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Governor McKee Highlights 2023 Rhode Island Department of Health Accomplishments: Promoting Healthy Lifestyle, Ensuring Safe Food and Drinking Water, Preventing Chronic Disease

In a year full of public health successes, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) put interventions in place throughout the State in 2023 to promote healthy lifestyle changes, ensure the safety of food and drinking water, promote emergency preparedness, perform infectious disease and chronic disease prevention and control, and promote maternal and child health, to name only a few focus areas.

"A healthier Rhode Island is a more resilient, prosperous, and equitable Rhode Island. This belief is driving our administration and the team at RIDOH to make critical public health services available in every city and town throughout the state," said Governor Dan McKee. "RIDOH's achievements over the last 12 months run the gamut from community-centered chronic disease prevention work to interventions that are preventing overdoses and saving lives. The team at RIDOH has a lot of momentum headed into 2024, and I'm looking forward to supporting their great work."

"While the expertise of RIDOH was on full display throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we work every day often behind the scenes to make Rhode Island a healthier place to live, work, and play," said Utpala Bandy, MD, MPH, Interim Director of Health. "We do this with a specific commitment to health equity, and to ensuring that every Rhode Islander has an equal opportunity to be healthy and thrive. We are proud of all we did during 2023 and look forward to another year of collaboration with our partners to promote health and wellbeing throughout Rhode Island in 2024."

Specific examples of RIDOH's successes in 2023 include:

Rhode Island continued to be a national leader in adolescent immunizations. Rhode Island teens were at or above the national average for every recommended vaccine type. For example, Rhode Island has the nation's highest rate for 13 to 17-year-olds who are up to date on their human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. For Tdap vaccination (protecting against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), 95.1% of Rhode Islanders 13-17 years old have had at least one dose, compared to 89.9% of adolescents in this age group nationally.

Substantial construction happened on the site of the new Life Sciences Hub in Providence's Innovation and Design District. This site will include a new, 80,000-square-foot State Health Laboratory, as well as life science laboratories for Brown University and additional bio-technology space. The new facility is expected to be ready for occupancy in 2025.

RIDOH coordinated the testing of drinking water from public water systems in Rhode Island for a group of harmful chemicals called per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) [r20.rs6.net]. In addition to doing public education on these emerging contaminants, RIDOH is partnering with public water systems that exceeded a new Rhode Island PFAS threshold on corrective actions. RIDOH has also launched a program for testing drinking water in Rhode Island public schools for lead.

As part of efforts to prevent overdoses and save lives, RIDOH activated an enhanced system to track non-fatal overdoses throughout the State daily and to get text message alerts out into the community in real-time. These alerts go to first responders and other healthcare professionals, harm reduction organizations, local leaders, and residents in impacted areas. Using this data system, mobile outreach teams deploy peers with lived experience to overdose hotspots each week to connect at-risk populations to treatment, recovery, and harm-reduction services.

To address the growing need for behavioral healthcare, RIDOH initiated the application and supported the process to have Rhode Island added to the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT). Psychologists in any of the other PSYPACT states can now apply to provide telepsychology services to patients in Rhode Island. (And Rhode Island psychologists in the program can provide these services to patients in other states.)

Within hours of being notified of a case of meningococcal meningitis, a serious and sometimes fatal illness, RIDOH organized a clinic to make doses of post-exposure prophylaxis medication available to this person's immediate contacts. Getting this medication to contacts is critical to preventing severe illness, particularly for at-risk populations. Almost 80% of the patient's approximately 100 close contacts received this post-exposure prophylaxis medication, an exceptional acceptance rate. This response was a collaboration between RIDOH's Center for Acute Infectious Disease Epidemiology, RIDOH's Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response, and many other teams throughout the Department.

RIDOH took swift regulatory action requiring the out-of-state owner of Roger Williams Medical Center and Our Lady of Fatima Hospital to do more to support these two Rhode Island hospitals. An Immediate Compliance Order was issued to the owner, Prospect Medical Holdings and its corporate parents, after a thorough, extensive review by RIDOH's Center for Health Facilities Regulation and monitoring by RIDOH's Office of Health Systems Development.

Rhode Island is one of only a few states in the nation that does not have local health departments providing services and shaping public health policy at the local level. This makes the scope of RIDOH extremely broad, and results in close partnerships between RIDOH and healthcare professionals, healthcare facilities, community partners, schools, and local, state, and federal offices, among others.

RIDOH's various functions and programs are organized in the following units:

- Division of Community Health and Equity - Division of Emergency Preparedness and Infectious Disease - Division of Environmental Health - Health Equity Institute - Division of Healthcare Quality and Safety - Division of Policy, Information and Communications - Office of Policy, Planning, and Strategy - Division of State Laboratories - Office of Workforce Development and Engagement

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