue Cross funding, we’re helping NorthPoint improve access to healthy foods through the Northside Healthy Eating Project, a collaborative of organizations and businesses looking to improve the food environment for Northside residents.”
Meyer added, “We also funded research to learn the extent of tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure among Minnesota’s African American community. Subsequently, we’re helping NorthPoint focus on reducing youth tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure among North Minneapolis residents.
“Additionally, we produced a TV program that aired on Twin Cities Public Television stations, addressing health risks of obesity among the African Immigrant and African American communities. These are just a few of the health initiatives we’ve helped lead in the African American community. We remain committed to continuing our work to address health inequities, and we intend to explore additional avenues and be a strong community partner for the long term.” (comments provided by Karen M. Lyons, public relations consultant for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota)
It’s reassuring to know that Blue Cross Blue Shield has only ended its relationship with the Council on Black Minnesotans and not with the entire Black community. But I continue to feel that the other parties involved have some explaining to do to the Black community they were supposed to be serving, and I invite them again to provide their insights into how this happened and what can be done to repair the damage.
In fact, I offer my entire column next month to anyone who will come forward and explain why the Council on Black Minnesotans was unable to manage this program successfully.
Lucky Rosenbloom welcomes reader responses to 612-661-0923, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.