Letter to the Editor from the Newport County Community Healthcare Collaborative (NCCHC)
The Newport County Community Healthcare Collaborative is an association of 10 community-based organizations that came together 18 months ago to combat vaccine hesitancy and limit the damage of the pandemic. Our work focused on providing those communities and families experiencing the most severe impacts of COVID the access to the testing, treatment, and vaccinations they needed. Our efforts centered on access to education, health care, testing and vaccinations, as they became available. We are certain that our collective efforts have helped reduce the impact of the pandemic on this community. This Collaborative has brought together disparate organizations who have learned that “together is better” and that by pooling resources and implementing creative interventions, we can tackle difficult community issues.
While there is still more work to be done now that the vaccine is available to school age children and another variant has emerged, our members have encountered a new and equally devastating crisis- a full-scale workforce crisis within health and human services.
Persons working in the health and human services professions are leaving in droves and there are no new recruits on the horizon. It has eroded the safety net for our most vulnerable populations, and it is taking its toll on Rhode Island’s remaining health and human services providers. Our current situation is dire and must be addressed immediately. The availability of health, prevention and treatment services, behavioral health counseling, home health care for seniors, substance abuse treatment, as well as outreach to at risk families is seriously compromised.
Individuals and families are asking for assistance daily and are unable to obtain needed services. There are no appointments in sight for individuals in need of behavioral health and substance abuse counseling. An all-time high number of youths are currently in psychiatric hospitals because community providers have limited intake capacity. More than 60 youths have been placed in out-of-state facilities. To date, the state has seen a 28% increase is drug overdose deaths; 322 people with an average age of 42 have lost their lives.
Rhode Island is the only New England state that has not allocated the $1.2 billion in federal American Rescue Funds. We have communicated closely with our Newport County Legislators, several of whom serve in General Assembly leadership roles, but we have yet to see action on our specific requests.
The Governor and leadership of the General Assembly have indicated that they intend on prioritizing the release of American Rescue Funds when the session resumes in January. The time is now to raise salaries of essential workers and provide rate relief to reverse the course of this crisis.
In addition, RI needs to fund long-term strategies for workforce development that will be key to ensuring the health, safety, and economic well-being of all Rhode Islanders. This system must include:
- Rate reform to establish competitive wages for our clinical, professional, and direct-service staff
- Long-term investment strategies to attract, stabilize, and sustain a strong service delivery system
- Resources for community-based organizations to acquire new technologies and innovative practices so that all populations receive the highest level of care.
- Expedited determination by state agencies of Medicaid eligibility for low-income seniors.
Moreover, this system must include:
- Formal training for targeted health and human service workers
- Comprehensive apprentice expansion to cultivate career pathways
- Higher education diploma tracks for the industry
We ask that the General Assembly and Governor take immediate action by designating $100 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to address this workforce crisis in the aforementioned ways.
Members of the Newport County Community Healthcare Collaborative including
- Jennifer Fairbank, CEO, Visiting Nurse Home & Hospice
- Jeffrey Gaines, MD, CMO Newport Hospital
- Erin Donovan-Boyle, Executive Director, Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce
- Jessica Walsh, Executive Director, Women’s Resource Center, Newport HEZ
- Marty Sinnott, President and CEO, Child & Family
- Joan Kwiatkowski, PACE-R.I., RIDOH, COVID Advisory Committee
- Stephanie McCaffrey, VP Health Administration, East Bay Community Action Program
- Jamie Lehane, Executive Director, CEO, Newport Mental Health