Premera’s Social Impact program invests directly in the communities where our members and employees live, touching every corner of Washington and Alaska. Since 2017, the program has contributed more than $77 million to more than 400 nonprofits focused on behavioral health, homelessness, rural health, and health equity. Most recently, Premera committed $2.3 million in grants and sponsorships to 26 organizations to expand behavioral health and housing solutions.
We sat down with Paul Hollie, head of Premera Social Impact, to learn more about his role and how the program has evolved in recent years. Here’s what he shared with us:
Q: Please tell us a little about your role at Premera and how you landed in it.
A: I have the great job of overseeing Premera’s Social Impact program. We partner with community organizations, nonprofit groups, charities, and others that work to bridge the behavioral health and health equity gaps in our communities.
I started at Premera six years ago in Communications. In that role, I worked alongside my predecessor as he put in place the pillars for the Premera Social Impact program. Just as the program was ready to officially launch, he was presented with another great opportunity, which turned out to be a great opportunity for me, as well. When his position opened up, I raised my hand. I had done similar philanthropic work prior to coming to Premera, and I had a good familiarity with what the Social Impact program was designed to be. I was offered the role, and I’ve been doing this job ever since.
Q: You are well-suited to this role. Why do you think that is?
A: I had a great upbringing in beautiful Buffalo, New York—a city that has unfortunately been in the news because of the tragic killing of 10 people at a supermarket by a white supremacist. That is my community. We lived around good, solid people who worked hard but some also were in need of help and support. Connection to one another and helping each other was core. My parents would help family members and friends, and in turn, folks would reach back out to them when they needed help. If you were short on supplies of some kind, or if someone had something to celebrate and needed someone to make a cake or a dress, you knew who to contact. Everyone, helping each other, came together to make the community just as we’re seeing today following this recent attack. So the notion of bringing people together to help fill the gaps is something I was raised with. To be able to do it professionally is just a continuation of that story. I have a real passion for the projects that Premera’s partners work on.
Q: What is unique about the Premera Social Impact program and how does it compare to philanthropy from other corporations?
A: Many organizations do a great job in healthcare philanthropy, but Premera’s mission—what we do on the healthcare continuum—is special and unique. We make healthcare work and provide good healthcare support for our members, but there are also situations and conditions that may not directly impact our members, but they impact our broader communities. That’s where Social Impact work comes in. What makes this program unique it’s that it works so hand in hand with the work that our company does. Our Social Impact work is a key part of Premera’s mission to make healthcare work better.
Additionally, Premera Social Impact, partly because it’s a newer program, has been able to respond to the challenges and triumphs the world has experienced over this unique time period we’re in. To have this program evolve as situations around us continue to develop has been powerful.
Q: Premera has given grants to organizations in every single county in Washington and borough in Alaska, which means reaching some very rural areas of both states. Why is that an important part of the Social Impact program?
A: Our goal has always been to reach as many communities as possible. Our County by County program, led by my colleague Molly Daniels, demonstrates that commitment in a very focused way. The recipients of the County by County grants are located in places where non-profits don’t usually have strong connections to our company or other large corporate funders. Many of the organizations are small and understaffed – even more so as a result of COVID. We don’t wait for them to come to us and apply for grants. We go to them and tell them we want to help, and we’ve found that to be impactful.
Q: How has Premera Social Impact evolved over the last few years and what drove those changes?
Health equity has always been a pillar of Premera Social Impact. Until recently we talked about health equity in several ways—race, gender, and access. After the killing of George Floyd, I’m proud that we added a layer focused on Black communities in Washington and Alaska. We’ve been able to focus in on very specific types of programs based on the idea that racism is a healthcare issue. One example is Byrd Barr Place in Seattle’s Central District. They offer essential services like food and housing support and counseling. We are backing their research to identify what is behind the health issues of Black Washingtonians. Their findings will not only help Byrd Barr Place, but it will also help inform Premera’s work, as well as the work of community groups, local governments, and other service providers. We’re proud to stand alongside them in this effort.
Behavioral health has also always been a pillar of our program, including youth mental health. It has always been a focus, but we are now focusing on it more intentionally, especially in light of the disconnections that students have experienced and struggled with during COVID. Molly Daniels is leading this important work. We’re talking to experts, listening to organizations, looking to our own friends, families, neighbors, and we’ve identified groups who are taking the lead on engaging with youth. Atlantic Street Center is a good example. We are working with them to explore how needs and outreach have changed due to COVID. Another partner, Rainier Scholars, has telehealth counseling that has helped the organization reach more students. Connecting with youth through technology has made their work more impactful in some ways.
Q: What is one thing in your career that you are most proud of?
It fills my heart with joy to be able to help communities and it is an honor that our company, our colleagues and friends, entrust us to execute on Premera’s Social Impact mission. I also really enjoy the energy that flows from our company to the communities and back.
I truly feel that being able to guide work like this is a blessing. I’m blown away every time I walk into these nonprofits and watched them interact with their clientele. They’re not doing this to get rich. They are doing this work to help people and fill the gaps in our communities, and witnessing that feeds my soul.