Keynote: Fine Calls for Community Health Stations Across Rhode Island

Published in the Woonsocket Call on May 20, 2018

Last week, the Rhode Island Minority Elder Task Force (RIMETF) held a Health and Wellness Fair at the Cape Verdean Progressive Center in East Providence to put a spot light on minority health care needs.

Dr. Michael Fine, a primary care physician who formerly was the state’s Health Director, and now serves as Senior Population Health and Clinical Officer at the Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, Inc., gave the keynote address, calling for an overhaul of America’s ailing health care delivery system.

Although RIMETF’s primary mission is to raise money and seek grants to provide limited emergency assistance to low-income seniors in crisis situations, the organization also promotes the advancement of inclusive programs for minority elders, says Susan Sweet, the nonprofit’s founder, a former state official who advocated for, developed and operated programs and services provided to the state’s vulnerable populations, including elders. She continued that work after retirement from the state. “During the last two decades, RIMETF provided more than $53,000 in grants,” she said.

According to Sweet, RIMETF’s $200 grants help low income seniors to pay utility costs, rent, food, medications, clothing, furniture, personal healthcare items and other necessities of life. She says that 80 grants are given out annually, about half going to minority applicants.

But, the decision to host a Health and Wellness Fair on May 11, 2018, was tied to minorities having a lack of access to health care services and to have Dr. Fine outline a better way of providing care to Rhode Island’s minorities, adds Sweet. “To this day the state’s diverse minorities continue to remain in the dark about health care programs and services that they can access and that lack of information has a detrimental impact on their health and well-being,” says Sweet.

Health Disparities in Rhode Island

During his thirty-minute keynote, Dr. Fine, a primary care physician who formerly was the state’s Health Director, and now serves as Senior Population Health
and Clinical Officer at the Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, Inc., provided the details as to how lack of access to health care adversely impacts the health and life expectancy of Rhode Island’s minorities.

According to Dr. Fine, infant mortality in the African American population is about three times as high than in the white population. Diabetes is about two times more common in the African-American population than it is in the white population. He also noted that life expectancy in the United States is 4.5 years less among the African American population than it is among the white population.

Zeroing in on Cape Verdeans, Dr. Fine noted that the Rhode Island Department of Health does not track the health of this minority group separately from other groups. The state’s primary care practices and community health centers don’t have a good way to decide who counts as a Cape Verdean for health tracking purposes, he said. But about half of the Cape Verdean community in Rhode Island live in Pawtucket and Central Falls, so that health information collected using the electronic medical record by Blackstone Valley Community Health Center (BVCHC), Inc, provides the first ever look at the health status of Cape Verdeans in Rhode Island.

It’s difficult to know if that data is complete, because it doesn’t allow us to count all Cape Verdeans at the BVCHC, but only those people who speak Cape Verdean Creole or those who identify themselves as having been born in Cape Verde. “Because we have no complete way to identify the health status of the Cape Verdean population, we have no certain way to identify specials needs and opportunities to provide better health care to this minority group,” says Dr. Fine. In addition, because Cape Verdean Creole is not a written language, “we have no way to certify Cape Verdean medical translators” which means some of the health care needs of Cape Verdeans go unaddressed, he adds.

But, there are better ways to improve the health care of Rhode Island’s Cape Verdeans, says Dr. Fine. “We must make sure that all Cape Verdeans are enrolled in a primary care practice or community health center,” he says, noting that electronic medical systems can provide better measures of the health of this population.

Dr. Fine called for Cape Verdeans to be appointed to boards of health care organizations to represent them in decision of allocation of resources, to demand better translation services, and to improve delivery of health care to Rhode Island’s Cape Verdeans.

As to Rhode Islanders, Dr. Fine noted that 25 to 45 percent don’t get primary care and prevention. As a result, there are 1,200 unnecessary deaths a year from heart disease and stroke. There are 200 unnecessary deaths a year from colon cancer and 65-70 unnecessary cases of HIV. Up to 200,000 Rhode Islanders remain smokers, he says.

Dr. Fine continued to detail the negative impact on the health of Rhode Islanders if they did not visit a primary care physician. More than 1,500 babies are born to teenagers, more than a third to minorities. Not to mention that there are 330 to 400 avoidable deaths from influenza every year due lack of immunization (500,000 Rhode Islanders are currently not immunized every year). And there are 330 deaths a year from prescriptions and other drug overdoses, he says.

