A Conversation with CVS Health® President and CEO Karen S. Lynch
July 27, 2022 | Webinar
Karen S. Lynch, President and CEO of CVS Health®, joined the Wednesdays with Woodward series to share her perspectives on health care. With more than 300,000 colleagues and 9,000 community health destinations, CVS Health is working to reimagine health care to be simpler, more convenient and more personalized. Karen discussed her experiences leading a Fortune 4 company on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic response, and how she envisions a future with better outcomes for community health.
What did we learn? Here are the top takeaways from our conversation with Karen Lynch, President & CEO of CVS Health.
On pivoting during a pandemic … During the COVID-19 crisis, Lynch expanded the company’s mission of “bringing our heart to every moment of your health.” In 2021, that translated into putting up testing sites, administering 59 million vaccines, increasing access to telehealth and expanding mental health services. “We’re trying to reposition from being known as a pharmacy company, to being known as a health solutions company,” she explained. “The pandemic changed the face of CVS, and I couldn’t be more thankful to the entire organization. They basically stepped up when America needed us most. I’m so proud of them.”
On making health care more equitable, accessible and affordable … “The pandemic shined a bright light on the inequities of health in America,” said Lynch. Under her leadership, the company is entering a new era of meeting consumers where they are — starting with facilitating 20 million virtual health visits between 2020 and 2021, up from 20,000 in 2019. The company also deploys mobile vans in underserved communities, providing services from free preventative screenings to vaccinations. “We believe that there are preventable differences in access to care and health outcomes. We’re making a big commitment … striving to improve America’s access to health care,” she said.
On the state of mental health in the United States … “We’re in a crisis situation,” said Lynch. “But the positive part about the pandemic is we’re all talking about it.” According to Lynch, 52 million Americans live with a mental health issue, but 50% of them are not receiving the help they need. “We are doing our part to broaden access to mental health services, expanding our provider networks,” she noted. The company is also committed to reducing suicide rates, and their initiatives to identify and reach out to at-risk individuals have delivered promising early results. “As a nation, we have to make mental health a priority. We need to do more to talk about it, and we need to normalize it.”
On diversity and inclusion in the workplace … “I believe our workforce has to reflect the diversity of our customers and the communities in which we live,” said Lynch. The stats back that position: 60% of new CVS Health employees self-identify as racially or ethnically diverse.
On leading through crisis … As a leader who has been there firsthand, Lynch offered this advice: “Expect the unexpected. Think about alternative plans. You have to stay calm and make decisions with the best information available to you … and then you need to pivot when you get more information.” Flexibility, innovation and creativity are key, she said. But most important is to “communicate, communicate, communicate. Tell people where you are in the process, what you know, what you don’t know, and what you’re still working on.”
On becoming one of the world’s most powerful business leaders … Among many accolades, Lynch has made the Fortune “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” list for the past five years – coming in at number one in 2021 and named “Most Inspirational CEO” in 2022. Her secret to success? “Be authentic. Be yourself, and work at places that really welcome who you are,” she offered. “You’ll get up every single morning passionately committed to making a difference. Leave your fingerprints. Really think about … what’s the impact that I had because of this job?”
On self-care and free time … “It’s important to take care of yourself, your own personal well-being,” Lynch volunteered. For her, self-care comes in the forms of exercise and learning Polish. Lynch starts each day with a workout and ends with a language lesson. She encourages everyone to find time to recharge. “If we give our best selves, we can help others be their best selves.”
Presented by the Travelers Institute, the MetroHartford Alliance, the Master’s in Financial Technology (FinTech) Program at the University of Connecticut School of Business and the Risk and Uncertainty Management Center at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business.
Today, I'm just thrilled to be joined by Karen Lynch, the President and CEO of CVS Health. On February the first, 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, Karen took on the helm of CVS Health, the fourth-biggest company in this country and the largest in health care, with more than 300,000 employees, 9,000 community health destinations. With 40,000 physicians, pharmacists and nurses on staff, CVS Health is the leading health solutions company.
And Karen put the organization's unique assets to work at the hub of the pandemic response. In 2021, CVS Health administered more than 32 million COVID-19 tests and more than 59 million vaccines. Karen recently told The New York Times that she wants CVS Health to be part of people's everyday lives and she is leading the company to make health care simpler, more equitable, accessible and affordable. And that's important in these times, as we all know.
Karen has over three decades of experience in health care industry. Prior to becoming the CEO, she was Executive Vice President of CVS Health and President of Aetna, where she was responsible for delivering consumer-centric holistic health care to millions of people that Aetna serves. Karen has been named to the Fortune list of the 50 most powerful women in business for the past five years, including the number one rank in 2021.
