Celebrate your healthier tomorrow
A healthier you is a more powerful you
UnitedHealthcare and ESSENCE have joined together to support Black women in their journey to live healthier lives. During ESSENCE Festival of Culture™, we partnered to find more ways to focus on what matters to you — your health, your world and your work. Because a healthier you is a more powerful you. Explore these resources gathered at the event — and keep celebrating a healthier you.
Experience the power of ESSENCE Festival of Culture through the lens of festival attendees.
ESSENCE Festival of Culture Recap
WOMAN 1: Welcome to UnitedHealthcare.
SIMONE WILLIAMS: The Essence Festival of Culture is really a cultural moment for Black people, for Black women in particular, and UnitedHealthcare is really excited to be here.
WOMAN 2: I came in, took a picture, they gave me a cool little gift.
TONY FAIR: Everyone's coming through the booth. We have a lot of giveaways. We're giving tickets away. People are having a lot of fun.
WOMAN 3: I am very grateful that UnitedHealthcare is here. I really do appreciate the opportunity to learn more about UnitedHealthcare and just some of the resources that you offer.
MAN 1: Health is very important. The visit to this booth was really informative and very important for us.
KAREN DEUTSCH: We're so excited to be here supporting all of the communities we serve.
It's really important for us to let people know that health is wealth.
PATRICIA LEWIS: Women in general, we tend to take care of everybody else before we take care of ourselves. For me, a healthy and wealthy life means that I'm physically fit, I'm emotionally fit, I'm spiritually fit, and then I can give to everybody else.
WOMAN 4: I feel like Black women, in particular, are pushed to the side a lot of times with healthcare. So for you guys to be here and show that you care, it really matters.
AISHA BRISCOE-JOHNSON: United does a number of things in order to make sure that we're meeting the community where they are.
RETRESHA AMBROSE: I'm passionate about what UnitedHealthcare stands for, and that's helping people live healthier lives.
WOMAN 5: To introduce UnitedHealthcare to the community and let them know that they can give great service and healthcare is important to everyone.
JOY FITZGERALD: I hope they walk away with knowledge of how to advocate for their health, how to access information, and to know that preventive healthcare saves lives.
GROUP OF WOMEN: We are celebrating our healthier tomorrow. We are celebrating our healthier tomorrow. We are celebrating our healthier tomorrow.
Patricia L. Lewis, Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, UnitedHealth Group and Sherri Shepherd, Daytime Emmy Award-winning talk show host, comedian, actress, and best-selling author joined forces to discuss their outlook on wealth, its connection to health and how it’s redefined their careers.
Redefining wealth: How well-being and purpose can build a fulfilling life
SHERRI SHEPHERD: Oh my gosh. It's so nice to see everybody. Look at all of this beautiful melanin. Oh my gosh. Can you give yourselves a hand ladies, gentlemen? This is so nice. One of my best friends in the world is here, Kim Whitley. Can y'all give Kim Whitley a hand? I'm so thankful to UnitedHealth Group for being here. This is an amazing discussion I'm going to have. I'm gonna sit down right here. Are y'all doing good? I have eaten my way through New Orleans. If anybody's like me, I've been watching y'all eat your beignets. I had alligator nuggets for the first time. It tastes like chicken. If you've never had alligator nuggets, it tastes just like chicken. And have you been taking advantage of everything here at the convention center? It has been so nice just to be amongst Black women. This is the best. Can y'all just give yourselves a hand again? I want to start the show. I'm sitting here and I'm just, I'm so full. I literally feel like I have all of New Orleans in my stomach right now. I want to give an intro, but I forgot my glass - I hate wearing my reading glasses, but I can't see any of y'all. Y'all look like one big face. Can you bring my reading glasses up here? You got a pair of reading glasses, but you can't see. I don't know if yours is going to be - Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Kim. I appreciate you. I want to bring up the woman of the hour that I want to have just a sister friend discussion with. Her name is Patricia L. Lewis, and Patricia is the Chief Sustainability Officer at United Health Group. But this sister is so bad, I have got to read her bio because she's that bad. You came up here and don't even say anything, Patricia, because you are so bad, I can't just say your title. Can I read it please? Can you sit here while I give you your flowers here? Patricia L. Lewis was named United Health Group First Chief Sustainability Officer in February, 2022. She leads the development and implementation of the enterprise ESG strategy, including environmental sustainability goals and United Health Group's Health, Equity and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commitments and Initiatives. Patricia previously served as Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer of United Health Group. So you are here and you are talking to me. Can you give Patricia L. Lewis a hand?
