Innovation Ecosystem/Opinion

Shutting the front door – and the back door – on the dope sick and the homeless

Who is actually shaping the PR narrative on homelessness for the McKee administration?

Photo by Kenneth Martin

Photograph of a homeless woman and her child seeking legal assistance in 1991

By Richard Asinof
Posted 1/30/23
The lack of reporting about the eviction by the state of a minority-owned and operated agency from a state-owned building in need of repairs reveals a problematic undertow in how narratives are being shaped by the McKee Administration.
What is the current status of the process to hire permanent agency directors at the R.I. Department of Health and R.I. EOHHS? How will the apparent inability to find primary care providers in Rhode Island be addressed by state regulators? Will the city of Woonsocket reach a resolution with CODAC to allow the agency’s mobile van to continue its outreach efforts in the city? When will Gov. Dan McKee make himself available for an interview with ConvergenceRI?
Sandy Valentine has been appointed as the new director of the Rhode Island Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts. Previously, Valentine had been working at the University of Connecticut, leading student recovery efforts for the last four years. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in social work at UConn. Valentine is slated to begin her new role on Feb. 5.

PROVIDENCE – When it comes to affordable housing and homelessness in Rhode Island, there appears to be a culture war being played out in competing narratives, stoked in part by growing fears of changing racial demographics.

And, despite the Herculean efforts by many of the state’s top journalists to cover the story – including Steve Ahlquist of Uprise RI, Alexa Gagosz of The Boston Globe, Lynn Arditi of The Public’s Radio, Bill Batholomew, Katie Mulvaney of The Providence Journal, and Nancy Thomas of RINews Today, the ways in which the state’s narrative might be being shaped and managed have remained largely hidden, in ConvergenceRI's opinion.

A story that has been under-reported – and one that keeps getting pushed further beneath the radar screen – is the state’s eviction proceedings against MAP Behavioral Health Services, Inc., a minority-owned and operated substance abuse nonprofit organization that has been in operation since 1976.

In an email sent out last week by the agency’s executive director, MAP put out an urgent plea for help, saying it planned to hold a news conference to highlight the consequences of “closing of the oldest substance abuse minority program” in Rhode Island, open since 1976, due to what it claimed was “Gov. Dan McKee’s negligence in fixing the heating system.”

It is a story that has, so far, received little if any news coverage. Why is that?

At issue is the failure by the state to make repairs on the state-owned building in Providence where MAP is located, a situation that parallels the failure by the state to make repairs to the 181 Cumberland St. facility in Woonsocket, leading to the state evicting the agency housed there. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “When the state evicts community agencies.”]

The controversy with MAP has been ongoing for months, with the organization having had made arrangements to finance fixing the boiler on its own – only to have the state prevent them from doing so. Instead, MAP has now been sent a letter of eviction, with the state planning to put the property up for sale to the highest bidder.

“MAP has been occupying this building since 1976, servicing 30 percent of the residential beds for the homeless with substance abuse and mental health conditions,” wrote Lionel Fernandez, MSW, MAP’s Executive Director and CEO, in the email, sent on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

Fernandez continued: “And now, the state wants to sell the building to the highest bidders instead of selling the building located at 66 Burnett St., Providence, to current tenants since 1976. This is a slap in the face to the minority community of Rhode Island and the homeless people suffering from addiction and mental health conditions.”

The residential program operated by MAP, Fernandez continued, “was closed by the R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals, due to a broken boiler, leaving 35 empty beds during this winter and drug overdose epidemic.”

The state’s action to evict MAP has angered John J. Tassoni, Jr., president and CEO of the Substance Use Mental Health Leadership Council of Rhode Island. “You keep kicking people to the curb in a pandemic and an epidemic, and it doesn’t serve anyone any good,” Tassoni told ConvergenceRI.

Tassoni said that new legislation would soon be introduced in the R.I. General Assembly by Sen. Josh Miller, Sen. Lou DiPalma, and Rep. Julie Casimiro, offering a potential solution, which would enable existing agencies to bid on the building – and to make sure that full cost of pending repairs to bring the building up to code are deducted from the sales price.

The narrative of MAP being forced to shut down because of the state’s apparent willful neglect of its own state-owned building is not something that has received much coverage by the news media, a situation that eerily resembles what happened with the Community Care Alliance being evicted from the state-owned building at 181 Cumberland St. in Woonsocket in November of 2022.

