Rhode Island Foundation announces $3.6 million in grants to reduce high rates of illness, chronic disease, health disparities

Funding targets residents of Central Falls, Newport, Pawtucket, Providence, South County, West Warwick and Woonsocket

PROVIDENCE, RI (Oct. 19, 2018)  – The Rhode Island Foundation today announced that it has awarded $3.6 million in grants to reduce chronic disease and health disparities in more than a dozen cities and towns.

“Roughly 75 percent of your health status is influenced by social, economic and environmental factors related to where you live. Living a healthy life is more likely when you are part of a community that promotes health and healthy choices,” said Neil D. Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO.

The six nonprofit organizations that received funding will work with community partners to reduce disease, promote health equity and address the medical and behavioral health challenges of underserved populations in Central Falls, Newport, Pawtucket, Providence, West Warwick, Woonsocket and all seven South County communities.


Five of the six recipients work closely with the state Department of Health (RIDOH) through local Health Equity Zones.


“By working to address the underlying factors in communities that have the great effects on health outcomes, these grant recipients and Rhode Island’s Health Equity Zones are working to ensure that each and every Rhode Islander has an equal opportunity to live a long, full, healthy life,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, RIDOH director. “We look forward to partnering with these organizations in the months and years to come on this critical work.”


The announcement took place at Progreso Latino, which 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.


In partnership with members of the Pawtucket-Central Falls Health Equity Zone, the Central Falls-based nonprofit will improve communications between patients, primary care providers and community-based agencies; connect patients with resources such as housing, employment and wellness programs; and provide culturally tailored training for clinical providers and community health workers.


“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.


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. ONE Neighborhood Builders Executive Director Jennifer Hawkins expects they will play a pivotal role in realizing the project’s vision.


“We aim to increase resident engagement in health and wellness services; promote equitable economic opportunity via expanded skills and employment; advance the redevelopment of Bowdoin Street – an acutely blighted stretch in Olneyville; and increase access to stable, affordable housing in a safe and healthy environment,” she explained.


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.


“According to state Department of Education data, more than a quarter of students in grades 6 through 12 reported they felt so sad or hopeless that they stopped their usual activities. Mental health issues go untreated or undiagnosed and substance abuse is prevalent,” she said.


The work will include designing a long-term strategic plan for improving mental health, encouraging residents to participate and expanding collaborations with hospitals, health centers, schools, police departments and community organizations.


A portion of the funding will be used to analyze the social determinants that lead to multi-generational poverty and school failure as well as to provide much-needed services in two specific communities.


Thundermist Health Center of West Warwick received $600,000 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.


“Access to healthy foods, overdose prevention and recovery from substance use disorders; healthy environments, and teen health and trauma are significant areas of concern in this community,” said Krista Handfield, Thundermists’ health equity zone project manager.


Most of the clinical care will be available through Thundermist, which will also help with community engagement and providing access to healthy food, including hosting the community garden and farmers market.


“We will focus on ensuring people can easily get fresh fruit and vegetables, transportation to jobs and doctor’s appointments, help with recovery and a safe, affordable place to live,” said Handfield.


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.”


The work will include doubling the number of hours that health education is taught at Woonsocket High School, expanding the Farm Fresh RI farmers market at Thundermist and ensuring naloxone is widely available in order to treat opioid overdoses.


“Caring for health requires excellent clinical care and improvements to the social, environmental and economic conditions that drive poor outcomes. We aim to build a community where people are connected to each other and to the resources that will reinforce health and well-being,” said Jacobsen.


The Women’s Resource Center (WRC) 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, WRC’s director of prevention.


The work will include creating a culture of equity in the local health care, nonprofit and governmental sectors, providing culturally-specific programs, increasing the civic engagement of residents, advocating for infrastructure improvements and increasing collaboration with organizations outside the HEZ members.


WRC is the backbone organization of the Newport Health Equity Zone, which is a coalition of local nonprofit organizations and businesses, residents and municipal agencies that works to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.


The Foundation received 39 applications. The recipients were selected based on how well they brought together clinical and community-based organizations, engaged residents, proposed measuring outcomes and leveraged other funding or in-kind support.


“We sought place-based initiatives that will bring together partners with a shared vision and action plan to address social determinants of health,” said Steinberg.


The majority of the funding – $2.8 million – is from the Foundation’s Fund for a Healthy Rhode Island. The remaining $800,000 comes through the Foundation’s Healthy Lives Strategic Initiative budget.


The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $38 million and awarded $43 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities in 2017. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information, visit rifoundation.org.

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