Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative
Annual celebration of children’s health in Rhode Island recognizes a bevy of community heroes, from parents to community leaders to elected officials
PROVIDENCE – There were few if any discouraging words to be heard at the 15th annual gathering to celebrate children’s health in Rhode Island held on Nov. 16, hosted by Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.
The event honored a bevy of parents, community heroes and elected officials with “Covering Kids” awards, including Gov. Gina Raimondo, Sen. Jack Reed, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rep. David Cicilline, Rep. Jim Langevin, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, and Rep. Deborah Ruggiero.
There was much good news to celebrate: a new national report measuring children’s health insurance rates found that the rate of uninsured children in Rhode Island fell from 5.4 percent in 2013 to 3.3 percent in 2014, so that nearly 97 percent of Rhode Island children had health insurance.
The decline in the number of uninsured children was attributed to the strength of the state’s RIte Care program as well and improvements to the state’s health coverage system brought about by its implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
As the centerpieces at each table reinforced, with a photo of a young girl holding up a sign, “We’re # 1,” RIte Care had been ranked number-one in nation for its quality in the following categories, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services:
• Timeliness of prenatal care
• Frequency of ongoing prenatal care
• Child and adolescent access to primary care
• Child and adolescent well visits
• Child and adolescent immunization status
The success, as many of the speakers paid tribute to, is due in large part to the persistent efforts of the Rhode Island KIDS COUNT team led by Elizabeth Burke Bryant, who has put together a coalition inside and outside of government to advocate on behalf of children. “We don’t get tired; we are persistent,” Bryant told the crowd of more than 175 attending.
Jill Beckwith, deputy director at Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, opened the festivities with a succinct data story summarizing the status of children’s health in Rhode Island.
Beckwith joked about the ritual of her role: “It’s like my annual wedding; I’m here to celebrate our commitment to RIte Care.
Raimondo called attention to the fact that the entire Congressional delegation was in attendance. “It’s not an accident that the rate of health insurance coverage improved from 95 percent to 97 percent,” she said. “It’s because of leadership.”
Raimondo also singled out the number of health care agency directors who were in attendance, including Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott at the R.I. Department of Health and Maria Montanaro from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, and Anya Rader Wallack from the state Medicaid office. “Thank you, ladies,” she said.
Reed offered praise to everyone, saying: “Hats off to all of you and let’s keep going.”
Whitehouse also complimented all in attendance: “You empower us and make us proud,” he said.
Cicilline began by offering praise to “Elizabeth Burke Bryant and her spectacular staff.” He closed with a quote from Frederick Douglas: “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
New tactics in organizing
Marie Jones Bridges, RDH, who is the executive director of the R.I. Dental Hygeniests’ Association and co-chair elect of the R.I. Oral Health Commission, was one of the community leaders honored by Rhode Island KIDS COUNT for her commitment and dedication to ensuring that children have access to health coverage that connects them to primary health and dental care.
Bridges offered some insight into her effectiveness as an organizer, describing how she was able to deliver her advocacy message to a state senator, who was a captive in the dentist’s chair while she was having her teeth cleaned.
The City of Providence’s Healthy Communities Office was the other community recipient, with Mayor Jorge Elorza accepting the award.
The godmother of RIte Care
Among the legislators honored was Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, who, in being introduced, was called the “godmother of RIte Care,” given her long-term championing and support for the program that went back two decades.
Paiva Weed talked about the importance of continuing the efforts on behalf of all children in Rhode Island, saying that a little gap had been identified in coverage for foster children that need to be addressed. Paiva Weed also said that health care plus a job equals dignity.
She closed by saying: “I’m voting for the kids.”