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Madison County Rural Health Council receives Excellus grant

By Traci DeLore (


The $30,000 award is for its doula program

Representatives from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield present a $30,000 Health Equity Innovation Award to Madison County Rural Health Council to help fund its doula program. From left to right are: Shayna Keller, community investments and partnerships manager at Excellus; Stephanie Henry, Madison County Rural Health Council deputy director; Even Van de Wal, regional president of Excellus; and Christine Paul, Madison County Rural Health Council executive director. (PHOTO CREDIT: EXCELLUS)

CAZENOVIA, N.Y. —Madison County Rural Health Council (MCRHC) Inc. has received a $30,000 Health Equity Innovation Award (HEIA) from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield to support its doula program, Excellus recently announced.

The awards provide financial support to community programs that address racial and ethnic health disparities across the upstate New York service area of Excellus, Central New York’s largest health insurer.

MCRHC’s program promotes and provides doula services to community members who qualify as low income and may have challenges accessing prenatal, birth, and postnatal support. Funding will also be used to expand doula services into Oneida County and to have individuals trained as end-of-life doulas.

“Madison County Rural Health Council is thankful for the strong community partnerships and opportunities provide to strengthen our birthing doula program,” MCRHC Executive Director Christine Paul said in a news release. “We are fortunate the Excellus BCBS Health Equity Innovation Award has also provided an opportunity to have individuals trained as end-of-life doulas.”

Doulas are non-medical professionals trained to provide emotional support to assist and advocate for patients and their families. In the pregnancy setting, doulas provide emotional and physical support, as well as advice before, during, and after pregnancy and childbirth.

End-of-life doulas assist both the dying person and their loved ones before, during, and after death. Along with emotional and physical support, they provide education about the dying process and guidance through the grieving process.

MCRHC is one of 20 nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organizations across Excellus’s upstate New York service area that received HEIA funding. Organizations could apply for grants of up to $30,000 to fund initiatives, programs, and research that specifically target the root causes of health inequities with a focus on addressing structural racism.

“We’re committed to using our resources to support community partnerships and initiatives that directly target health disparities, promote access to care, and address the underlying social determinants of health,” Excellus BCBS Regional President Even Van de Wal said. “We are proud to award the Madison County Rural Health Council with this funding to support the needs of families through their doula programming.”

Established in 2013 by a consortium of organizations representing the largest providers of health and social services in the county, Madison County Rural Health Council is organized to wrap around the community’s most vulnerable needs. Through the council, local providers are better able to coordinate the countywide alignment of health-care resources, expertise and services, and evidence- based practices to meet those needs, the release stated.

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. The nonprofit health plan serves 1.5 million members in upstate New York and employs more than 4,200 people.

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