Hearst takes a hard look at health equity – in the news and in the media company’s own workplace

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As a global media company, Hearst reaches billions of people every day with information about societal issues including inequities, disparities and discrimination.

These issues are important to the audiences Hearst serves – and to the global media company itself. Leaders at Hearst are sharply focused on ensuring an equitable workplace and equitable health among its 23,000 employees at 360 TV stations, newspapers and other businesses.

“The company already enjoys a high-performing, positive culture, but I think throughout the pandemic and the push for racial justice and many social issues, is an examination of your practices and where you’re fine and where you need to improve,” said David Carey, Hearst’s senior vice president of public affairs and communications.

Hearst is part of the American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable, a group of nearly 50 CEOs dedicated to understanding and eliminating health inequities in the workplace and communities where employees live. The roundtable recently commissioned “Driving Health Equity in the Workplace,” a report that includes guiding principles and strategies to guide organizations through their health equity journey.

Health equity means everyone has the same chance to be healthy regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, veteran status or other factors.

“We are looking at all of our health benefits practices through the lens of whether our benefits and programs are fair and equitable,” Carey said.

Maria Walsh, senior vice president and head of benefits at Hearst, started her job just before COVID-19 hit. Since then, she has audited the company’s offerings, seeking out disparities that may need addressing. Maternity, family planning, caregiving and transgender care benefits have all been enhanced, as a result.

Her team is now evaluating a health equity study that focuses on access and affordability.

One area of concentration will be health care utilization by key conditions, such as cancer and how access to high-quality oncology breaks down among employees, particularly by race, ethnicity and income. They will also evaluate enrollment information among high deductible and point-of-service plans.

“I think we have to understand that some employees who are on the lower salary range are under-insuring themselves” by selecting less expensive plans, she said. “As a result, they’re probably not accessing care as they should, outside of maybe preventive care, because it’s unaffordable.”

One area where Hearst adjusted quickly was expanding mental health services to support employee stress and burnout amid the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global reckoning on racial injustices.

“By August 2020, our mental health claims were up 38% over the previous year,” Walsh said.

Those claims came from essential workers such as news reporters, as well as staff across the company. Employees also started coming to human resources asking for different needs and requests such as webinars on trauma, Walsh said.

Hearst has also helped employees access therapists for specific needs with their mental wellness vendor offering diverse providers for different conditions. For example, an employee may want to speak with a Black woman to address racial trauma, Walsh said. Employees have provided positive feedback on these efforts.

Hearst has made mental health services more readily available to all employees and their family members, making six therapy sessions free for employees and their household members, Walsh said. Additional telemedicine visits are also free for employees and family members covered under the Hearst medical plan.

Many companies thinking about returning to a traditional business setting are aware that working at the office versus working remotely can be another stress-inducing part of the job.

“Companies, including ours, are committed to hybrid approaches where we recognize that employees want more flexibility. I think the American workplace will have a historic evolution to meet employee desires,” Carey said.

“I’m going to be an optimist that what you’ll end up with is a workplace environment of kind of greater sensitivity to important issues, of course to diversity, but also to mental health within their offices.”

Editor’s Note: Equity at Work highlights efforts underway at companies in the CEO Roundtable. However, the American Heart Association does not endorse or promote products or services from Hearst or any other organization. Comments and opinions expressed in this editorial by people outside the Association do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Association.