Working Together to End the Pandemic [North Metro Business Journal]

Many of us can remember March 11, 2020, when it was announced that Arkansas had its first presumptive case of COVID-19, which was later confirmed as positive. A patient in Pine Bluff likely contacted the virus during a trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The next day, eight more people tested positive. And now, just 18 months later, more than 7,000 Arkansans have died from COVID-19. 

Making a commitment to Vaccinate the Natural State 

As a company whose primary concern is the health and well-being of its members and their local communities, the executive team at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield made a commitment of substantial effort and resources to help keep people safe. When the long-anticipated release of COVID-19 vaccines was announced early in 2021, Arkansas Blue Cross knew they wanted to do something statewide that would hopefully bring the pandemic to a timely end. But they knew they could not do it alone. They joined forces with their core and community partners to announce Vaccinate the Natural State, an initiative to encourage Arkansans to get their COVID-19 vaccine. This initiative is a collaboration with multiple business and community organizations statewide to educate and engage Arkansans in doing their part to help stop the pandemic by getting the vaccination. 

“The health of our communities relies on every eligible Arkansan getting the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available to them,” said Curtis Barnett, president and chief executive officer of Arkansas Blue Cross. “Vaccinations offer our best path for eliminating the virus, ending the suffering, and starting the process of returning our lives back to some sense of normal. The organizations that have come together to fuel this movement represent best-of-class knowledge coupled with connected networks that can ensure the word gets out that Vaccinate the Natural State can be life-changing for all of us.” 

Ben Abbott, a pharmacist with Heartland Pharmacy in Conway, administers a COVID-19 vaccine during a recent employee drive-thru clinic hosted by Wonder State Box Company Inc. and other businesses in the Conway Industrial Park. The clinic was coordinated by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. 

Forming strong partnerships 

Led by Arkansas Blue Cross, in partnership with the Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas, the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care (AFMC), the Northwest Arkansas Council, Walmart and other community partners – the coalition has reached out to employers across every corner of the state to help guide and prepare them for getting employees vaccinated and returning to the workplace.  

“The pandemic’s economic impact to Arkansas businesses has been staggering, with the recreation and hospitality industries especially hit hard – industries that are so very important to our state,” said Barnett. “The loss of jobs and the decline of sales have critically affected Arkansas small businesses, manufacturing and the supply chain.” 

Hospitals, pharmacies, local health units and many, many others committed to the health and well-being of Arkansans are working with the Vaccine the Natural State initiative to help bring an end to this pandemic. 

Creshelle Nash, M.D., Arkansas Blue Cross Medical Director for Health Equity and Public Programs, administers a COVID-19 vaccine at a recent walk-in clinic. 

Arming employers with knowledge and tools 

Vaccinate the Natural State provides business owners and leaders with vaccine knowledge and resources including access to the Vaccinate Arkansas website that hosts a variety of valuable, turn-key resources: 

  • Guide for hosting a vaccine clinic at the workplace 

  • Vaccine facts and reasons employees should get the vaccine 

  • Video guides about vaccine safety, employers’ legal rights and responsibilities, and best practices for returning to the office 

  • Vaccine legal guidance for employers 

  • Toolkit including FAQs, stickers, posters, and social media posts 

  • List of reputable, reliable resources 

  • “Power Over Pandemic Pledge” asking business leaders to join the movement to encourage employees to get their vaccine 

  • Vaccine locations, including clinics and events near businesses 

In addition, employers can work with Arkansas Blue Cross to schedule educational webinars for employees to learn more about the vaccine, including its safety and effectiveness. This is particularly effective in advance of hosting a vaccine clinic at the worksite. 

Denise Clayton, a pharmacist on staff at Arkansas Blue Cross, provides COVID-19 vaccinations at a recent drive-thru employee clinic hosted by Arkansas Blue Cross. 

A promise for a healthy future 

A mere 18 months after the first COVID-19 case was announced in Arkansas, there have been just under a half a million cases reported in our state. “Arkansas businesses can play a critical role in containing the spread of COVID-19 by helping see that as many of their employees as possible receive the vaccine,” said Barnett. “When eligible employees get vaccinated, they help protect their workplace from COVID-19, and in turn, protect our communities, our economy and our state.” 

Go to vaccinatearkansas.com to join other Arkansas businesses in the pledge to endorse the COVID-19 vaccine. For more information and updates on COVID-19, log on to cdc.gov/coronavirus

About Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield  

Founded in 1948, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, is the largest health insurer in Arkansas. Arkansas Blue Cross and its affiliates have more than 3,200 employees. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is comprised of 35 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans that collectively provide healthcare coverage for nearly 106 million members — one in three Americans. 


This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of the North Metro Business Journal.