The question is: Has MAP, like the Community Care Alliance in Woonsocket, gotten caught up in the current culture war around homelessness? A more problematic question to unravel is this: Who is shaping and managing the McKee administration’s narrative on homelessness in Rhode Island?

Paved with good intentions
Three days after MAP’s email plea for help was sent to Joseph Almond, an advisor to the Gov. McKee, as well as to the three major Rhode Island TV stations – WPRI, WJAR, and ABC6, the Rhode Island Foundation put out a news release on Friday, Jan. 27, announcing that $3.25 million will be awarded to eligible organizations for “Capacity Support for Opioid Use Disorder and Overdose Prevention, Harm Reduction and Recovery Agencies,” in partnership with the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, using resources from the legal settlements secured by the R.I. Attorney General’s office in its lawsuits against drug manufacturers, distributors, and consultants.

“Opioid use disorder is something that affects nearly every Rhode Islander in some way,” said Neil Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO, in the news release. “It’s important that this allocation of the Settlement Funds is stewarded in a way that directly impacts, and benefits, organizations that are focused on expanding access to prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery. As the state’s community foundation, we are pleased to be a partner in distributing these much-needed dollars and look forward to seeing their impact.” [Once again, the philanthropic community foundation with some $1.4 billion in assets has taken on the role of distributing government funds to nonprofits.]

Unfortunately, despite the eloquent prose used by Steinberg about the need to invest resources to address opioid use disorder, the grant programs may prove to be too late to prevent the state from evicting MAP and selling the state-owned building to the highest bidder, despite the ever-growing needs of the minority population for such services.

Cognitive dissonance
The refusal by the state to repair the MAP building – and to have an agency under the control of the R.I. EOHHS, R.I. BHDDH, force the eviction, made the announcement of the new investments in grants even more ironic, given the recent investments made by the Rhode Island Foundation in promoting its Equity Leadership initiative, in ConvergenceRI’s opinion.

In the same news release, Gov. Dan McKee, striking an earnest tone, voiced his concerns about the opioid crisis. “The opioid crisis is a devastating issue that impacts all 39 cities and towns in Rhode Island,” Gov. McKee said. “As Governor, I am committed to working with our Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee, the Rhode Island Foundation and our non-profit partners to ensure they have the capacity building, prevention, treatment and recovery resources we need to save lives in our state.”

Except, it seems, when it comes to the Governor’s actions to evict both MAP and CCA from their state-owned facilities, precipitated by the state’s own failure to make necessary repairs.

Racial, ethnic disparities in maternal health in RI
The eviction of MAP, a minority-owned and operated agency, by R.I. BHDDH – and the apparent lack of news coverage about the eviction – did not occur in a vacuum, in ConvergenceRI’s opinion.

The racial roots of the ongoing culture war being waged against the homeless and those afflicted by the opioid epidemic were highlighted by the recent release of a policy brief focused on the racial disparities in maternal health in Rhode Island.

On Monday, Jan. 30, a week after the celebration of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday, in the aftermath of the release of a shocking video showing Memphis police officers attacking and killing a Black man, Rhode Island Kids Count released a report, entitled: “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Maternal, Infant, and Young Children’s Health in Rhode Island.”

The messaging was clear: “Currently, there is a maternal health crisis both nationally and in Rhode Island. Beyond that, there are unacceptable and persistent disparities in maternal, infant, and child health outcomes by race and ethnicity.”

• “The health of Black and Brown mothers and babies are at risk in Rhode Island,” said Paige Clausius-Parks, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count. “The story that this data tells is heavy and painful and should mobilize each and every person to call on our policymakers to act now. This issue brief clearly outlines where disparities exist, the root causes of these disparities, and the steps we need to take to address this legacy of inequity.”

• “Grassroots maternal and child health advocates have been doing the work to address these unacceptable disparities in health outcomes for a long time,” said Kaitlyn Rabb, policy analyst at Rhode Island Kids Count. “The voices of those with lived experiences tells more than numbers and data can show – that this crisis is directly impacting many women and families of color in Rhode Island. We must listen to, advocate for, and uplift these efforts because they know what is needed to reduce these disparities and move Rhode Island in the right direction.”

