Mind and Body

Celebrating CODAC’s first 50 years

“It’s like proving gravity at this point; there is nothing left to prove,” said Linda Hurley, president and CEO of CODAC Behavioral Healthcare, advocating for adequate resources and health insurance investments in treatment and recovery

Photo by Richard Asinof

Linda Hurley, president and CEO of CODAC Behavioral Healthcare, left, and Gov. Dan McKee, at the 50th anniversary gala held on Thursday, Oct. 6, at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Garden

By Richard Asinof
Posted 10/10/22
ConvergenceRI is honored by CODAC at its 50th anniversary gala for reporting that was accurate, honest, and filled with integrity, focused on sharing people’s stories
Will the issues of substance use become part of the conversations at the scheduled debates between the candidates running for Governor and for Congress in 2022 in Rhode Island? Will Gov. McKee be willing to entertain a one-on-one, in-person interview with ConvergenceRI, following the Nov. 8 election? How quickly will the R.I. General Assembly act to raise the Medicaid rates for behavioral health providers? Will the proposed state budget for FY 2024 include money to purchase a state-of-the-art testing device for the CODAC mobile van to determine the adulterants being added to illicit drugs, in order to save lives and prevent overdoses?
In a recent column, Boston Globe reporter Dan McGowan wrote a provocative piece pondering the opportunity for growing the talent pool for the next generation of leaders in Rhode Island, reflecting upon the changing of the guard at numerous nonprofits – from Rhode Island KIDS COUNT to Save The Bay, from Lifespan and Care New England to the Rhode Island Foundation, and at numerous corporate entities, from Amica Mutual Insurance [now the sponsors of what used to be known as “The Dunk”] to Hasbro.
Left out of the conversation, surprisingly, was the as yet untold story of what really happened with two accomplished women of color in positions of leadership within Rhode Island state government, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the former director of the R.I. Department of Health, and Womazetta Jones, the Secretary at the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the reasons why they were allegedly forced out of their jobs. Jones had come into the job by saying that Rhode Island needed to have some uncomfortable conversations about racial equity. It still seems to be the case.
One particular paragraph in McGowan’s column stuck out: “Babineau and Fanale are leaving Lifespan and Care New England at a precarious time for health care in Rhode Island,” McGowan wrote. “The two hospital systems are bleeding money, and Attorney General Peter Neronha shot down their attempt to merge earlier this year.”
To say that Attorney General Neronha “shot down their attempt to merge” is problematic at best and, at worse, just plain wrong.
First, it was not just the R.I. Attorney General’s office, but the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that also nixed the proposed merger.
Second, as Attorney General Neronha detailed at great length during his Feb. 21 news conference, it was the consistent failure of Babineau and Fanale to share the planned details of the merger that sank the deal. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Getting to no.”] The problem at the root of the merger’s failure, the evidence showed, was a culture of arrogance that permeated the two health systems.

PROVIDENCE – I was sitting next to Gov. Dan McKee at one of the reserved tables at the 50th Anniversary Gala for CODAC Behavioral Healthcare, held on Thursday evening, Oct. 6, at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Garden.

There was certainly much to celebrate for CODAC – not just its storied past but also its promising future. Next year, CODAC will be opening its fully-integrated Health and Wellness Center at 45 Royal Little Drive in Providence, with a soft opening in March of 2023 and a grand opening planned for the summer of 2023.

Gov. McKee was one of the distinguished guests at the festivities, along with R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha, R.I. Speaker of the House Joseph Shekarchi, R.I. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, and R.I. State Senator Joshua Miller, among others.

I was also one of the distinguished guests at the event. As the program noted: “We also want to recognize those in the media who for many years have reported with accuracy, honesty and integrity on the needs of people who come to us for care and who have supported CODAC’s work in meeting their needs – particularly during this unprecedented syndemic [emphasis added].”

Channel 10’s Alison Bologna and I were the two honored members from Rhode Island’s news media who attended the festivities in person.

Truly, I was a hard presence to miss or ignore: I was wearing a purple suit, the stylish color of aubergine, purchased from Frank Ankoma’s Copa Menswear shop, a suit which I had worn to my son’s wedding earlier this year.

I had my trusty trekking poles with me, my constant companions these days, now that I am disabled, having, for the most part, lost my ability to walk, due to something called GAD 65 that is attacking the myelin in my spinal column in my thoracic region.

