Innovation Ecosystem

Of the community, by the community, for the community

Rhode Island Foundation announces $3.6 million in new grants to support the ongoing work of six Health Equity Zones in the state, marking a sea change in investments in communities

Photo by Richard Asinof

Ana Novais, executive director of the R.I. Department of Health, spoke at the announcement of $3.6 million in grants by The Rhode Island Foundation in six health equity zones in the state.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 10/22/18
The $3.6 million in new grants announced by The Rhode Island Foundation in support of health equity zones in Rhode Island marks a sea change in investment strategy by the community foundation.
What will it take for The Providence Journal and The Providence Business News to provide accurate news coverage in reporting on health equity zones in Rhode Island? Will The Rhode Island Foundation work to create a comprehensive database on health equity in Rhode Island, in collaboration with state agencies, as an indicator of quality of live and place-based health? How will public health become more integrated in the economic equation in promoting the innovation economy in Rhode Island?
Mark Muro of The Brookings Institution recently shared its report, “State of the Heartland Report: Factbook 2018,” produced in partnership with the Walton Family Foundation, with ConvergenceRI.
Left out of the mapping exercise, strikingly, was the network of rivers – the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Ohio, the Red, and the Arkansas, among others – that define the boundaries of the states in the region as well as their economies.
Divorcing the natural environment from the economic equation of a region is perhaps as myopic as divorcing the community and public spaces from the economic equation of health equity.
More than just focusing on population health, the larger question, often unasked and unanswered, is population health for whom?

CENTRAL FALLS – On Friday morning, Oct. 19, The Rhode Island Foundation announced $3.6 million in new grants to support the activities of Health Equity Zones in six communities, including West Warwick, Woonsocket, Providence, Central Falls, Newport, and all seven communities in South County.

The announcement of the grants, with each Health Equity Zone collaborative receiving $600,000, took place at Progreso Latino in Central Falls. Together, the new investments were one of the largest grants distributed in 2018 by The Rhode Island Foundation.

The new investment also marked a sea change in grant making by The Rhode Island Foundation, focused on addressing health and social disparities through investment in community-based coalitions, in support of the work being done by Health Equity Zones, rather than just investing in the health care delivery system.

As Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of The Rhode Island Foundation, summed up the event: “These are investments of the community, by the community, for the community.”

The investments recognize that roughly 75 percent of a person’s health status is influenced by social, economic and environmental factors related to where you live, Steinberg explained. “Living a healthy life is more likely when you are part of a community that promotes health and healthy choices,” he said.

In the past, Steinberg acknowledged, The Rhode Island Foundation tended to look at problems in isolation – “housing over here, behavioral health over there” – rather than recognizing that the problems of health and social disparities needed to be addressed in a more holistic fashion.

The new investments put a renewed emphasis on collaborative efforts to build a community-based infrastructure. The nonprofit recipients included:

South County Health in South Kingstown received $600,000 for the region’s Health Equity Zone: South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds initiative. “Washington County has the state’s highest suicide rate, dangerous levels of alcohol and substance abuse and poor access to mental health care,” said Susan Orban, director of the initiative. South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds. “Mental health issues go untreated or undiagnosed and substance abuse is prevalent,” she said.

ONE Neighborhood Builders in Providence received $600,000 to work in partnership with members of the Olneyville Health Equity Zone to address disparities in health-engagement among Providence Housing Authority residents and the prevalence of abandoned houses and vacant lots in Olneyville. Ten neighborhood residents will be hired as community health workers. Jennifer Hawkins, the executive director of ONE Neighborhood Builders, said that the community health workers would play a pivotal role in the community.

“We aim to increase resident engagement in health and wellness services,” Hawkins said, in order to promote equitable economic opportunity through expanded skills and employment, and to advance the redevelopment of Bowdoin Street, an acutely blighted stretch in Olneyville.

