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RIDOH Announces New Health Equity Zones

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) today announced that it is expanding support and funding to establish four new Health Equity Zones (HEZs). Warwick, Warren, Blackstone Valley (including Cumberland, North Smithfield, and Lincoln), and the 02905 ZIP code (including lower South Providence and nearby neighborhoods) were chosen through a competitive process that drew applicants from communities across the State.

The ongoing expansion of RIDOH's HEZ initiative has been made possible in part through support from a pilot investment in place-based transformation in Rhode Island by Blue Meridian Partners and in partnership with ONE Neighborhood Builders (ONE|NB). Blue Meridian Partners is a national philanthropic organization that finds and funds scalable solutions to the problems that limit economic mobility and trap America's young people and families in poverty. ONE|NB is the backbone, or convening entity, of the pilot initiative, known as Central Providence Opportunities. The goal of Central Providence Opportunities is to improve economic opportunity in the 02908 and 02909 ZIP codes of Providence through affordable housing development, wage growth, local business development, and early education supports. The aim is to scale this pilot effort to other communities in Rhode Island by working with residents, community partners, and State agencies.

"Rhode Island's Health Equity Zones are a transformative element of the State's health and wellness infrastructure," said Governor Dan McKee. "Thank you to Blue Meridian Partners, One Neighborhood Builders, and the Rhode Island Department of Health for making HEZ expansion possible to ensure more of our neighbors in more of our communities can benefit from these important collaborations."

"Recognizing the power and promise of the HEZ initiative, it only made sense to invest in its expansion," said Jennifer Hawkins, executive director of ONE|NB. "The entire Central Providence Opportunities team looks forward to sharing the lessons we have learned about the connections between comprehensive community development and improved economic mobility—and, consequently, improved health outcomes."

The investment to expand Rhode Island's HEZ initiative will be managed by the Rhode Island Foundation in partnership with the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and RIDOH, and the funding will be leveraged to expand the impact of the HEZ model into additional communities.

"We're inspired by the many local communities that are deeply investing in health equity initiatives," said Assistant Secretary of EOHHS Ana Novais. "Expanding our Health Equity Zones makes it possible for more Rhode Islanders to live their healthiest lives. Thanks to our funding partners, we're honored to engage more communities through this latest coordinated and aligned investment in health equity."

"As the State's community foundation, and as investors in the existing Health Equity Zones, we are pleased to be a partner in this work," said Neil D. Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation. "Our hope is that the new sites will follow the model of successful HEZs around the state, providing opportunity for even more Rhode Islanders to work together to use their voices, and collective power, to improve their own health and the health of their communities."

Like the 11 existing HEZs, the four new HEZs will annually receive $150,000 in core funding and support to ensure that these communities ground their work in public health principles and best practices, so that measurable outcomes are reached and evaluated.

"Every Rhode Islander, in every ZIP code, should have the opportunity to live the healthiest life possible, in the healthiest community possible," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "A key feature of our Health Equity Zone initiative is that it puts the community's voice front and center, since residents understand the challenges facing their communities the best. Congratulations to the new Warwick, Warren, Blackstone Valley, and 02905 Health Equity Zones. We are thrilled to expand this opportunity to additional communities here in Rhode Island and look forward to seeing what you accomplish to improve the health and lives of Rhode Islanders."

RIDOH's HEZ initiative uses a health equity-centered approach to prevention that leverages place-based, community-led solutions to address the social determinants of health. The initiative is grounded in research that shows up to 85% of health outcomes are determined by factors outside clinical settings, such as access to affordable, healthy foods; high-quality education; employment opportunities; and safe neighborhoods. The HEZ model encourages and equips community members and partners to collaboratively address these factors to create healthy places for people to live, learn, work, and play.

Each successful application was submitted by a municipal or nonprofit, community-based organization that will serve as the backbone agency for the local HEZ. These agencies—East Bay Community Action Program, Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center, Family Service of Rhode Island, and Comprehensive Community Action Program—will facilitate a community-led process to organize a collaborative of community partners, conduct a needs and asset assessment, identify priorities based on community input, and implement a data-driven plan of action to address the obstacles to health and well-being in local neighborhoods. A comprehensive description of the HEZ approach, model, and process is detailed in the guide that RIDOH recently launched with support and funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), Health Equity Zones: A Toolkit for Building Healthy and Resilient Communities.

Existing Rhode Island HEZ collaboratives include residents, diverse community-based organizations, youth-serving organizations, educators, business leaders, health professionals, transportation experts, and people in many other fields who are coming together to take action to address the most pressing concerns impacting the health of their neighborhoods.

The initial year-long contract period will begin in July 2021 and may be renewed for up to four additional 12-month periods based on HEZ performance outcomes evaluated and based on the availability of funds.

To learn more about the HEZ model in Rhode Island, visit www.health.ri.gov/hez.

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