PATRICIA LEWIS: Thank you. Thank you.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: Patricia, I'm really glad to be here because this is a room full of - wait, first of all, this is your first time over here at Essence.
PATRICIA LEWIS: Yes. This is my first, very first Essence. My wife, who's sitting in the row, she told me I should not do that, so I'm doing it. She's here in the orange. Sherri and Sharon are coordinated here.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: Hey wife.
PATRICIA LEWIS: Shout out wifey. So it’s my very first Essence, and I will tell you, just the energy in the room, the energy in the hotel, I mean, you leave your room you see Black women everywhere. It is amazing. And I have to shout out to my Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters. I'm wearing red, but I just had to represent. So it's been phenomenal. Thank you.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: You know, when you are in Essence, you never hear more, Hey girl. You hear a lot of that when you come out.
PATRICIA LEWIS: That's right. Everywhere, everywhere.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: It's an experience being here amongst so many Black women who are supportive, who care. You feel like when you're here at Essence, everybody got your back.
PATRICIA LEWIS: That's right, that's right. Everywhere you go, everywhere go.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: I just got to give a shout out to one sis. I took a picture with her, Patricia, and my hair, I didn't have my hair on. She got me before I put my hair on. And she wanted to take a picture and I said, I don't have my hair and makeup on. And she said, sis, we not going to do that. You are a queen so we not going to start that. You look good. So whoever that was, thank you. You changed my life. I'm going to go on the air, I'm going to just have braids on. I didn't even want to put a wig on.
PATRICIA LEWIS: I know you went on and you had your wig cap on, right?
SHERRI SHEPHERD: I had a wig cap on, yeah. It's so hot I feel like this wig is slowly melting off of my head. But I wanted to talk to you because we have been talking, the discussion about wealth has been around for a minute. It's almost like wealth is trending. Everybody is into wealth. Everybody is into money. We got this, and this bag, and this car. But we're looking at wealth in a different light. How do you see wealth?
PATRICIA LEWIS: Listen, I think you need monetary wealth as a foundation, to make sure that you can do everything that you need to do in your life. So it helps with flexibility, it helps with access to things, it helps with having fun. But to me, wealth is more than money. Got to secure the bag, but when I think about wealth, it's also about health, and I think you cannot have wealth without having good health. And you might say, you work for a healthcare company, you would say that. But I honestly think it's true. And if you think about the income disparity in this country and how particularly people of color do not have access to healthcare, they cannot really fulfill their lives if they are unhealthy. And for me, wealth is, it's health, it's mental health, it's emotional health, it's social health, and having relationships, and familial health. So it's a pretty broad definition as I think about it, Sherri. You do need to have that economic foundation for sure, but I think we just need to think about it in a more holistic manner.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: Being a Black woman, how many of you have children in the audience? Okay. And you have jobs. And I think that we, as Black women, no matter where we are, the number one thing is you're trying to figure out, especially in this landscape today, with what's going on politically, what is going on in the world today, you're trying to figure out, it's a stress that Black women have that I don't think any women have, of trying to figure out how you're going to make sure your kids get home safe, how you're going to make sure your kids are alive.
And the stress that we face and trying to get up and go to a job and deal with a boss that you may not like, being in a career that you may not like, it is so hard. How do you define wealth for these women?