Thundermist Health Center of Woonsocket received $600,000 on behalf of the Woonsocket Health Equity Zone to expand health education at Woonsocket High School, ensure healthy food is available and affordable in every neighborhood and expand access to opioid treatment and recovery services among other services.

“Driven by upstream factors including poverty, food insecurity, a lack of access to healthy foods, transportation, and affordable housing, Woonsocket is disproportionately affected by health disparities,” said Susan Jacobsen, Thundermist’s senior director of health equity initiatives. “Working with 25 Health Equity Zone partners, our goal is to transform the city’s neighborhoods into places where all children and families can succeed and thrive.”

Thundermist Health Center in West Warwick also received a $600,000 grant to expand the work of the Town Well, a coalition of local nonprofit organizations and businesses, residents and municipal agencies that collaborate on health and safety issues.

The Women’s Resource Center in Newport was awarded $600,000 to support the Newport Health Equity Zone’s ongoing work to eliminate health disparities in the city’s North End and Broadway neighborhoods.

“The Building Equity, Building Community initiative will empower resident leaders to develop and implement solutions to address barriers to health, such as access to fresh fruits and vegetables, transportation, and adequate parks and open space,” said Jessica Walsh, the Women’s Resource Center’s director of prevention.

Progreso Latino was awarded $600,000 to support a three-year effort to reduce disparities and improve chronic illness management with a focus on the Latino residents of Central Falls and Pawtucket, working in partnership with members of the Pawtucket-Central Falls Health Equity Zone to improve communications between patients, primary care providers and community-based agencies. “There is massive need. A large percentage of residents live in poverty and are not fluent in English. They are disproportionately affected by social, economic and health disparities,” said Mario Bueno, executive director of Progreso Latino.

The Family Care Center and Internal Medicine Center at the former Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket initially will serve as the primary sites for clinical care. The plan is to expand the collaboration in the future to work with the new Neighborhood Health Station in Central Falls being built by Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, Bueno told ConvergenceRI after the news conference.

Health equity as a reality, not a pipe dream
Ana Novais, the executive director of the R.I. Department of Health, described the health equity zone initiative as an example of what happens when “brilliance that exists” in the state, at the community level, at the state agency level, and at the funding level, can build a collaborative approach.

Novais continued: “We can make a difference by investing in our communities, so we can build strong, resilient communities, so that every single child does have a chance for a healthy life, and does have the opportunity for good housing, good education, and good jobs.”

Some say, Novais concluded, “That the dream of health equity is a pipe dream. I believe that Rhode Island is proving them wrong. It is not a dream, it is a reality, when people and communities come together, connected to our health equity zones.”

Crossing the news chasm
As much as The Rhode Island Foundation has recognized the value of the work of the nine existing health equity zones in Rhode Island, there is still a news chasm when it comes to The Providence Journal, which failed to cover the 2018 Health Equity Summit held on Sept. 20 at the Providence Convention Center, even though it drew more than 750 participants. And, two weeks later, in a front-page story about health disparities, The Journal made no mention of health equity zones, a glaring gap in news coverage. More than an error of omission, the oversight appeared to be an error commission, in ConvergenceRI’s opinion.

Similarly, The Providence Business News, in rewriting the news release about the Oct. 19 event at Progreso Latino, inexplicably described the $3.6 million in grants in support the work of health equity zones in Rhode Island as “health care remediation grants,” whatever that means. [GoLocal Prov simply republished the news release in its entirety.]

And, at the upcoming PBN 2018 Fall Health Care Summit on Oct. 30, with its panel of “health care experts and business leaders,” one topic missing from the conversation is health equity zones. Why is that?


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

© | subscribe | contact us | report problem | About | Advertise

powered by creative circle media solutions

Join the conversation

Want to get ConvergenceRI
in your inbox every Monday?

Type of subscription (choose one):

We will contact you with subscription details.

Thank you for subscribing!

We will contact you shortly with subscription details.