August 12, 2020 – Organizations in Pawtucket and Central Falls will receive a combined $700,000 in grant funding to help address the impact of COVID-19 in those communities. This additional funding will support community organizations working to reduce the barriers to testing, tracing and adhering to quarantine protocols faced by many residents.
Grants are distributed through the Health Equity Zone collaborative in Pawtucket and Central Falls, which is led by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Rhode Island, and made possible by CARES Act funding and in partnership with the RI Department of Health.
Currently, the case positive rate in Central Falls is one of the highest in the country at 20%, and Pawtucket is at 13%. Both rates are a far cry from the 5% benchmark that’s been recommended by the CDC. The PCF HEZ Collaborative, which was created more than 6 years ago to address health equity in this community, has been working to identify mechanisms and resources needed to bring those rates lower.
“The Pawtucket Central Falls Health Equity Zone has been hit very hard,” said Jeanne Cola, Executive Director of Local Initiatives Support Corporation, the backbone agency for the PCF HEZ. “More needs to be done to help the collaborative members get residents tested, provide the necessary resources to get through a quarantine, and connect people with programs and services that are available to help. These grants are a start.”
Grants were awarded to Blackstone Valley Community Action Program, Family Services of Rhode Island, the YMCA, the Blackstone Valley Community Health Station, the Cape Verdean American Community Development, Collette Travel Service Inc., Children’s Friend, Progreso Latino, George Wiley Center of RI, Fuerza Laboral, Elisha Project, Childhood Lead Action Project, and Pawtucket Central Falls Development.
“This has been a coordinated response on many levels. We are all determined to address this issue and get the case positive rate down,” said Cola. “We’ve had corporate partners like Collette and CVS roll up their sleeves and really pitch in to make a difference.”
The Cities of Pawtucket and Central Falls established an Incident Command System, created a hot-line and relied on the volunteers to field inquiries. Collette made available its existing infrastructure, which would normally support travel sales, and created a hotline to help local residents get information and access to testing, even if they didn’t have doctors and insurance. Volunteers and staff manning the phone lines would triage access to front-line service providers and connect residents with food, transportation, cleaning supplies and more.
“Even though Collette sells trips all over the world, we are deeply committed to our community of Central Falls and Pawtucket,” says John Sutherland, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for Collette Travel Services. “It was important for us to step up and accept the challenge of helping when we were needed the most. We have been honored to contribute knowledge, time and resources to the BEAT COVID 19 initiative and to do what we could to try to reduce the spread and impact of the disease.”
The team worked to make proactive calls to community members, help connect residents with resources and help move infected people immediately into isolation. Since then, the hotline has answered more than 5,200 calls including 2,800 in July alone. The Cities partnered with CVS Health to provide rapid and accessible testing. And the team helped facilitate testing for more than 3200 residents since May 1, which resulted in more than 400 cases being isolated.
“CVS Health has been critical in this initiative as well by targeting a pop-up testing facility in this zone, and Street Teams from the YMCA went door to door to urge people to get tested and to let them know where it is,” said Cola. “During this crisis, the YMCA has become our boots on the ground and a critical resource for this effort.” The YMCA received funding to continue their work.
The CVS test site has moved this past week to its new location across from Lynch Arena in order to facilitate neighbors from that area to be able to walk up and get a test. It had previously been at a location on Dexter Street.
“There have been a number of organizations on the ground helping with supports,” says Cola. “Food deliveries, cleaning supplies and education are all important resources that residents need to get through this.”
For example, both Cape Verdean American Development and Family Services of Rhode Island have created a family support team staffed with interns and volunteers to help coordinate culturally and linguistically appropriate resources for families in need. That includes, food, cleaning supplies, masks and gloves, and anything else families might need as they face a COVID diagnosis and the necessary quarantine that follows. The groups work closely with volunteers manning the hot-line to help address the needs in the community and network with other front-line nonprofits like Children’s Friend, Progreso Latino and the Elisha Project. These organizations are all taking part in delivering food, supplies and providing culturally appropriate support in the community.
“This is a marathon, but it feels like there is some progress being made,” said Ana Novais, Deputy Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health “The infrastructure that we’ve built through the Health Equity Zone has been an important step in this massive coordination effort. We are working together to each of our strengths to answer the call for this incredibly hard-hit community. There is more to be done, but this is a step.”
About Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) – LISC Rhode Island is part of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a national nonprofit that equips communities with the capital, program strategy and know-how to become places where people can thrive. Our strategies – investing in real estate, increasing family income & wealth, stimulating economic development, improving access to quality education, and supporting healthy environments and lifestyles – work together to improve the health and well-being of our neighbors. Since 1991, LISC Rhode Island has invested $437 million in neighborhoods across our state, helping to create more than 8,835 affordable homes and support the development of more than 2.5 million square feet of commercial, child care, educational, and community space. For more information, visit www.rilisc.org.