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Health Equity Summit Participants Lay Out Action Steps for a Stronger Rhode Island

More than 500 community members, legislators, members of the business community, and representatives from fields including public health, healthcare, law enforcement, education, and academia gathered today at the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) 2016 Health Equity Summit to discuss the steps necessary to build healthier communities and a healthier Rhode Island.

The event's 10 breakout sessions focused on, among other issues, health systems transformation, housing, community-police partnerships, food systems, behavioral health, climate change, and education. Speakers included David Williams from Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health; First Gentleman Andy Moffit; Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) Secretary Elizabeth Roberts; and Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH.

"Rhode Island is a place that embraces diversity, tolerance, and equal opportunity for everyone," Moffit said. "An important part of ensuring that all Rhode Islanders have an equal opportunity to thrive is to address the underlying issues that determine whether people and communities are healthy, such as food access, housing, and education. I applaud everyone at today's Health Equity Summit for rolling up their sleeves and contributing their time, talent, and passion, and for helping build a healthier Rhode Island."

"Ensuring that all Rhode Islanders have access to high-quality, well-coordinated health services is a vitally important goal. But to achieve the best health outcomes for all Rhode Islanders, we also need to focus on what's happening outside the four walls of our medical facilities, in our homes and communities," Secretary Roberts said. "In the coming months and years, we will continue to collaborate and innovate across state agencies and with our dedicated community partners to achieve the shared population health goals we have set and build healthier communities across Rhode Island."

"Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to harness their talents, share their gifts, and achieve their dreams, no matter their race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender orientation, or level of education or income," Dr. Alexander-Scott said. "It's not enough to just track and measure health disparities. We need people from every zip code throughout the state to sit at the same table, embrace a shared vision for a strong, thriving Rhode Island, and then work toward that vision together so that we can measure the improved outcomes that are needed. That's what the 2016 Health Equity Summit gave us a chance to do."

Many different health disparities exist in Rhode Island. For example, LGBTQ youth are much more likely to use tobacco products (43.5% of LGBTQ youth, as opposed to 25% of all youth); non-high school graduates are at risk of living seven years less than those who graduate from college; the infant mortality rate for African-American Rhode Islanders is almost double the state average (11.2 per 1,000 live births, as opposed to 6.6); and more than half of Native American children (54%) live in poverty.

The theme of the 2016 Health Equity Summit was Health Equity in Action: Justice and Health for All. Participants in the breakout sessions identified immediate action steps that will help improve health for all Rhode Islanders, and will help move Rhode Island's current 23 population health goals forward.

Rhode Island's population health goals are targets that all agencies within EOHHS (RIDOH; the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals; the Department of Human Services; and Department of Children, Youth, and Families), and the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner and HealthSource RI, are working toward. These population health goals are the platform for a State Health Plan (including behavioral health) being developed through Rhode Island's State Innovation Model (SIM) work.

Population health goals include increasing access to safe, healthy, affordable food; promoting senior health to support independent living; and reducing the prevalence of substance use disorders. All of Rhode Island's 23 population health goals are available online.

The health equity action steps that summit participants proposed included: Developing comprehensive education for all Rhode Island young people on climate change and what they can do to address the issue, and integrating climate change response work into municipal planning. Creating more detailed, consistent communication at the state level about programs, services, and organizations that focus on access to healthy, local food. Creating and maintaining a built environment infrastructure that promotes healthy living (for example, well-maintained sidewalks), and creating incentives for schools to offer more recess and physical education. Expanding high-quality, trauma-informed, accessible mental and behavioral health services that meet the needs of all Rhode Islanders (including the needs of the state's LGBTQ community).

In addition to the breakout sessions and speaking portions, the Health Equity Summit featured a spoken word poetry performance, Bharatnatyam dancers, a photo gallery that provided a journey through Rhode Island's diverse communities, and the work of Rhode Island's Health Equity Zones (HEZs). Health Equity Zones are 10 areas throughout Rhode Island where community collaborations are implementing innovative approaches to make Rhode Island stronger with healthier communities. Some of the many actions to improve birth outcomes and prevent chronic diseases in seniors included HEZ activities that increase access to affordable, healthy food and clean water, enforce transportation policies that improve safety and physical activity, expand walking school buses to decrease school absenteeism, and improve other social and environmental conditions of neighborhoods.

Dr. Alexander-Scott closed the event by pledging to bring the health equity action step proposals to the group managing the development of Rhode Island's State Health Plan, and to keep the community up to date about their integration into the plan.

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