The Rhode Island Kids Count policy brief, under the leadership of its new executive director, Paige Clausius-Parks, focused on the racial disparities in the social determinants of health. Here are the data supporting the policy brief:

• Health care only accounts for 10-20 percent of an individual’s overall health outcomes and is just one of the social determinants of health, which is defined as the conditions and environments where people are born, live, learn, work, and play and that greatly impact health outcomes.

• These social determinants of health, including economic stability, education access, neighborhood and the built environment, and social context account for over 80 percent of health outcomes.

• Disparities in social determinants of health can be traced back to the founding of the United States — the wealth-building policies that overwhelmingly benefited white citizens — and continue to impact the longstanding racial and ethnic disparities in health, including maternal and infant health.

• Racism became an economic tool infused into laws, policies, and practices that have harmed Asian, Black, Latinx, Native American and low-income white people for centuries. The effects are felt and reflected in the data to this day.

The policy brief also presented data pointing to the growing diversity of Rhode Island’s population:

• In Rhode Island between 2010 and 2020, the Hispanic child population grew by 22 percent while the non-Hispanic white child population declined by 22 percent. In 2020, 47 percent of children in Rhode Island were Children of Color, up from 36 percent in 2010.

• Nationally, fertility rates have declined across all racial and ethnic groups; however, Black and Hispanic women have higher fertility rates than Asian and white women.

• In 2020 in Rhode Island, 46 percent of babies born were babies of color.

Translated, the rationale of the state’s decision to evict MAP, a minority-owned and operated agency since 1976, appears to have its roots in the divergent, divisive politics around the changing demongraphics of racial diversity in Rhode Island.

The story told, the story not told – a brief recap
Throughout much of 2022, housing advocates had huddled behind closed doors with Gov. Dan McKee and former Housing Secretary Josh Saal, in meetings convened by Rhode Island Foundation President and CEO Neil Steinberg, attempting to find common ground and consensus on a solution to address what the housing advocates predicted would become a growing crisis because of the lack of shelter for vulnerable Rhode Islanders at risk of homelessness.

For whatever reason, much of what occurred in those conversations was never made public – including the alleged position by the Governor that he believed there needed to be more accountability about the money that had already been spent before any new funds would be allocated, according to a number of sources. Further, the Governor decided against declaring a state of emergency, according to sources.

A few weeks after winning his election campaign in November, Gov. McKee finally announced that he was investing more state resources to create warming shelters for those who found themselves without a place to live – but by then, the numbers of vulnerable Rhode Islanders had far exceeded spaces available in shelters.

In protest, a group of homeless Rhode Islanders set up an encampment at the State House, only to find themselves evicted by the McKee administration, with the administration winning a court case in Superior Court in December supporting its right to evict the State House demonstrators. A warming shelter was then set up at the Cranston Street Armory, managed by Amos House and Crossroads Rhode Island. The warming shelter is reported to be now operating at nearly full capacity.

Josh Saal, the former Housing Secretary, was forced to resign and was replaced by Stefan Pryor, the former secretary at CommerceRI. During Saal’s last few weeks on the job, all of his public statements were made through a public relations consultant, Chris Raia, who works for Duffy and Shanley.

Getting answers
ConvergenceRI had attempted to get some answers to questions about the background on the eviction of the Community Care Alliance from the state-owned building at 181 Cumberland St. in Woonsocket, reaching out on Dec. 22, 2022, to request an interview with Senate President Dominick Ruggerio: “I am also interested in learning more about a meeting that was apparently held in response to a story I wrote about the state’s eviction from the state-owned building at 181 Cumberland St. in Woonsocket. Thanks!

At last word, the Senate President’s office indicated that he might be able to find a time to talk with ConvergenceRI sometime in March, nearly three months after the initial request.

ConvergenceRI also reached out to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, in an email sent on Dec. 5, 2022, asking: “What federal resources could be made available to keep the Community Care Alliance in its facility at 181 Cumberland St. in Woonsocket. The building was originally developed by the state using federal monies. [A link to the story, “When the state evicts community agencies,” was provided.] No response has yet received from Sen. Whitehouse’s office.

Breaking news
During the first week of January, the issues of housing and homelessness erupted, after the city of Woonsocket dismantled a homeless encampment the morning following Gov. McKee’s inauguration ceremony. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “United we thrive.”]