And this year, Fortune named Karen the most inspirational CEO. She was named to the Bloomberg 50 list of people who have changed global business and included in Forbes' inaugural 50 over 50 list. She's received many other awards and recognition for her achievements in health and in business. Karen, thank you so much for being with us today. We really appreciate it.
KAREN LYNCH: Joan, thank you so much for having me. I look forward to having a conversation with you. And it's so great to see you.
They appear on a split Zoom screen.
JOAN WOODWARD: Well, thanks. Let's dig right in because I want to talk about your career, your story and your leadership. So you took over in the midst of the pandemic, February 2021. This is a moment in time when a lot of Americans were still waiting for that first COVID vaccine to become available. So what was that transition like for you for administering the test, and then what kind of immediate challenges did you really face at that moment?
KAREN LYNCH: Well, it's a great question. And if you step back and just let me put you-- what it looked like at the time. The U.S. had just surpassed 26 million COVID cases. Vaccines, as you said, were just being rolled out. Interestingly enough, the variant was the number one search on Google.
And America was frightened. They were frustrated. Everyone was seeking answers. And I walked in as a new leader in a very highly visible organization, who our mission is to improve health care. And as you might imagine, there's no manual for handling a global pandemic. And I wish there were.
But I was very fortunate to have a really strong management team. We quickly established what our guiding principles were and really established what I characterize as our North Star. We looked at our mission and our purpose, and we changed our purpose. And what I did was I asked the organization to come together and talk about how could we get all 300,000 colleagues rallied around getting vaccines to people, testing people.
And our team came up with our new purpose of bringing our heart to every moment of your health. And we had the entire organization rally around that mission. We established very clear goals. We put testing sites up. We expanded access to care through telehealth. We expanded our benefit programs.
We extended our resource for living and our mental health capabilities. We are working very closely with our partners across the country, our hospitals, our labs, and just making sure that we were being the face for a health care company. And at the same time, Joan, what we are trying to do was really reposition from being a known pharmacy company to being a company that is known as a health solutions company.
I think the pandemic changed the face of CVS. And I couldn't be more thankful for the entire organization. They basically stepped up when America needed us most. Our colleagues stepped up and delivered. And I'm so proud of them.
JOAN WOODWARD: Yeah, no, definitely. Certainly, in everyone's personal lives, we've seen that of CVS Health. And it's in every community in the country, and so we're grateful for the evolution of being just a pharmacy to the comprehensive health solutions.
So let's talk a little bit more about the pandemic. So what advice or insights do you have about leading through a crisis? We have a lot of business owners that tune in to our webinar sessions. And leading through that kind of crisis, what did you learn or what are some advices you would have?
KAREN LYNCH: Yeah, when you go through crisis, and every crisis is different, but I think there are some core things. And as I reflect on my career, I've been involved in a number of crises, starting way back when I was young, dealing with-- I remember when I took over our dental business at one of our competitors, I remember I had four hurricanes the first-- as the president of the dental business with four hurricanes coming at me within a span of a number of months. So I've been doing crisis, it seems, throughout my entire career.
The first thing, I think, I always tell people what you have to do is expect the unexpected. You can't always be prepared. But you need to really think about alternatives, plans. You have to stay calm. And you have to make decisions with the best information available to you. You won't know everything. And you need to make those decisions, and then you need to pivot when you get more information.
What I would say is what I've learned that's been incredibly important is, it's communicate, communicate, communicate. You tell people where you are in the process, what you know, what you don't know, what you're still working on. And I think that's really an important concept of any crisis and any crisis management part. And it served me well throughout my entire career.
I'd also say, you always have to be looking around the corner for opportunities because there's always going to be opportunities as you're going through the crisis. And that's where you have to have a team that's around you continually to think about innovation and creativity. And most importantly is flexibility and pace. You have to move. You can't stand still. And you constantly need to be assessing where you are and continually getting information.
What we learned throughout the crisis is that we became one of the most trusted brands in the country for our reaction. And I would tell you, Joan, it's not luck or it wasn't by accident. It's what I said before. We looked at what the nation needed. Our colleagues stepped up to the challenge. And we did what we thought was best so that we could make an impact and really support America in this pandemic and helping us quickly move to the endemic phase that I hope is around the corner.
JOAN WOODWARD: Now, I know those are great kind of lessons learned going through that, and certainly for emerging leaders in their businesses. And when you talk about hurricanes, we know something a little bit about hurricanes.
KAREN LYNCH: You do.
