Blue Shield of California is trying to get the message out to stop domestic violence.
The San Francisco-based insurer has taken the lead among healthcare companies in the state by holding discussions on domestic violence and distributing information to other businesses, says Donna Norton, manager of the national workplace resource center on domestic violence at the Family Violence Prevention Fund.
Nonhealthcare businesses in the state, including the Gap, Levi Strauss & Co. and McKesson Corp., already have internal programs on domestic violence. Nationwide, Polaroid and American Express have launched efforts to combat abuse, says Marianne Balin, a public affairs specialist who developed Blue Shield's $150,000 program.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the U.S., with almost 4 million women physically abused by their husbands or boyfriends every year. It results in hundreds of millions of dollars in healthcare costs annually that are borne by employers' benefit programs, according to the Pennsylvania Blue Shield Institute.
A recent study conducted at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago found the average charge for medical services provided to abused women, children and the elderly was $1,633 per person annually, according to data provided by the San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund, a national organization.
Since launching its Domestic Violence Initiative Oct. 1, Blue Shield has received 16 requests for information from its business customers, the benefit managers at California companies, Balin says.
Blue Shield is distributing a packet with guidelines on talking to victims and setting up informational sessions on domestic abuse.
Among the materials it's distributing is a powerful video -- made possible by pro bono work by well-known video producers -- that features abused women on Blue Shield's own staff. They tell their stories about being pushed and stomped on. One says her face was put through a wall.
The women explain how an employer can recognize signs of abuse and offer protection from abusers and encouragement to victims.
Protection, the women say, can come in the simple forms of a locked office or facility door.
"Inside that building, Blue Shield made me feel safe," says an employee on the video who had been absent frequently because of abuse. "They stood by me. I still have my job."
"I'd like to get into a management position at Blue Shield," she continues. "I used to want to die."