At the same time, the city of Woonsocket moved to evict CODAC’s mobile outreach van from its location in the parking lot at CCA headquarters.

In response, ConvergenceRI began to write a story about the ways that state policy around housing was being shaped, focused on: How the dominant narrative is being told, shaped and sold – and why it has become so resistant to change.

An initial draft of the story began:

• Steve Ahlquist of Uprise RI, Alexa Gagosz of The Boston Globe, and Lynn Arditi of The Public’s Radio have all done excellent reporting in the last few weeks on homelessness in Rhode Island: Ahlquist has covered at length the travails of the homeless camped out at the State House; Gagosz has portrayed at length how easily a middle-class family can succumb to the economic pressures of a housing market gone berserk and descend into homelessness; while Arditi has documented the connections between the homeless, substance use, and those chasing a fix in Woonsocket.

• Add to that list the excellent reporting by Antonia Noor Fazan of The Providence Journal, detailing how the apparent greed of private equity investors from Lakewood, N.J., are reshaping health care delivery in Rhode Island, reporting how the owners of a nursing home in Pawtucket are apparently enriching themselves, allegedly at the expense of clients, employees, and patients – with a reporting assist from Mother Jones’ Hannah Levintova.

• Taken together, the reporting provides glimmers of hope that the courage to report the news in Rhode Island may yet overcome those atop the economic food chain that are busily promoting the dominant narrative. As detailed, as comprehensive, and as empathetic as these reporters’ stories have been, there seems to have been something missing, in ConvergenceRI’s opinion: the way in which the narrative about the homeless – a better phrase would be the most vulnerable – in Rhode Island has been shaped by what appears to be a coordinated, corporate public relations campaign.

• For example, advocates who had opposed Gov. Dan McKee’s attempts to evict those encamped at the State House were, in the Governor’s own words, “trying to keep the homeless, homeless.”

Translated, the Governor seemed to be seeking to pin the blame on the homeless themselves – and on the agencies who were delivering services to the homeless.

• To ConvergenceRI, it sounded not unlike the corporate strategy that was deployed by the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma: “We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible,” said Richard Sackler, placing the blame on the very people his company’s addictive painkiller, OxyContin, had put on the road to addiction, disability, and death, as quoted by Beth Macy, in her book, Raising Lazarus.

• The question to ask – one that has not yet been fully answered – is this: Who has been responsible for creating the narrative of blame deployed by the McKee administration?

Getting stuck – and unstuck in time
ConvergenceRI kept getting stuck – and unstuck – in time, much like Kurt Vonnegut’s character, Billy Pilgrim, in Slaughterhouse Five, the tale of the firebombing of Dresden during World War II.

To try to recapture the thread to the story, ConvergnceRI went back and reread some of his original reporting. ConvergenceRI has been covering the story about the problems at 181 Cumberland St. in Woonsocket since March of 2020. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Is the state guilty of neglect with its community assets in Woonsocket.”]

Here are the opening paragraphs from that story:

The wooden signpost, painted in a bit of whimsy, attached to a tree in the playground built by volunteers from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island as part of their Blue Angel efforts a few years back, pointed south, with “Disney” in white letters on a blue background, and the mileage, “1,304 Mi.”

Underneath it was a second signpost, pointing north, with “Boston 51 miles,” and an exhortation: “Go Sox!”

The playground at the former headquarters of the Community Care Alliance at 181 Cumberland St. in Woonsocket has, for all intents and purposes, now been abandoned, much like the building itself, a victim of apparent state neglect for its properties by the state division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, which has failed since 2017, when damage from rainwater pouring through a leak in the roof was first reported to them, to make any effort to repair the building.

Perhaps a new signpost could be erected, measuring the distance between Rhode Island state government and the agency headquarters in Woonsocket, which might as well be as far way as the planet Mars is from Earth, some 34 million miles away at its closest rotation.

“The citizens of Woonsocket have been abandoned, particularly the most vulnerable kids and families,” said Mary Turillo, the director of Behavioral Health Services for Children and Youth at the Community Care Alliance, when asked what she would tell Gov. Gina Raimondo if she had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the Governor, face-to-face, about what had happened. “I feel like the state has made Woonsocket particularly invisible around these issues. Like so many things in this state, if it doesn’t happen in Providence, it doesn’t happen.”

