COPH grad Audrey Harvey tackles health disparities in Michigan

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Her practice is funding interventions to address health issues. Her passion is improving the lives of Michigan residents.

Audrey Harvey, a USF College of Public Health 2017 graduate with a master’s degree in public health practice, considers herself a “learner by nature.”

And she has the degrees to prove it.

Harvey, who grew up in Detroit and now lives in Southfield, Mich., holds a bachelor of arts degree, a juris doctor and a master of laws in taxation—all from Wayne State University.

She began her career as a CPA, working for the accounting firms Coopers & Lybrand and Arthur Andersen & Co. Harvey joined Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) in 1991 as a tax manager and eventually worked her way up the ranks at BCBSM to controller. In 2014, she was approached by the executive vice president of strategy, government and public affairs about becoming executive director and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation.

Audrey Harvey received her MPH in 2017. She is the executive director and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Harvey)

The BCBSM Foundation is the largest health foundation in Michigan dedicated exclusively to improving the health of all Michigan residents. The foundation awards grants to Michigan-based researchers and nonprofit organizations to address community health and quality, access and cost of care. The BCBSM Foundation has assets of approximately $60 million and awards approximately $2 million in grants annually.

“The job is half grant making, half being the face of the foundation and representing the company,” explained Harvey, who also networks with health care and philanthropic leaders to discuss current health issues and innovative solutions. “Health insurers don’t always have the best reputation. She [her current boss] must have trusted I’d be a good ambassador for the company.”

Harvey decided to pursue her degree in public health so she could better understand the purpose—and outcomes—of the grants and research studies her organization was funding. “It bothered me that I didn’t understand some of the issues affecting the communities we serve and where to go to research those issues,” she commented.

Knowing that she wouldn’t have the time to devote to classroom learning, Harvey searched for an online MPH program and quickly settled on USF. “I knew I wanted to go to a school that people had heard of, that when I said its name it garnered a level of respect. USF was highly rated and had quality professors. I liked it so much, it was the only school I applied to.”

Harvey finished the program in 27 months and received her degree in December of last year. “I went to bed late and got up early. And my books were with me on every vacation and during every holiday,” she said. “But I knew I wasn’t going to have to go on like this forever. Honestly, my favorite memory of my time at USF was graduation weekend, when I had the opportunity to come to campus and meet my professors in person!”

While BCBSM Foundation strives to provide quality, affordable and accessible health care for all Michigan residents, Harvey has taken a particular interest in the state’s Upper Peninsula (UP).

Harvey presents a $65,000 check to Ray Sharp of the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department. The money will be used for needs assessment of the community. For her final project at USF, Harvey looked at the health disparities and needs of the oft-forgotten, under-funded rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Harvey)

“Not until I started at USF did I fully understand what health disparities were and how they extended across not just racial lines, but income ones as well,” Harvey commented. “It’s crucial that we extend our efforts to address the health care needs of residents in rural regions of the state. In prior years the UP was not an area where our foundation had made many grants. It’s easy and expected to focus on urban areas close to home. But after doing some investigation, we realized the UP hadn’t gotten any grant money in two years.”

Some of the health issues that impact the residents of the UP, said Harvey, include obesity, mental and behavioral health, substance abuse and chronic disease. The BCBSM Foundation has partnered with the parent company BCBSM and the nonprofit Superior Health Foundation on the “Investing in the Upper Peninsula Health” grant. To date, 14 organizations throughout the UP have received $814,652 from the grant, the primary goal of which is to disseminate evidence-based practices that improve health outcomes.

“The mission of BCBSM Foundation is to support and improve the health of Michigan residents on a statewide basis,” she added. “The UP was as good a place as any to try and blaze a new trail.”

It was a whirlwind 27 months, but Harvey has no regrets.

“Choosing USF was a great decision,” she said. “I learned to understand the world of public health on a local, state and national level. I learned about interventions, evaluations and addressing health disparities. And I love that every day I have the chance to improve the lives of others.”

Alumni Fast Five

What did you dream of becoming when you were younger?

A teacher.

 Where could we find you on the weekend?

Reading or gardening.

What was the last book you read?

“Year of Yes,” by Shonda Rhimes.

What superpower would you like to have?

To heal.

What was your all-time favorite movie?

No all-time favorites, although I do like comedy, action and movies that document the African-American reality.

 Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health