I was also wearing a stylish purple mask. Wearing a mask was a public health necessity, given the reality that I am immuno-compromised, thanks to regular infusion treatments every six months of Rituximab, in order to control the GAD 65 from doing even more damage. I was the one of the few if not the only person attending the CODAC gala who was wearing a mask, as best as I could determine.

Translated, in my purple suit, with a purple mask, I was very difficult to ignore – much like the large, brightly colored Koi fish swimming in a nearby pool at the Botanical Garden.

But Gov. McKee, sitting next to me, on my left, was doing his very best to ignore me, to pretend that I did not exist, not even willing to say hello.

In contrast, on my right, sat Tom Coderre, the acting Deputy Assistant Secretary at SAMSHA, who was busy kibitzing with the assembled politicos and guests, including myself. [Coderre and I had been colleagues, working together at United Way of Rhode Island in the early 1990s.]

What was the most apt word to describe Gov. McKee’s behavior? Petulant? Perhaps there was a particular pheromone, a chemical agent that I exuded when in the presence of Governors in Rhode Island. I had had a similar problem with former Gov. Gina Raimondo. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “The interview that never happened with Gov. Raimondo.”]

I would like to think it was my reporter’s ability to ask good questions – and to be persistent in seeking answers, and in reporting accurately what happened, not reprinting news releases – not pheromones.

A big splash
Three hours earlier, with Rhode Island Foundation President Neil Steinberg by their side, Gov. McKee, Senate President Ruggerio, and House Speaker Shekarchi had announced that the doors were now fully open for community nonprofits to apply for some $20 million in grants, thanks to a new law enacted by the R.I. General Assembly to funnel money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to the Rhode Island Foundation – and then channel that money onto worthy community nonprofits.

The announcement on Thursday afternoon, Oct. 6, in advance of the CODAC gala, made a big splash with many of Rhode Island’s news media: For the second time in the past week, Steinberg and the Rhode Island Foundation had ridden to the rescue, having previously helped to shepherd some $3.5 million in new “investments” announced by Gov. McKee to community providers to help secure shelter and services for the “unhoused” in Rhode Island, as the weather turned colder.

The story of what actually happened – as distinguished from what was reported by the news media and proclaimed in news releases – was illuminated in a three-part story in ConvergenceRI in last week’s edition. [See links below to ConvergenceRI stories, “Crossing the wealth chasm in RI,” “Navigating through the fog of wealth,” and “Finding common ground to create shelter for the unhoused.”]

A shadow government?
The Rhode Island Foundation, a community foundation with more than $1.4 billion in assets, has effectively evolved into a new form of shadow government for the state during the last three years, as Rhode Island grappled with its responses to the COVID-19 pandemic – a pandemic, which despite everyone’s best intentions to treat COVID as if it had entered an endemic stage, keeps persisting.

The Rhode Island Foundation, whose raison d’etre is to preserve the wealth of its donors in perpetuity for the betterment of Rhode Island, has emerged to become the go-to source for answers, solutions, and investments to whatever ails us: be it a health care workforce crisis; a crisis in unmet behavioral health needs; a detailed guide on how to spend $1.1 billion in federal funds; negotiating new investments in sheltering the unhoused; launching plans for the state’s future health care and education landscape; creating a new initiative focused on developing a new leadership institute promoting racial equity in Rhode Island; an attempt to manage stakeholder expectations for the proposed “marriage” between Care New England, Lifespan, and Brown; and even serving as the pro bono foil to allow McKinsey & Company to sit in at the decision-making table to design the state’s responses to the COVID epidemic in 2020.

Some would argue that what makes the Rhode Island Foundation different has been the enlightened leadership under President and CEO Steinberg, who will be retiring next year. And, perhaps one sign of that leadership has been Steinberg’s willingness to engage with ConvergenceRI in a regular series of in-depth, far-ranging interviews. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “The long goodbye.”]

How would the new $20 million fund make a difference for nonprofits? A prominent professional with a leading health care nonprofit in Rhode Island responded to my questions about the new fund being managed by the Rhode Island Foundation this way: “The RI Foundation treats us no better or worse than anyone else. Eligible? Yes. But our proposals need to align with the stated vision and goals for each grant.”

The source continued: “They have one of the most strategic-minded teams I have ever worked with, among large donors.”

When asked what was meant by the phrase about “strategic-minded,” the source responded: “If I had a billion dollars….” I would have a stellar team of grant reviewers, to keep aligned with the vision of the Foundation, and expect every grant proposal to have a plan for self-sufficiency within two years.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
If Neil Steinberg had been sitting next to me at the CODAC gala, and not Gov. McKee, in ConvergenceRI’s opinion, the Rhode Island Foundation president and CEO would have been fully engaged, chatting with ConvergenceRI.