The problem was not just about Community Care Alliance being ignored by the R.I. Department of Administration for three years and being forced to abandon its headquarters, which it had leased for $1 a year since 1981. The message being sent by the state was even more hurtful, according to Turillo and her colleagues: The state did not care about the clients [emphasis added].

Blaming the victim, blaming the agencies
The dismantling of the homeless encampment in Woonsocket on Jan. 4 seemed to bring the controversy to a head. As Katie Mulvaney reported in her Jan. 4, 2023, story for The Providence Journal, interviewing Steven D’Agostino, the director of the Woonsocket Department of Public Works, D’Agostino took responsibility for ordering the dismantlement of the homeless encampment earlier that day:

• [D’Agostino] observed that there are several nonprofits operating in the city. “Maybe they should be doing better [emphasis added].” In ConvergenceRI’s opinion, D’Agostino’s observations appeared to echo the line of attack adopted by the McKee administration – blaming the homeless, and blaming the agencies attempting to provide services for not doing a better job.

• Benedict F. Lessing, Jr. CEO of the Community Care Alliance, had countered in an email to Mulvaney: “The state of Rhode Island is experiencing a housing and homeless emergency; we have yet to come to grips with this fact. …Bulldozing homeless encampments is not a solution, it only creates additional trauma. Without sufficient local shelter and supportive services, this approach does nothing other than to disperse people to other nearby locations.”

Image vs. reality
ConvergenceRI then took a deeper dive into his own archives, going back to a front-page story for The Valley Advocate he wrote in October of 1976, an alternative weekly in Amherst, Mass., “Abandoned houses, abandoned lives.”

The story began by retelling the frantic effort by a photographer, a reporter and a utility worker to shut off the gas valve in an abandoned house, where two homeless women and their children were huddled in the cold, on the second of a wooden tenement slated for demolition.

After getting the gas shut off, one of the women asked the reporter for a match to light their cigarette. If they had had a match, the likelihood that it would have sparked an explosion and deadly fire.

ConvergenceRI then took a framed, black-and-white photograph down from his apartment wall. In what seems like at least three lifetimes ago, when he had served as the communications director at the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, the funding agency for legal services programs in Massachusetts, he had collaborated with photographer Kenneth Martin to document the clients being served by legal services programs across the Commonwealth, as a way of sharing their stories.

One of Martin’s photographs portrayed a homeless woman and her child, a toddler, sitting on her lap, awaiting help at the Merrimack Valley Legal Services offices in Lowell, Mass., during the summer of 1991. Later that year, when asked to prepare a “seasons greeting” card to be sent out from MLAC, ConvergenceRI had chosen that photograph as an illustration. [See image above, a gift from Martin.]

The choice of the poignant photo had provoked a strong internal negative reaction at the MLAC offices. A colleague had accused him of making a poor choice – a “seasons greeting” card was supposed to be joyous, not depressing, the colleague argued, pointing out that because ConvergenceRI was Jewish, he did not fully understand the holiday spirit of Christmas.

My response: Wasn’t Christmas about the celebration of the birth of Jesus, who was born in a manger, because the parents, Mary and Joseph, were homeless? The colleague’s response was to call me a “smart-ass Jew.”

[Editor’s Note: I decided to share that story because it still seems to color the narrative for how we talk – or don’t talk about – the homeless, some 30 years later, as if the homeless are themselves to blame for their problems, and agencies providing services needed to do a better job, and the best policy was to sweep homeless encampments from the streets.]

Making the connections visible
Last week, Bill Batholomew, a rising star in the world of podcasts and the producer for WPRO’s Dan Yorke radio talk show, offered a brilliant week of programming on his BartholomewtownPodcast, “RI’s Housing Crisis,” dedicated to the housing crisis and homelessness in Rhode Island. Kudos to Bartholomew.

The series has received much critical praise, because it offered the kind of conversation so often missing from Rhode Island’s news coverage, in ConvergenceRI’s opinion.

• Part One featured an advocate roundtable with Karen Santilli from Crossroads Rhode Island and ONE Neighborhood Builders Jennifer Hawkins.

• Part Two featured Realtor Jess Powers, which was focused on the responsibility Realtors have in the crisis.

• Part Three featured United Way of Rhode Island’s Kristina Brown, with the conversation focused on land use, zoning, and the intersection with transportation, climate change, and the human soul.

