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Highmark Caring Place

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In 1997, the Highmark Caring Place officially dedicated its first facility in Pittsburgh to provide free support for grieving children and their families.

Twenty-five years later, the nonprofit agency operates facilities in Erie, Pittsburgh and Warrendale, as well as Lemoyne near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and continues to make an impact on the thousands of lives — and communities — it has touched.

“We weren’t the first grieving center in the nation, but I’m happy to report that we’re now the largest,” explains Executive Director Terese LaVallee, a licensed psychologist who joined the agency in 2001.

Much of that impact is thanks to a dedicated group of staff and volunteers who support the Caring Place, as well as the continued financial support of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield — one of the largest health insurance organizations in the country today.

As Jim Teed, vice president of Regional Markets for Highmark, explains, “The Highmark Caring Place is a shining example of Highmark’s commitment to the communities it serves and a perfect example of how it looks far beyond medical care to address the needs of the whole person — in this case — being there for them during one of the most stressful times of their lives.”

Call to Action

Before the 1980s, service and support for uninsured children was not really on anyone’s radar in western Pennsylvania. That would soon change following the downturn in Pittsburgh’s steel industry in 1985. At that time, thousands of out-of-work steelworkers and their families turned to their churches for help with the health care for services they could no longer afford for their kids, and a group of Presbyterian ministers responded by asking what they could do.

On a mission to help, the ministers then approached Blue Cross of Western Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Blue Shield (now Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield). Recognizing the need, Highmark soon established the Caring Foundation, a charitable organization to provide community support. The Foundation would go on to form the Caring Program, a children’s health insurance program upon which the Children’s Health Insurance Program of Pennsylvania (CHIP) was modeled, which itself became a model for the present federal S-CHIP program.

The mission of the Caring Foundation is to “Identify the unmet needs of children and families in our community and create innovative programs to meet those needs.” Following the success of the Caring Program, the Caring Foundation then moved on to address another unmet need — the needs of grieving children. The idea for the Highmark Caring Place was inspired by the personal loss experienced by the Foundation’s then executive director, who, while looking for help for his grieving son, discovered a gap in services for children grieving the loss of a family member.

Since that time, the program has become a national model for grief support, serving more than 100,000 children, adults and community members. The Highmark Caring Place also created Children’s Grief Awareness Day, an annual observance designed to raise awareness of the needs of grieving children. Since its inception, it has grown into a national and international day of observance on the third Thursday of November each year.

“We are deeply grateful that we have been able to help grieving families
find hope again after tragedy,” Terese LaVallee explains.

Read more in the July 2022 Business Magazine!