After 20 minutes of steadfastly ignoring ConvergenceRI, after getting up to speak to the assembled crowd, then returning to his seat, and applauding the other speakers, Gov. McKee got up to leave the event.

ConvergenceRI asked: “Governor, would you be willing to sit down for a one-on-one interview?” McKee responded with a loud guffaw: “Maybe after November 8,” he said.

[For the record, in the last week, ConvergenceRI had twice queried Matt Sheaff, the top communications staffer for Gov. McKee, about the Governor’s potential availability for a one-on-one interview, and Sheaff had replied that he would look into it.]

Accurately, honestly, and with integrity
The reason why ConvergenceRI had been honored at the CODAC 50th anniversary gala celebration would be abundantly clear to long-time readers of the weekly digital news platform.

The evidence can be found in the links below to ConvergenceRI stories. They include:

• “A report from the front lines of telehealth”

• “Investing in human infrastructure”

• “BHDDH cuts more than $2 million in funding programs for recovery programs”

• “CODAC buys new building in Providence”

• “Hard of hearing? BHDDH’s Charest, Gov. McKee seem to be tone deaf”

• “Holding bad corporate actors accountable for their misdeeds”

• “Opioid OD crisis is not an unsolvable problem”

• What you do not know may kill you, when it comes to painkillers”

As ConvergenceRI had previously reported on the history of CODAC: Founded in 1971, CODAC Behavioral Healthcare is Rhode Island’s oldest and largest nonprofit, outpatient provider of treatment for opioid use disorder. With seven community-based locations, as well as programming at the R.I. Department of Corrections, CODAC is well positioned to deliver services wherever they are needed across the state.

The reporting continued: The agency has worked with individuals, families and communities in Rhode Island for more than 45 years. Collectively, CODAC’s staff or more than 160 skilled clinical, medical and administrative professionals serves more than 2,600 patients ar any given point in time, according to the agency’s website.

In an interview conducted by ConvergenceRI in 2020 about the difficulties of operating during the pandemic, Hurley, who described herself as a glass-half-full kind of person, spoke at length about the frustrations in securing adequate resources and insurance reimbursements to support the work: “It’s like proving gravity at this point; there is nothing left to prove,” Hurley said, when talking about her work as a member of the Senate study commission on insurance rate reimbursements chaired by Sen. Joshua Miller, regarding her presentation that detailed the ongoing disparities in insurance rates and the detrimental impacts on clients and on being able to recruit and maintain staff.

And, Hurley emphasized, the biggest challenges of the work still had to do with the difficulties overcoming the stigma, fear, prejudice and bias around substance use – and the failure to recognize that such disorders are “chronic, relapsing diseases of the brain.”

I don’t think we can ever say it enough, over and over, that the diseases we treat here at CODAC, including substance use and opioid use disorders, are chronic, relapsing diseases of the brain, and need to be respected as that,” Hurley said.

The first “use” of a substance may be “volitional,” Hurley explained, but once addictive changes in the brain have occurred, it is no longer a matter of personal choice.

“This is a disease of the brain, and treatment works; sometimes it needs medicine, sometimes it doesn’t,” Hurley continued. “The more we can help individuals, the more we can rid of judgment and self-judgment as barriers to treatment, the closer we are to healing more people from the disease. We all deserve to walk this planet with some peace,” saying she was speaking from the heart.

Why CODAC honored the news media
Sometimes reporting can make a difference in people’s lives, asking the hard questions, shining a bright light on problems in order to vanquish the stigma, in ConvergenceRI’s opinion.

In her statement about recognizing the news media, CODAC’s Hurley identified what she called “the substance use syndemic.”

The definition of “syndemic” is: “A synergistic epidemic is the aggregation of two or more concurrent or sequential epidemics or disease clusters, in a population with biological interactions, which exacerbate the prognosis and burden of disease.”

Translated, the solutions are not to be found in some secret, obtuse, hard-to-understand language, in ConvergenceRI's opinion. It is about kindness; it is about the ability to be honest; it is about the willingness to engage with people, face-to-face, at the community level; it is in the belief of asking good questions. It is valuing the personal stories of people, recognizing them as a person’s most valuable possession. It is about the willingness to acknowledge another person’s presence by saying hello.


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