JOAN WOODWARD: And three hurricanes coming at you at the same time when you talked about running the dental business, those kinds of perils are big in our business. And so the leadership skills that you talk about are really applicable to everyone on our call today, so thank you for that. Let's get a little bit more deep into the pandemic response. So what do you think the biggest takeaways are in terms of the American health care system writ large? So thinking about the entire ecosystem of health care and CVS emerging, as you say, from that with just a stellar reputation, and people trusting you to do the right thing for them and their families. So how do you think about the pandemic takeaways for the health care system?
KAREN LYNCH: Yeah, so I would say a couple things. What we learned the most is that, health care, now is the time for health care to be designed around the consumer. And what we've seen from this whole pandemic is health is kind of on everybody's mind. It's their number one priority. I think people really recognized the importance of what your health means to you.
I think we've seen surveys that have said-- I think it's like 60% of Americans believe that health is more important now to them than pre-pandemic. And I think it accelerated shifts that were already in motion, but it moved us dramatically. We've seen the expansion of digital products and services, the acceptance of telehealth, the increase in mental health issues that are facing our nation. We've seen a spotlight on health inequities in America.
And I think what we've seen is broader access, people using-- meeting people and consumers where they want to be met. Forty percent of consumers have used virtual visits with their doctors in even the last 12 months. So we've seen consumers demanding more about their experiences, similar to all the other aspects of their lives. So as you think about the future of health and health care, the pandemic is going to be a mark of dramatic change. And that dramatic change will be in how people engage in their health, how they use technology to support their health.
And I think it's important to recognize that health is personal. And it will require connecting to the consumer where and when they want to have their health care delivered. And as a company, our goal is to really help people navigate the health care system. You, you said this earlier, Joan, access, lower costs, improve health outcomes. And our goal as a company is that, when people are thinking about their health, we are positioning CVS Health to be part of their everyday health care journey. And the pandemic has really helped us lead our way and has shown us the way to get there.
JOAN WOODWARD: Yeah, so certainly, you became the community hub, right, for people who wanted those tests? When you were just coming on as CEO, it was all about testing. And then the vaccine rollout came, and then people went back to you for the vaccines, obviously. There's other places, obviously, they could have got it. But it seemed so convenient, right, because they were going to anyway?
How do you build on that? So that momentum that you have between the testing and the vaccines, and how do you build on that momentum for people coming back to you for those health care services when they also have, if you will-- as you know well as former president of Aetna, they have a health care company, right? Their insurance company, for example. But how do you kind of integrate into that the community hub that you talk about? How are you thinking about that when you say seeing around those corners?
KAREN LYNCH: Yeah, I think a couple things. First, if you think about our company, we have products and services along the entire continuum of someone's health needs. And if you first kind of think about it, Joan, the way I think about it, when people think about their health, the first thing they think is, how do I pay for it? What's my insurance?
And so as a company, we serve 100 million members through our Aetna and our Caremark insurance businesses, so to speak. So we're interacting with those individuals on a daily basis. So we're taking care of that financing mechanism for them. We have put ourselves on the map as a health care delivery company. And people can come to us for those health services through our Minute Clinics and our health hubs, our Coram infusion.
So we actually are in the care delivery. And as part of our strategy going forward, we're extending into care delivery and other health services. And then as you mentioned, we have those community health destinations, where people are in the community. And we're a true access point for people in the community. Underlying all of that is really our investment in digital capabilities because technology is critical to our long-term success.
But the point I want to make about being in the community, I think-- and I was sharing this story with you before we got on-- I think we are one of those trusted brands. And one of-- what's interesting, I got a letter from one of our customers the other day. And she told me that her mom got in her car and was driving all around. Her mom has Alzheimer's. And close to their home is a CVS location.
And 20 minutes away, her mom pulled into a different store of CVS Health because she felt safe and she felt connected and she trusted CVS. One of-- this is an interesting story. One of our brand-new colleagues who started that day was talking to her and realized something wasn't quite right. He was able to get a lot of information and ended up calling her daughter. And her daughter came and got her.
But I think that just-- and that sends a powerful message about being in the community, about being a trusted brand, about being there when people need to make those connections. And I think as a company, as we think about our company and our purpose of being there for every moment of your health, that story epitomizes us kind of being in those communities, in addition to all the other things that we do. And I couldn't be more proud of our colleague.
But I just think you have to be where people are and meet people's needs where they want to be met. And as a company, we have an unmatched range of all consumer touch points and have lots of different channels to meet their health care needs across that entire continuum that I started talking about initially.
JOAN WOODWARD: And you said it was his first day on the job, the employee?
KAREN LYNCH: First day on the job.