PATRICIA LEWIS: No, I think, again, it's in order to be personally fulfilled, you need to do what you enjoy doing. But I think this is where, again, back to the health point, you have to take care of yourself, first and foremost. One of the things I really wanted to register with this audience of incredible, Black women, and I know there's a lot of men out here, so you're supporting Black women as well, is when you think about health literacy, understanding the issues that face the Black community, particularly Black women and our health, we don't have the information that we need all the time. One of the things that comes to mind is, and I don't know how many of you know this fact, but Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy related complications than white women. It's unbelievable that in a developed country as ours, that we still have this problem. So Black maternal health is a huge issue for us, particularly those of - I have a son. I have a son who's 22 years old, and one of the things that was critically important for me was the fact that I had a Black doctor take care of me during my pregnancy. She was with me, she knew that I had the sickle cell trait, and so when I had my son, there was a possibility that there could be a complication. And as soon as my son was born, there was a complication and she went to work quick to make sure that I'm still able to sit here and talk to you about this issue today. And without her, I don't know what I would do. She delivered my boy, and she delivered me back to all of you today. One of the things that we are working on very, very strongly, is to try to build that population of diverse healthcare professionals. We just committed a hundred million dollars, a hundred million dollars, to build a pipeline of talent, 10,000 new, additional Black and other, brown, and Asian doctors as well, and also up-skilling medical professionals, so a medical technician who may want to be a nurse, or a nurse who wants to get to nurse practitioner. Why? Because culturally competent care matters. It matters because we have better health outcomes when we do have Black physicians taking care of Black people. And I'm here to tell you that that would've been a different story if I didn't have the doctor that I had.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: And we can see that from the sister who just passed away, who was the Olympic sister. Her name was…
PATRICIA LEWIS: Tori Bowie.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: Tori Bowie, who didn't have a doctor that she could call. I don't know the circumstances. I have to tell you, my experience in having my son Jeffrey, was very, very different from yours. And this goes to show you the healthcare levels. I don't care if you a celebrity or you working at the post office, the healthcare crisis makes the playing field level. So I had a doctor, I was looking for a OBGYN that could help me. Is that what you call them, when they help you with the baby? And everybody turned me down because they were busy with clients, so I had to pretty much take who was available. I did not feel comfortable with this doctor. She did not inform me of a lot of things that I needed to do. I felt like at this doctor's office it was come in, do you have any questions? Okay, but you got to go. And I was so intimidated by this woman, this doctor. She didn't look like me, she couldn't understand what I was going through. And one of the things that she did not tell me, and I don't blame anybody for anything because everything was my choice, but one of the things this doctor did not tell me was that you have to keep yourself hydrated. You always have to drink water because your amniotic fluid goes down. I had no idea. So when I found out that my husband cheated on me, I was depressed and I didn't drink or eat for two days because I was so depressed. Immediately, I went into labor with Jeffrey, a whole host of things. But I felt like if I could have just been able to talk to a doctor that looked like me, because that's how I found out I had diabetes. I had a Black woman. Let me tell you what this Black woman said, Patricia. My blood sugar was over 400. And she said, Sherri, you like wearing those heels? And I said, yeah. She said, well, you won’t be wearing those heels with your feet cut off. That was a Black woman. Changed my life. And because I didn't have this - she did. Because you know that Black women talk to you that auntie talk. She said, not with your feet cut off will you be wearing heels. So this doctor that I had, I don't think she understood me and it was my first child, and I was a high risk pregnancy. And Jeffrey came |at five and a half months. It is vital, when you have a doctor - how many of you have a healthcare person? Do you have a doctor? How many folks out here? And I see and a lot of people don't. It is imperative that you try to find someone. Boy, if they can look like you and understand where you come from, that's so important.
