Central Falls may be Rhode Island’s smallest municipality, but it has an outsize goal to be the state’s healthiest. With the help of LISC Rhode Island, the community is working hard to win the fight against preventable health problems.
The goal demands a new way of thinking about health care. Currently, the community is one of the state’s most underinvested: 1/3 of the residents live in poverty, 27 percent have no health insurance and per capita income is just over $14,000. Latinos in this community face particularly high barriers that directly impact health, including poverty, high unemployment, lack of access to educational opportunities, and linguistic and cultural challenges.
LISC, the backbone agency of the region’s Health Equity Zone (HEZ), a state Department of Health program designed to address the social determinants of health, conducted a listening tour to assess residents’ needs. Over and over again, people listed the lack of cultural competency of services as a primary concern. LISC created a 102-item action plan, and convened a collaborative of 45 partners who have been tackling those items, one by one. Already, they have expanded diabetes prevention programs, created intergenerational nutrition sessions, installed new and improved walking paths and programs, and helped change the conversation about health for the community.
Dr. Michael Fine, a member of the HEZ collaborative and the former director of the state health department, brought a particularly ambitious vision to the table. He proposed creating a centralized facility that could provide residents with everything they might need to get and stay healthy, outside of the traditional healthcare system—and all within walking distance of their homes.
Dr. Michael Fine, a member of the Central Falls Health Equity Zone collaborative and former director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, shares a rendering of the new neighborhood “health station” with residents.
Construction costs for the project were estimated at $15 million. LISC Rhode Island invested $12.6 million through Healthy Futures Fund financing and a pre-development grant of $50,000. The LISC team also worked with congressional delegates to secure another $1 million in federal funding.
The Central Falls Neighborhood Health Station will be a hub for classes in nutrition, diabetes prevention and financial literacy, and recreational opportunities, in addition to access to services. The health station will have providers ranging from family doctors and pharmacists to physical therapists, recovery coaches and dentists, translators and behavioral specialists. More culturally competent and readily-available doctors, dentists, and behavioral health specialists was seen as a critical component to improving the overall health of community members.
The Health Station goal to enroll 90 percent of residents in programs will empower an entire community to strive for optimal health and wellbeing. The facility will create more than 80 permanent full-time jobs, and change the health of thousands.
Photo credit: Rupert Whitley
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