JOAN WOODWARD: Oh, wow, you must have an amazing training program for your employees coming in to provide that level of care. So congrats on that, wow. Let's shift a little bit about the biggest challenges for consumers because consumers are facing, obviously, inflation now. And there's medical inflation, we all know. Is it cost? Is it access? What do you think the biggest challenges are for consumers now?
KAREN LYNCH: Yeah, for consumers now, it really is. It's cost. It's access. It's kind of all the pieces of-- and I would say it's also kind of that simplicity. We've talked about this before. There's strains right now in accessing primary care. And what's interesting, it takes about 24 days or so to schedule an appointment with a primary care physician. And as you look at primary care, there is somewhat of a shortage expected over the next decade. And that's going to be challenging as the population ages. So that's one area.
Rising costs are untenable right now and still increasing. I think CMS is forecasting the national health care spending will be about 5 and 1/2% per year through 2027. And what's interesting is that even though as a nation we spend the most on health care, our health outcomes are falling behind. And having that as a backdrop, consumer expectations for health care are changing dramatically.
As we just talked about, it's really a reflection of the expectations of all their other services and what the pandemic did. So I think as we think about going forward, we have to have more convenience, more digital and telehealth options so that people can have more access. We need to continue to drive alternative solutions so that it can be more affordable. And that's center to what we're trying to do is making it convenient, more accessible, having access to clinicians for longer periods of time, when you want to go or when you want to see a physician, not when it's convenient in a 9:00 to 4:00 time frame.
So the other thing I would say, Joan, in this realm, is that consumers continually are looking to have a more engaged relationship with providers. We just did a consumer insight study. And what we found is that consumers are looking to have providers talk to them more frequently about reminding them around their checkups, reminding them that they have routine testing and preventive care.
And as a company, we've been doing a lot of that activity. We call it our Next Best Actions. We've established our digital capabilities, where we're reminding people around their screenings, around their tests. We created a health dashboard that has the ability for consumers to have all their information around their health activities in one place. And we've seen a dramatic uptick in those individuals that are leveraging that asset from CVS. So as a company, we're extremely focused on the consumer and driving at that cost and affordability and, clearly, access.
JOAN WOODWARD: Yeah. No, no, we see it in our business as well. We listen to the consumers, and their voices are heard. And we take into account what they want. We have to, to be in a competitive environment. I just want to clarify, you said CMS. So for my listeners, I believe that's the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
KAREN LYNCH: That's correct.
JOAN WOODWARD: That's the government agency within the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington that oversees and governs, correct, all of the pricing in the health care space?
KAREN LYNCH: Yes.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, good. So digital health, I think that's critically important as well. The telemedicine is the pandemic pivot for all of providers. I was going to my dermatologist the other day. And even before I walked in the door he said, send me a pic of what you're concerned about. And we wouldn't have had that conversation a year or two ago before the pandemic. So that's terrific. Please, please, keep us up to date on what the digital health experience is looking like for your company in the future.
OK, I want to shift a little bit and talk a little bit about-- I'm going to call it corporate governance. Some people call it ESG, environmental, social and governance. It's really top of mind for a lot of companies these days, especially public companies. So talk to us a little bit about your strategy with ESG in the marketplace. And what are you doing? How do you think about it? I'm sure it's embedded in all of your businesses across the different lines? But talk to us how you think about ESG.
KAREN LYNCH: Yeah, Joan, it's top of mind, as you said, for all of us. And how we've really positioned it and how we're thinking about it is from a kind of health perspective. And what we said is, healthy people are the product of a healthy planet. And you know as well as I do that climate change is threatening the critical elements of kind of your physical and your mental health.
And if people don't have safe drinking water or clean air or food supply, or secure housing, all of that's going to impact your overall health. So we have set, like everyone else, very ambitious goals to mitigate climate risk, while at the same time advancing health care equity for all. And we've established goals under an umbrella called Healthy 2030, where we've said-- we've got four pillars, and that's healthy people, healthy business, healthy community and a healthy planet.
And how we're thinking about those parts of our strategy is that, first and foremost, we want to mitigate our environmental footprint. We want to adapt the company operations to really use renewable energy and have less waste. We're investing in creating products that contribute to a more equitable and resilient health care system.
And those goals, we have very distinct goals like everyone else. We said we'd reduce our environmental impact by at least 50% by 2030, that we would reach carbon neutrality by 2030 and that we'd procure about 50% of our energy from renewable sources by 2040. And our goal is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. And we've made-- we have these good examples of what we've made progress in the past year of our science-based targets.
We've reduced-- I think in Scope 2, we've reduced about 155 tons of CO2 emissions since our 2019 baseline. And we've also, in Scope 3, reduced about 15 million tons of our CO2 emissions since the baseline in '19. So we're making measurable progress. But like every company, top of mind and part of the core of what we're trying to accomplish as a company, and its core to our mission.