PATRICIA LEWIS: A lot of times too, what you said happens quite frequently, that doctors don't listen to you. For the young people in the audience this is really important because you appear to be healthy, you're not showing major signs of illness, but you may have a nagging complaint. And remember what happened with Serena Williams, right, when she kept complaining. She knew she had a blood clot, but she was being told differently. And so she pushed and pushed. It happens to us a lot. We have found that the trust level goes up exponentially when you have a doctor from the same or similar cultural background as you. Medication adherence, you trust your doctor. They're going to prescribe the right things. They're going to tell you the hardcore truth, and you're going to adhere to it. And that, to me, is all about wealth. Because if you don't have your health, you cannot be wealthy. Monetarily, it's not going to matter because your money's going to go to your kids if you're not here. That’s what Sharon always tells me.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: And they always say, Patricia, it's always that phrase, and we hear it all the time, when the oxygen mask comes down on the plane, they tell you, you have to put it on yourself first. And we know even with the stresses and the children and the husbands and the job, ladies, if we don't take care of ourselves and recharge, we are no good to anybody. Have you ever had those days, ladies, where somebody, your girlfriend, calls you with a problem and you just go, I'm going to pray for you. You got nothing. And that is happening more, it's happening more frequently that I think a lot of women, we have nothing to give. My sister told me, she said, I'm getting a divorce. I said, girl, I'm going to keep you in my prayers. I didn't even call. How do you factor into that spirituality with wealth?
PATRICIA LEWIS: I think it's foundational. Every major decision in my life, I have had to pray about, and particularly -when I've embarked on these
SHERRI SHEPHERD: Lift it up to your mouth.
PATRICIA LEWIS: Particularly when I've embarked on these career changes, I think, I was telling Sherri, I took this job about 18 months ago. I was the Chief Human Resources Officer at United Health Group when I joined in 2019. I joined during the pandemic. So the moral is story is be careful changing companies. You don't know what's going to happen. But I joined during the pandemic, and when it started, and I did that work there for about two and a half years.
I have a long track record working in those Chief C-Suite roles. And I was asked to think about taking this job when would say, I was at the pinnacle of my career as a CHRO. And so I had to think long and hard about taking another role. I was 59 at the time, I'm 61 now, and I was like, should I take –
SHERRI SHEPHERD: Welcome to the neighborhood, 61.
PATRICIA LEWIS: Sixty-one, yeah.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: But Black does not crack.
PATRICIA LEWIS: Thank you, thank you.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: We could be 192 and look 37.
PATRICIA LEWIS: Thank you. I took this job at the pinnacle of my career and I had to pray a lot about it. And the message that came to me was, Why would you not take this role? Because this is a role where you can make a difference in society, doing good inside the company, but when you can help the communities around the nation, particularly Black and underserved communities, with the topic of healthcare, why wouldn't you do this? And so I had to search my soul, which required me to just get down on my knees and pray about it. And honestly, it was the right decision. So I approach most major decisions by prayer.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: So you, in the middle of the pandemic, in the middle of the quarantine, decided to make a big shift in a job.
PATRICIA LEWIS: Yup.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: And it had to be really, you had to rely on God to give you that strength.
PATRICIA LEWIS: Yeah, I did.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: When you talk about being this age, because I'm 56, you're 61, I think a lot of times we don't feel fulfilled in maybe a place that we're in, in our career. And that is the hardest thing, especially when you have people depending on you, to stop and say, I'm going to leave that and go for something that I've dreamed about, that has been inside of me. That's a scary thing.
PATRICIA LEWIS: That's right.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: So getting over the fear, how did that help you?
PATRICIA LEWIS: No matter how successful you are, also, and you and I talked about this when we spoke this week, there is a fear factor.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: Big fear factor.
PATRICIA LEWIS: And it's interesting, my wife said to me, why wouldn't you do this? Have you ever failed at anything, and I said, I may have had small failures but in terms of career, no. And so I had to step back and say, what is stopping you from doing this? It was a fear of changing mid-career or end of career, really, in one field, and going right into another one. But I had the courage and the conviction and the support from on high to do it. And I just went about it with the same vigor that I've had throughout my career. And Sherri, I love to learn, so for me, learning gives me vitality and hope, just doing something different, learning something new, sharpening my skills, even at this age. It's possible to do it. And that's how I did it.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: Spirituality, for me, y'all, is sometimes I think - if you don't know, I got this talk show called Sherri on the air. And I'm saying that to say God gave me this blessing at 55 years old, at the age where I'm tired. Sometimes I'll be sitting on the couch, y'all, I go, Lord, why didn't you bless me with this when I was in my thirties, when I had the stamina to do it.
