In Your Neighborhood

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

Courtesy of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT

The centerpiece at the Rhode Island KIDS COUNT celebration of children's health in Rhode Island focused on the number-one national ranking of RIte Care in quality measures.

Photo by Richard Asinof

Elizabeth Burke Bryant, left, and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed pose with this year's Covering Kids award.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 11/23/15
The annual celebration of children’s health hosted by Rhode Island KIDS COUNT is one of the go-to gatherings in the Ocean State, bringing together elected officials, including the state’s entire Congressional delegation community leaders, health insurers and advocates. This year’s event had much to celebrate: the number-one national ranking of RIte Care and the drop in the number of uninsured children.
How can the successful formula and advocacy and evidence-based data that Rhode Island KIDS COUNT has pioneered under the leadership of Elizabeth Burke Bryant serve as a guide for achieving consensus on other kinds of investments and advocacy efforts? How will efforts to build a collaborative strategy on reducing toxic stress become part of the agenda around children’s health and well-being?
As the celebration got under way, news broke that Care New England had chosen to explore a merger with Southcoast Health, an indicator of how fast the landscape can change in the health care delivery system. Next week, the first Medicaid accountable care entities will be certified by the state in a series of two pilot programs that deliver health care to many of the children and families enrolled in RIte Care. UnitedHealthcare announced that it was considering withdrawing from the federal insurance benefits exchange. The latest projections show that the efforts to reinvent Medicaid and achieve savings in the state budget may fall short of the goal. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island’s president and CEO is retiring, after a five-year stint. We are living in interesting times.

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.”

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