JOAN WOODWARD: Yeah, it's actually very similar to Travelers. We have it embedded in our business. We don't think of it as kind of window dressing and a nice-to-have on top, but more of a business imperative that every one of our employees, as I'm sure as well with your group, they understand the importance of it. And also, it's important to talk about these issues to attract and retain talent because our young people coming into companies, they want a company with purpose and mission.
So I want to talk to you about one aspect of ESG, which is diversity. So you've said that "diversity within the CVS Health community is one of the bonds that ties us all together," quote, unquote. And CVS because of that was ranked as one of the top 50 companies for diversity. So talk to us about how you approach diversity and inclusion at CVS and some tips for others listening and on the phone today about how to achieve a more diverse and equitable workforce.
KAREN LYNCH: Well, Joan, it's something you just said. It's not something that's on the side of our desk. It's embedded in the core fabric of our company. And I believe that our workforce has to reflect the diversity of our customers and the communities in which we live. And that's our standard. And we have made a number of strategic diversity efforts.
I'm really proud of the numbers that we've shown. We embed it in our recruiting and our hiring. We're creating a culture of inclusion. As a matter of fact, the other day, we had an external speaker, Dr. Brock, come talk to us about the science of inclusion. And one of the things he said that really struck me was he said, if you aren't actively including, you are passively and unintentionally excluding. And I thought that was an interesting perspective about inclusion and diversity.
And I think it's a good reminder for all of us to really think about inclusion and diversity. Sixty-- going back to the numbers, 60% of our new colleagues have self-identified as racially or ethnically diverse. And that is actually two times the average of the U.S. population. And we have a diversity management leadership council. It's a cross-functional set of senior leaders that advise me across the organization.
They establish peer-to-peer coaching. We have set very clear benchmarks in our outcomes. We've tied diversity to our executive compensation. And we are one of the few companies that have made that commitment and really put our executive compensation behind our diversity commitments. So really proud of the results that we've had.
JOAN WOODWARD: Wow, that's very impactful. Thank you for sharing that with us. Not a lot of companies do that, so thank you. I want to talk about your recent appointment, too, of a chief health equity officer. So what are you specifically focusing on to address health care disparities by having a chief health equity officer? And what does that mean?
KAREN LYNCH: Well, what it means-- here's the way to think about it. First of all, the pandemic, as I said earlier, shined a bright light on the inequities of health in America. And quite frankly, my view is health equity is an American crisis right now. And I believe and as a company we believe that there are preventable differences in access to care and health outcomes.
And there's clear examples, the numbers behind it. Black Americans are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites. And that's a staggering number. And to truly transform health care, we as a company believe that no one is left behind. So we brought a chief health equity officer in that we're committed to changing that trajectory so that we can improve health outcomes for everyone. And we're focusing first on eliminating heart and mental health disparities.
And that's a big focus for her. And we're bringing her-- shining the light, and we're working with various companies. Like we're providing free HIV testing in underserved markets, for example. We've expanded. We have mobile units called Project Health. So those Project Health mobile units are entering new areas to support heart health and to support mental health in underserved communities. And we'll host about 1,600 screenings this year. So, collectively, I think we all have work to do. But as a company, we're making a big commitment. And we demonstrated this strongly during the pandemic, where many of our vaccines, many of our tests were done in underserved communities. We brought our mobile vans to underserved communities to make sure that people had access to the care that they needed at the time that they needed it most. So we've got a major commitment here, and I think it's important for us. And we're striving to improve America's access to health care.
JOAN WOODWARD: It really is wonderful. Thank you for sharing that. I want to talk-- pick up on something you just mentioned, which is mental health. So we obviously know the pandemic has increased feelings of isolation, grief, burnout. What is the state of mental health in America as you see it? And what is CVS Health working on in the mental health space?
KAREN LYNCH: Well, first and foremost, we're in a crisis situation right now. And the pandemic really-- one, the positive part about the pandemic, we're all talking about it. And I think that's a really good and impactful thing for mental health. But the bad news is we're in a crisis. 52 million people, 52 million people in the U.S. live with a mental health issue. And unfortunately, 50% of them aren't receiving the help that they need.
Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S. And it is the second-- and this is an important number. It is the second-leading cause of death for people from ages 10 to 34. Think about that number for a minute. So as a company, we are doing our part to broaden access to mental health services.
The first thing we're doing is we're expanding our provider networks. We've expanded into telehealth. 20 million, we had 20 million virtual mental health visits over the past two years. We had about 20,000 in 2019. So telehealth is really helping people get the access that they needed. We've also launched mental health services in our health hubs so that people had another access point.