I sat across from Lorenz Tate and I was interviewing Lorenz, and I said, what is this boy's name? Literally. And I'm being transparent. I said, who is this sitting across from me? When I'm sitting on the chair, Patricia, trying to tell jokes and be funny, I'll be talking and I can't remember the word that I - Does anybody go through that? You can't remember the next thing you were going to say?
PATRICIA LEWIS: Yes, absolutely.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: I do fitness segments and I said, Lord, if I don't pee on myself right now. I sit there, I hot flash in the middle. And I will sit there - Hot flashing. Who's hot flashing right now?
PATRICIA LEWIS: Anybody else?
SHERRI SHEPHERD: Next time we got to ask United Health Group, can they give away fans.
PATRICIA LEWIS: That's right, that's right. We need to do that. Somebody take note.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: When I tell you. I want to rip these clothes off, I’m so hot. But I will sit there and go, Lord, you blessed me with this thing at this age, where there are challenges. You get up in the morning, how many of y'all get up and you feel like you limping? You walking, this ankle hurt, this arm hurt. I stood up the other day, I fell. I don't even know what happened. My ankles just said, we’re not even going to take it no more. And you sit and you think, Lord, how can you - a lot of us sometimes feel like how are we going to be used when it's so many challenges? But I'm here to tell you, sometimes you've got to mature into the dream that you have. He's not forgotten you. And I sit there and even with me not remember who Lorenz Tate was for that moment, it came to me by the time I said goodbye, but the spirituality factors. Because we have so many voices in our head that are so big that say, who do you think you are? You are not worth it. Nobody's going to believe you. So many things. And that's where we have to rely on that higher power, that faith, that says, no, you are worth it. No, you are supposed to be here. Yes, you can make a difference. Do you feel better at 61, in terms of what you can offer, than you did in your thirties?
PATRICIA LEWIS: Yeah, absolutely. For me, that decision and connecting to my higher power, I learned that this work is more than just me. So I feel like I'm making a difference for the community, I'm making a difference for Black women, I'm making a difference for our children, and that is motivating. So now, almost 40 years in on a career, I can step back and I can say, Wow. I would never have been able to do the things that I'm doing now, had I not done the work. You got to put the work in up front. You heard me say, it’s almost 40 years I've been at this, since my early twenties, and now I feel like, man, I can really shine. So it's never too late to keep on trucking and shining.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: Because that's where you can really shine. And before we go, there's so many questions I wanted to ask you. Was there anything that you wanted to impart to our queens and kings that are sitting here in the audience?
PATRICIA LEWIS: A couple things just in terms of those of you who have careers and you're working in corporate America. Make sure you have the courage to take on new and different and challenging roles. I moved nine times over the course of my career. I've worked in six industries. Sorry, eight industries, multiple companies. Don't be afraid. Get out of your comfort zone. When you make that shift, you take that step change and you take that leap, you have the chance to really propel your career forward. It might be scary, so you got to have courage, you got to do it. And then the second thing I would say is make sure you get feedback. One of the things that managers fail to do is to give, particularly us as Black women, feedback on whether we're doing well or not. And give us the critical feedback, not, oh, you're doing fine. You can be doing fine and then the next week you're moved out of a job or you're passed over for a promotion. Make sure you demand critical feedback so that you can do, close any gaps that you may have. So those are the things I wanted to say. So thank you.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: And if you can find a Black doctor.
PATRICIA LEWIS: Yes, that too.
SHERRI SHEPHERD: Patricia, it has been so wonderful talking with you. This is streamed live and it's going to be up on the site so you can go and find out more about United Health Group. Thank you so much for coming out. Step out of your comfort zone. Step out of your comfort zone. Thank you so very, very much.
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