Delivery of Care

Unsung community hero awarded key to the city

Dr. Beata Nelken, a pediatrician, is honored by Central Falls for her tireless work on testing and vaccinating the community

Photo by Richard Asinof

Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera, left, and Dr. Beata Nelken.

Photo by Richard Asinof

Dr. Beata Nelken, her husband, and her father, at Central Falls City Hall before the ceremony honoring her.

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By Richard Asinof
Posted 3/15/21
Dr. Beata Nelken received the key to the city from Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera in the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 11.
Who will be the first local news station to feature Dr. Beata Nelken, Dr. Annie De Groot, and Dr. Andrew Saal on a panel, talking about how local communities are responding to the pandemic? Will the large number of uninsured Rhode Islanders become part of the discussion by regulators of the proposed merger by Brown, Care New England, and Lifespan? Should affordable housing be considered an integral part of health care, and prescriptions be given to homeless patients to access affordable housing?
Six years ago, ConvergenceRI convened a gathering at Rhode Island College focused on toxic stress, in an effort to bring together experts from a variety of disciplines, including neuroscience, maternal health, childcare, affordable housing, data analysis and racial equity, to see if a consensus could be created around policy initiatives.
Now, in the continuing struggle to cope with mounting stress from the coronavirus pandemic, it would seem to be a good time to revisit that discussion – and perhaps consider implementing new screening tools in pediatric practices across Rhode Island.
The lingering emotional effects of the pandemic – the deaths, the loss of work, the chronic sickness – promise to become a longer-term plague, taking a heavy toll even after everyone has been vaccinated.
Now would be the time for the state to develop and implement a comprehensive, long-term strategy to address toxic stress in children. Who will champion that effort?

CENTRAL FALLS – It was a small, intimate gathering, held on the evening of Thursday, March 11, with a very limited attendance, given COVID-19 restrictions.

But the event recognized a huge moment: the awarding of the key to the city to Dr. Beata Nelken by Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera, honoring the pediatrician as a local community health care hero.

Dr. Ashish Jha and Dr. Megan Ranney may get most of the attention from national and local news media, but in Central Falls, Dr. Nelken is recognized as a true hero, who has been on the front lines battling COVID.

The ceremony was part of celebration marking International Women’s Day in 2021 and Woman’s History Month. It also featured the unveiling of the first Central Falls Women’s Hall of Fame as a new display at City Hall. The first three women honored were Viola Davis, a Central Falls native; the late Sandra Moreau, the city’s first councilwoman; and Mayor Rivera, the city’s first woman mayor and Rhode Island’s first Latina mayor.

“I know this is only the beginning for many more women, particularly women of color, rising to important roles and making a difference throughout the community and beyond. I hope we continue to challenge what’s possible together,” Mayor Rivera said.

A number of speakers, women elected officials from Central Falls, including Central Falls City Council President Jessica Vega and Councilwoman Glendaliz Colon, talked about the importance of translating words into actions, and celebrating the hard work being done by women every day.

Nelken was honored for her work [often unsung outside of Central Falls], having opened up a private pediatric practice in Central Falls a year ago, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit Rhode Island.

In response, Nelken quickly pivoted the focus of her practice, becoming a hub, a lifeline for testing and vaccinating members of the hard-hit, densely populated city.

The good work of Nelken has been featured prominently in ConvergenceRI, first when she served as the director of the Central Falls High School health clinic run by the Blackstone Valley Community Health Center, and then, after she opened her own practice, reporting her efforts to provide testing to residents.

[See links below to ConvergenceRI stories, “A pediatrician takes on COVID in Central Falls,” and “Why Central Falls is changing the health care landscape.”]

After Rivera presented Nelken with the key to the city, Nelken presented Rivera with a bouquet of flowers. Call it a mutual admiration society.

“You are truly a hero in our community,” Rivera said. “I don’t just speak for myself. Our community is blessed.”

State Rep. Joshua Giraldo also spoke, his young daughter perched upon his shoulders, reading an excerpt from a R.I. House of Representatives resolution passed in honor of Nelken. “We are truly in your debt,” Giraldo said, concluding his remarks.

We are family
A Central Falls municipal employee called the event a “family gathering,” as she tended to Giraldo’s daughter while he participated in having a group photo taken. She said she considered Nelken to be part of her family.

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