And as a company, we made a commitment to reduce suicide. And the numbers that we've shown is that we've reduced suicides by 22% since we started this initiative. And what we're doing there is we're offering timely-- we have data, we have information, and we're able to offer timely interventions. Or if we see people—or if we have information about suicide attempts-- we have people reaching out so that they feel like there's a lifeline. As a company, we clearly are doing and positively impacting people. We're committing to doing more. But frankly, America has to do more. You heard the numbers.
JOAN WOODWARD: Yeah, it really is staggering. So what do you think-- what is the biggest health threat you think the nation is facing now? Is it mental health, or what are you seeing in the future? What's our biggest concern?
KAREN LYNCH: Well, I think mental health is the collateral damage of the pandemic. And it's-- clearly there's a shortage of providers. And I think most-- what we're seeing is that most mental health problems are-- they present at primary care. And I think it's important that we look at the whole continuum of health care from primary care all the way through mental health as a nation. And we have to make mental health a priority.
It is-- we're in crisis right now. And I think one of the things as a society that we need to do more, to talk about it, and we need to normalize it. We need to make it part of every-single-day conversation. It's still a stigma. And people are still ashamed to talk about it or seek help.
And I was there. I lost my mom to suicide. I didn't talk about it for many, many years because I thought that people would judge me and that people would think less of me. And I'm very open and vocal about it now, hoping that it makes people seek the help that they need or make it-- or help others-- because it's not something that anyone should be ashamed of it. Your brain is part of an organ of your entire body, and we need to make sure that we are focused both on our mental well-being as equally as much as our physical well-being.
JOAN WOODWARD: And are you seeing a lot of the mental health services now go through telehealth? Are people comfortable in those scenarios having not an in-person meeting, but having a Zoom call with a provider? Is that becoming more and more desirable, acceptable post-pandemic-- or where we are with the pandemic?
KAREN LYNCH: Yeah, it really is.
JOAN WOODWARD: Sorry.
KAREN LYNCH: Yeah, it really is. You heard me say the numbers before. Like in 2019, we had 20,000 virtual health visits. We're up to millions. So I think what we-- I think before the pandemic, we served like 1% of the population. And now I think there's just tremendous opportunity for telehealth.
We're seeing-- it really stems from meeting customers where they want to be met. And because of the stigma, people want to access through telemedicine. And right now, it's helping break down some of those barriers and reducing some of that stigma. So I think telehealth is part of the answer to address mental health and access. And it's clearly an important role. Virtual care, just telehealth and virtual care, is part of the continuum of receiving care.
At some point, though, it's part of, it's not the whole thing. Because at some point, you have to see a provider, primary care or whatever. But I think telehealth is really helping. Back to my point, it's helping with mental health. Because what was happening before, it would take almost 50 days, 48, 50 days, for someone to get in to see a mental health provider. Telehealth is opening up that access and opening up the possibilities for people to get care.
JOAN WOODWARD: Wonderful. We are going to move on to audience questions. So this is my favorite part of our webinar series. Please put your questions for Karen in the Q&A function if you haven't already. And we've had a number come in already, Karen. I'm going to get right to them. We'll do as many as we can today. Do you have any other comments before we move on to audience questions? Did you want to say anything else?
KAREN LYNCH: Joan, the only thing I would say-- and we just finished talking about mental well-being. And I think one of the things that in this crazy world we're living in, I think it's important to remind everyone that it's important to take care of yourself and taking the time for your own personal well-being. And I think that's critically important for all of us.
And I do my part. I'm a Peloton fanatic, and so I get up every morning and work out. And I take time every night, actually, before I go to bed, and I'm learning Polish just to get my mind on something else. And I would encourage everyone. It's the summer season, and people need to take that time and refresh for themselves. I think that's-- because we can-- if we give our best selves, we can help others be their best selves.
JOAN WOODWARD: Karen, did you say you're learning Polish?
KAREN LYNCH: I did. I did.
JOAN WOODWARD: Dobry! [Good!] I speak Polish.
KAREN LYNCH: Oh! Oh, I am so glad to hear that. Now I know who I can come and practice with. I'm actually doing it on Duolingo, and so every night I do my little practice sessions. But now I'm going to call you, and you can help me learn it faster.
JOAN WOODWARD: Excellent, excellent. My married name is Woodward, but my Polish name was Kois. So great.
KAREN LYNCH: Terrific.
JOAN WOODWARD: All right, audience, let's go to some of your questions. This question, Karen, I have to say, has come in from a number of people about reproductive rights. So I'm going to go with Laura Whiles at Alliant Insurance Services in Texas. She asks, what is CVS Health doing to protect women's reproductive rights?