It’s Time for a Change

Dr. Fine warns that major changes must be made to the nation’s health care delivery system to reduce spiraling health care costs and to provide better access. This solution can be modeled after his Central Falls Neighborhood Health Station (CFNHS), he says. It’s a multi and interdisciplinary approach, bringing a wide variety of health care professionals together, from physician, nurses, physician assistants, mental health workers, nutritionists, substance abuse workers and midwifes, to rehabilitation professionals, CFNHS’s must also provide urgent care and primary care services, be open on weekends and have “sick today access appointments.” Says Dr. Fine.

Fine has documented early successes in the CFNHS’s delivery of health care. Adolescent pregnancy was been reduced by 24 percent in 2016 and emergency medical service runs were reduced by 5 percent in just 12 months.

Dr. Fine envisions a Neighborhood Health Station in every community of 10,000 persons. When up and running, “we’ll increase life expectancy, reduce infant mortality and revitalize the local economy,” he says, by reducing health care costs.

Concluding the Health and Wellness Fair, Director Charles J. Fogarty, of the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs, who will be retiring next month, was recognized by RIMETF for his 40 years of public service and his support for the work of the Minority Elder Task Force.

For more details regarding the work of the RI Minority Elder Task Force or to make a donation, write RIMETF, 5 Leahy Street, Rumford, RI 02916 or call Lori Brennan Almeida, Chairperson, at 401-497-1287.

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RI Minority Elder Task Force Spotlights ‘Everyday Heroes’

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 5, 2017

Last Thursday, the Rhode Island Minority Elder Task Force (RIMETF), a nonprofit group that advocates for cultural competent services for elders from minority groups, recognized “Everyday Heroes” who make a difference in the community while also raising money to provide limited emergency assistance to low-income seniors in crisis situations.

RIMETF fund raising efforts combine with grants to fulfill its mission of financially helping low-income seniors, says Susan Sweet, the nonprofit’s founder and treasurer. RIMETF provides $200 to low income seniors to help pay utility costs, rent, food, medications, clothing, furniture, personal healthcare items and other necessities of life, she says, noting that approximately 80 grants, about half going to minority applicants, are given out annually.

Sweet says, “During the last two decades, RIMETF provided more than $53,000 in grants, successfully raising approximately $7,000 at the November 2 fundraiser. Over 150 supporters in attendance from around the state came to the East Providence Cape Verdean Progressive Center to honor eleven ‘Everyday Heroes’ who made outstanding contributions to many people throughout Rhode Island.”

According to Chairperson Lori Brennan-Almeida, her nonprofit group’s fundraising efforts are fluid, changing every year as needed. “Last year the nonprofit group held a full-day learning conference on Cultural Competence in Healthcare and Social Services for nurses, social workers and Certified Nursing Assistants, attracting over 100 attendees.”

“The idea for recognizing unsung heroes who work with Rhode Island’s minority residents was tossed around for the past couple of years,” says Almeida, noting that some of the honorees of this year’s fundraiser had never been recognized for their outstanding work

Introducing RIMETF’s 2007 “Everyday Heroes”…

Kathy Blunt

After Blunt, at 74 years of age, initially interviewed at Orchard View Manor, she got a letter a week later informing her that she did not get the job. Luckily for the residents, the position became open again and she was hired at the East Providence-based nursing facility in 2010 and quickly became an “indispensable gift to residents and a team builder between departments,” say facility staff.

Joseph Caffey, Sr.

The late Joseph Caffey, Sr., a visionary for high standards of service in affordable housing during his 24 years as the President and CEO of Omni Development and a leader in the Rhode Island’s affordable housing sector, were key to his recognition by RIMETF. Caffey’s vision led him to partner with the Providence Center to bring a mental health satellite office to the Olneyville-based Valley Apartments to assist the mental health needs of the tenants. He also hired employees with social work degrees to provide clinical services to tenants.