• Part Four featured an interview with Steve Ahlquist from Uprise RI, talking about his reporting from Woonsocket. [Two years ago, ConvergenceRI had done a joint interview with Ahlquist and Bartholomew, entitled “Guardians of the Galaxy. See link to story below.]

• Part Five featured an interview with Caitlyn Frumerie, executive director of the RI Coalition to End Homelessness.

The last part of the series featured an interview with Gov. Dan McKee. In the future, Batholomew said he plans to interview incoming Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor. “He is, in my view, uniquely qualified to serve as a communicator between non-profits, muni and state govs, banking and other key sectors,” Bartholomew said. “Josh Saal, outgoing director, failed here.”

Bartholomew closed out his tweet thread by saying: “There are many good people and smart people working on this crisis that deserve our attention and time. Too many to name. I see you and appreciate all of you.”

Bartholomew’s hard work on the series about the housing crisis was thorough and comprehensive. Yet, as best as ConvergenceRI could determine, there was no mention of the evictions being carried out by R.I. BHDDH targeting MAP in Providence and CCA in Woonsocket.

The bigger problem, ConvergenceRI realized, might have been one of transparency. The entire podcast is currently sponsored by Commonwealth Care Alliance, a client of Duffy and Shanley, represented by Chris Raia. Commonwealth Care Alliance is also bidding to become one of the Medicaid Managed Care Organizations in the new procurement slated to begin on July 1, 2023, a contract said to be worth $7 billion over five years.

As noted earlier in the story, Chris Raia served as the contract spokesperson that the McKee administration deployed to speak on behalf of former Housing Secretary Josh Saal. [Editor’s Note: Bartholomew claimed that Saal “had failed” in his communications efforts, but exactly how much his communications efforts were controlled by Chris Raia is an unknown factor.]

The first podcast in the series featured Jennifer Hawkins and Karen Santilli. [To be fully transparent, ConvergenceRI has covered the work being done by Hawkins and her team at ONE Neighborhood Builders extensively, in dozens of stories.] Both ONE Neighborhood Builders and Crossroads RI, it turns out, are clients of Mike Raia, president of Half Street Strategic Consulting, who is also Chris Raia’s brother. Mike Raia had previously worked for the Raimondo administration as a communications director.

Finally, the access provided to Gov. Dan McKee to promote his views on the housing crisis in Rhode Island is noteworthy. WPRO radio talk show host Dan Yorke has been fully transparent about his own close friendship with Gov. Dan McKee, for instance.

The question to ponder is this: How important is it to make fully transparent the sponsorship connections between the Bartholomewtown Podcast and clients of Duffy and Shanley, a prominent Rhode Island communications firm?

The psychic distance between the view from the State House and the landscapes of 181 Cumberland St. in Woonsocket and 66 Burnett St. in Providence still remains a journey far away, as if the agencies lived on a distant planet.

People are continuing to die on the streets of Woonsocket and all across Rhode Island. Currently, the R.I. Department of Health tracks the number of deaths from exposure – what it calls “hypothermia-associated fatalities.” What is missing is a comprehensive database that links the deaths connected to homelessness, despair, and substance use disorders, in ConvergenceRI's opinion.

It took years for the state to come to grips with documenting the growing rate of overdose deaths from the opioid epidemic caused by prescription painkillers. The research conducted by Tracy Green, Ph.D., an epidemiologist, working under a small grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at the actual documentation compiled by medical examiners in Rhode Island and Connecticut to determine the actual cause of overdose deaths. It changed the equation.

Green’s research was first reported on in a story I wrote that was published in the Providence Business News on July 4, 2011. The story led Dr. Michael Fine, then the director of the R.I. Department of Health, to change the state’s public health priorities in 2012.

Toward transparency around the narrative
Beyond creating new data metrics around the casualties in Rhode Island from homelessness and substance use, racial and social disparities, and the economic struggles of a disrupted health care delivery system attempting to recover from the COVID pandemic, perhaps there needs to be more transparency around how the narratives around state policy are being shaped and managed by private communications and marketing firms.

What are the tools needed to reveal the relationships between the State House and the consulting firms employed by the state to shape messages and policies?

Or, put another way, would better news coverage of the state evictions of both MAP and CCA from  their state-owned faciliies have created a different outcome?

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