KAREN LYNCH: It's a great question, Laura. And the first thing I would say as a health care company, we are a leading health care company with health solutions, and we have been very active and engaged in women's health for a number of years. It's kind of a hallmark of what we do as a company. And we are very committed.
So the first thing we're doing is working very closely with our customers. And what our customers are telling us is they want to extend their travel and lodging benefits. So we've been very active and engaged with our customers. The second thing that we're doing is making sure that people have access to contraceptives. And in many states, our pharmacists are able to prescribe contraceptives. And we have that ability for them to fill birth control prescriptions and offer over-the-counter contraceptives.
So I think it's about, I don't know, 1,800 or so pharmacists that are educating our patients, and they're filling birth control prescriptions without a doctor. And we can do that in certain states. We're obviously working with health advocates across the country to enable more patients to obtain hormonal contraceptives by visiting their local pharmacist. And as I said, we continue to work with our customers for out-of-state care and access.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. Thank you for that. Another question coming in from Craig Jaffe. He asked, how has Amazon entering the pharmacy prescription space affected your business, if at all?
KAREN LYNCH: There's always a number of entrants coming into health care every year. Obviously, we pay attention to all of them. We have not seen a dramatic impact from Amazon in our specific business. We are the largest pharmacy PBM in the country. And so we have the opportunity of scale.
And we've been focused on innovative products, innovative services. And core to what we've been doing is taking care of our customers. And we've got-- as you know, Joan, retention of clients is important. And we've been maintaining very strong client retention. So they're a competitor. We're watching them, but we haven't had significant impact yet.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. This question coming in, how do you keep your employees? How did you keep your employees during the pandemic? A lot of businesses were sending their employees home, and people got kind of comfortable and used to working from home. But your employees had to be there on the job, certainly in Aetna, of course, taking care of patients, but also in the pharmacy. So how did you keep employees, especially during this tight labor market?
KAREN LYNCH: Yeah, obviously, the turnover and the labor market is tight. The nation has seen record-breaking numbers leave, and we're not immune to that. During kind of all that early on in that time, people want-- you said this earlier, Joan. People want to work for a company that has a purpose. And we have a very powerful purpose.
And everything that we do is connected to that purpose, be it-- we want to be there for every moment of someone's health, our ESG, our diversity, our inclusion, all of it is connected. And we've made significant investments in our wages. We've made significant investments in our well-being resources.
We actually kept benefit costs flat for our employees. We're focusing on skill-building. There's three things that we're very focused on. It's well-being, diversity and inclusion, and development of talent. And we're talking to our colleagues every day about one of those. And that's how we're continuing to engage our colleagues.
But reality is we are experiencing turnover like every other company. But we're working very closely with people. And my view is, because of the pandemic, every company has to re-recruit their talent. And we're making great strides in that regard.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. Another question coming in from Stephen Pappas. He asked, with the trends of patients getting less than seven minutes interaction with their doctors, how do you plan to deliver more patient engagement and increase patient experience?
KAREN LYNCH: Yeah, it's a great question. And that's why we said that we really want to extend the health services because people are spending less and less time. I think the best way to do that is using data and technology so that the provider, whether it be a primary care, nurse practitioner, can actually spend more time one-on-one with you because they're not filling out forms, they're not distracted, that they have all the information about you. You have the information about you. They have the information about you.
And where they can have a conversation and a dialogue, I think that's where technology has to improve the productivity of physicians, and also engagement of individuals. Now more and more people have more information about themselves. And they can engage in more conversation and more dialogue. And so what we're doing is thinking about how we make those clinicians more efficient so they can spend that more one-on-one time with them. And that's really, I think, critical for that ongoing partnership between the clinician and the patient.
JOAN WOODWARD: All right, good, good. This question’s coming in about your vision for neighborhood stores in the future. Given the synergies now with the Aetna merger, talk to us about your vision for what people should expect in five, 10 years from a CVS hub?
KAREN LYNCH: Yeah, so we've been very clear about our strategy. We've said that we will have different formats of our stores, where we think we'll have more clinically based, where we'll have the stores that we have today, and then maybe clinically based with a pharmacy. And so that's the strategy that we've laid out.
And we're working through the evolving changes in the health care system, the evolving changes in consumer behaviors as we continue to refine that strategy. As we think of it, we've also been very transparent about the fact that we are closing 900 stores over the course of the next three years, so 300, 300, 300. And we're well on our way to do that.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. This question comes in from a number of people, probably based in Connecticut, Rhode Island, I'm not sure. Karen, are you moving the headquarters to Hartford?