Trudence “Trudy” Conroy

Staff at the Newport County Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) consider Trudy to be a model volunteer who brings her knowledge, warm wit and compassion into counseling and advice to assist Medicare eligible seniors choose a Medicare insurance plan that fits their specific health needs. Trudy has amassed almost 700 hours as a SHIP volunteer over the past two years.

Carol Corey

For over 20 years, Corey, 75, of West Warwick, has visited the sick and lonely residing in local nursing facilities and hospitals. She shops for these individuals, bringing them needed toiletries, special treats, flowers, and even small articles of clothing, all paid on her own. She is known for being “low key” and never forgetting birthdays or special occasions, and celebrating holidays with people who have no friends or family.

Garo Emdjian

In 1980 Emdjian, now 76, emigrated from Armenia to the U.S. and he has never looked back. Emdjian’s life mission now is to give back to his adopted country, for over 25 years giving countless volunteer hours to local nonprofit agencies that have included Rhode Island Meals-on-Wheels, Fox Point Senior Center, Federal Hill House, Hamilton House, the Blood Bank and Fox Point Manor. Despite the many honors he has received over the years, Emdjian will tell you he does not volunteer for the recognition but for the true love and commitment to be of service to others.

Cynthia Hiatt, Esq.

Just six months after Hiatt retired from a 37 year career serving as Chief Legal Counsel for the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, she came back to fight discrimination and racism again by serving as one of the seven governor-appointed commissioners of the Commission. As a volunteer Hiatt meets monthly to rule on cases and presides over hearings and investigative conferences, continuing to fight to enforce antidiscrimination laws and to end discrimination against older Rhode Islanders, the disabled and people of color.

Adrienne Marchetti

Those who know Marchetti as Director of the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, use descriptive words such as: competent, respectful, creative, talented, selfless, as well as generous, and always welcoming to those she serves. Adrienne works 7 days a week from early morning until evening cooking and serving food to some of the poorest residents and homeless individuals in Pawtucket. Even in winter, after a very long day serving those who come to her soup kitchen, she prepares a satisfying supper and what is left over, she delivers to the night shelter at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to feed their 15 homeless residents.

Christine Reitman

For 26 years, Reitman, a Resident Service Coordinator at Property Advisory Group, has always advocated for her residents, always going above and beyond her normal duties. Recognizing the low income of her residents along with their social and health issues, she organized Saturday coffee hours, passing out needed everyday items to attendees, personally purchased from a local dollar store. The regular gatherings provide residents with a social network and informal forum to talk about personal issues.

Irene Sadlik

Coming to the United States from the Czech Republic nearly 30 years ago, Sadlik, with no formal training in health care, found her life’s passion working for the housekeeping department in a nursing facility. The former seamstress had an exceptional rapport with the residents, quickly responding to their needs and becoming their tireless advocate. Ultimately, to further her goal of working with older Rhode Islander’s she left her job at the nursing facility and opened up her own non-skilled home care agency. She has since taken a cancer patient into her home to try to give her a chance to enjoy her final days.

Mary Kay Uchmanowicz

Uchmanowicz, a Board Certified Audiologist who founded the Smithfield-based Twin Rivers Hearing Health in Smithfield in 2001, uses her empathy and specialized training to treat hearing problems of her older patients. Over the years, she has collected discarded hearing aids and brought them to the Philippines, spending weeks screening and fitting underprivileged children and adults with these donated hearing aids. “It is a privilege to help others,” says the audiologist who volunteers her time providing ear checks, audiometric testing, cleaning hearing aids, and answering questions at North Providence Senior Center and the Villa at St Antoine.

Henrietta “Henrie” Tonia White-Holder

White-Holder, founder and CEO of Higher Ground International, is committed to bringing clean water and sanitation to her native Liberia. Through the nonprofit organization, she opened the new RUKIYA (uplifting) Center on the south side of Providence, which focuses on programs for African immigrants, elders and youth, literacy and workforce issues. Henrie served on the United Way’s Executive Director Leadership Circle, received the Providence Newspaper Guild Public Service Award, the Extraordinary Woman Award for Education, and was conferred the RI Liberian Humanitarian Award.

For more details regarding the work of the RI Minority Elder Task Force or to make a donation, write RIMETF, 5 Leahy Street, Rumford, RI 02916 or call Lori Brennan Almeida, Chairperson, at 401-497-1287.