KAREN LYNCH: [LAUGHS]
Our headquarters are in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. But our Aetna headquarters will stay in Hartford. So we kind of-- but our corporate headquarters are in Rhode Island, but Aetna is not moving to Rhode Island. And it's interesting now. It's an interesting question, right? Because a lot of people are working in a variety of different locations in a variety of different ways.
And I think the most important part is thinking about the work of the future and having the flexibility. And you'll have less and less office space and more and more touchdown spaces and things like that. And I always think about, when you say corporate headquarters, everyone's in different places now. And I think as companies we've learned how to really accelerate how to work differently. And we'll have to continue to evolve it as the world evolves around us.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. All right, and this one comes in from Liam Merrill. So Liam is asking, if you were 19 again-- she's one of our interns here--
KAREN LYNCH: I wish I was.
JOAN WOODWARD: Wouldn't it be nice to be 19 again, as opposed to being on that list that says 50 over 50 or something? But--
KAREN LYNCH: Exactly.
JOAN WOODWARD: What is the biggest piece of advice that you would like to give to young-- the question is about young women, but it could be for young men-- really to succeed in corporate America? Obviously, it's a mix of luck, right? But a mix of real hard work. But what would you give us-- what are you telling your interns this summer about how to not only survive in corporate America, but to thrive?
KAREN LYNCH: Yeah, it's a great question. I actually just spent some time with our interns. We have many, many interns here. And it's exciting to see the energy and the passion. And I love spending time with them.
Here's what I tell them. One is, have the courage to try new things, and don't be afraid. As I think about my career and I look at people's careers, people have a variety of different experiences. And I think that's really important. The other thing I say is, be a constant continual learner. And just keep that-- I call it intellectual curiosity.
Keep that curiosity going and ask the questions. How does the company work? How does the company make money? Who are our customer segments? I think that's really important to really be a student of the company that you work with. And I think that helps you propel your career.
The other thing I say is, make sure you leave your fingerprints somewhere. And what I mean by that is, you have an opportunity to leave an impact on your job, whatever it is. And leave those fingerprints so people that may sit in your chair after, see your fingerprints. And it'll allow them to leave their fingerprints.
But I think that is something people should really think about is, what's the impact that I had because I had this job? And I think if you think about those three things, I think they'll keep you engaged. And I think they'll really-- you'll have a productive and, I think, an important career.
JOAN WOODWARD: Great, great. Karen, we have come to the end of our time here. And I just want to give you an opportunity, because again, as a woman running a Fortune 10, Fortune 5 company, in the United States, you're such a role model for others, myself included. And we just want to thank you for your leadership and taking on some of these really important and sensitive topics for corporate America, and really being a leader out there. And I know it's not easy, but I just want to personally thank you and just see if you had any other final kind of thoughts before we close it out.
KAREN LYNCH: Well, thank you for that. Joan, I think the other thing I would just say, and this is about-- it's about leadership. I think the best advice I can give anyone is to really be who you are and be authentic and be yourself because-- and work at places that really welcome who you are.
I think that makes a difference and would add to a rewarding career for you. But you'll get up every single morning passionately committed about making a difference. And I think that's-- if you're authentic and you're passionate about making a difference, I think the whole world’s in front of you.
JOAN WOODWARD: I couldn't agree more. Well said, and it's a great place to end. So Karen, thank you so much for your time for being with us, for being so open about your thoughts and how you think about leadership and running the company. It's a huge operation with all those employees and locations and a very, very trying time to come in in the middle of a pandemic with no playbook, as you say. So thank you again. We really appreciate you being here.
KAREN LYNCH: Thank you. It was such a pleasure to spend time with you. I really appreciate it. Thanks so much for having me.
JOAN WOODWARD: All right. And my friends, we are going to take the month of August off. And we encourage you to take some time with your family and friends as well. We're going to be back in September with an amazing fall lineup. I can't announce it here, but we will be sending you out a note with our tremendous lineup of speakers.
And so please have a safe the rest of your summer. And we're going to hit the ground rolling. We're going to have quite the lineup. So I hope you join us. And again, it's been great spending time with you all today. Take care.
Fabulous Fall Line Up Ahead! The Wednesdays with Woodward webinar series will be kicking off a fantastic fall beginning September 7th. Watch your email in the coming weeks for a sneak peek at our September and October programming and mark your fall calendar for Wednesdays at 1 PM Eastern Time. Register, travelers institute dot org. Watch replays, travelers institute dot org. Linked In, Connect, Joan Kois Woodward. Take our survey, Link in chat. Hashtag Wednesdays with Woodward.
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