Innovation Ecosystem

Convergence, not silos

The week beginning May 15 may determine the future directions of Rhode Island

Image courtesy of RI kIds Count

The front cover illustration of the 2023 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook, which will be unveiled on Monday morning, May 15.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 5/15/23
The week beginning Monday, May 15, will define the future of Rhode Island as a time of convergence and possibility.
Which mainstream news media outlet will be willing to confront Gov. Dan McKee and Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor on their failures in housing strategies? Why was there no media coverage of the public meeting on Health Care Spending and Quality in Rhode Island, sponsored by OHIC? Why do people like to be lied to, rather than being told the truth?
Remarkable community participatory budgetary events are now underway, where the residents, ages 14 and up, living within the areas served by the Central Falls and Pawtucket Health Equity Zone, are being asked to vote on their preferences on the best way to invest $385,000 made available by the R.I. Department of Health, choosing from 11 proposed projects designated as community change agents.
The 11 proposed projects were winnowed down from more than 600 ideas generated by community residents on how to improve the social determinants of health in Pawtucket and Central Falls.
The voting begins on May 30 and runs through June 13, with a Vote Party scheduled for Saturday, June 10, at Tides Family Services at 242 Dexter St. A similar process is underway with the Central Providence Health Equity Zone. Translated, investments are being made from the bottom up, not the top down, where community residents get to make the choices around investments in projects that can change their communities in a positive fashion.
Four events, on four consecutive days, to which ConvergenceRI has been “invited’ and plans to attend, if health conditions allow. The act of participatory journalism, attending events, reporting on what happens, seems a simple enough task – if you are not struggling with the ability to walk, and strict doctors’ orders to avoid stress. Taking care of your own health must always be the priority, and not taking unnecessary risks that put one's life in jeopardy, must be the priority.

PROVIDENCE – This coming week beginning May 15 promises to be a wild one, filled with transitions, new beginnings and dramatic changes to the power structure, and convergences – culminating in the sold-out, three-day weekend of Taylor Swift concerts at Gillette Stadium. Who could ask for anything more? An NBA Finals featuring the Lakers vs. the Celtics? A RICO indictment of former President Trump for sedition?

•  On Monday morning, May 15, Rhode Island Kids Count will release its 2023 Factbook at a public gathering, the first such one in three years, an assembly that marks the transition of Paige Clausius-Parks, taking the helm as the organization’s new executive director, following the retirement of Elizabeth Burke Bryant after more than two decades steering the Rhode Island’s data ship.

More than 400 have registered to attend the ceremony, which has become an annual rite of spring when the gospel of facts about the health and well being of children and families in Rhode Island is published and presented to the state’s top elected officials.

As the 2023 Factbook’s 18-page executive summary makes perfectly clear, the safety net in Rhode Island has been shredded. In 2022, in Rhode Island, some 65 percent – 6,346 newborns out of a total of 10,115 babies born – ‘had developmental, socio-economic and/or health factors that potentially put them at risk for poor outcomes later in life.”

The question is: Will the elected officials take heed – and take action – when it comes to mending Rhode Island’s broken safety net?

• On Monday, May 15, the emergency warming shelter at the Cranston Street Armory is finally slated to close, but the state is still scrambling to find beds for the ever-growing homeless population, five months after the shelter at the Armory first opened on a temporary basis in December of 2022.

Despite all the promises and assurances that have been spoken by Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor and Gov. Dan McKee, the saga of the failed launch of bringing ‘Dignity Bus,” a retrofitted RV that can sleep up to 20 individuals – ordered the day before Thanksgiving in 2022 and constructed by mid-December, with the support of the Rhode Island Foundation – is a woeful tale of bureaucratic incompetence and lack of resolve, it appears. Worse has been the alleged outright obfuscation and prevarication by state officials, according to Anthony Zorbaugh, executive director of the nonprofit, I Am The Source, in an interview with ConvergenceRI. [See link to story  in this week’s ConvergencRI.]

• On Tuesday afternoon, May 16, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on legislation, S 32, the “Equality in Abortion Coverage Act,” or EACA” – with the prospects of sending the bill to the full Senate for approval. Perhaps no legislation in recent history will define the moral compass of the General Assembly and the future of Rhode Island than its willingness to protect the rights of women to make decisions about their own health care, including access to abortion for state employees and for those residents on Medicaid, more than one-third of the state’s entire population, and .

• On Wednesday evening, May 17, the Rhode Island Foundation will hold its annual meeting, marking the transition in leadership from outgoing President and CEO Neil Steinberg to the new incoming leader, Congressman David Cicilline. Rep. Cicilline’s resignation of his seat serving the 1st Congressional District has set off an electoral scramble, with some 15 declared candidates competing for the voters' nod.

Under Steinberg’s leadership, the Rhode Island Foundation has become a veritable fourth arm of government in Rhode Island, stepping into a perceived vacuum of policy and investment by the state’s elected officials, seeking to plug the holes in the safety net holding the social contract together – in health care, in education, in behavioral health, in housing, in life sciences, in future economic development, and in investing in equity leadership as the state has become more diverse.

To that end, Steinberg has shown a willingness to invest in business consultants to conduct studies and publish reports to promote a corporate future. His support for the Partnership for Rhode Island, a clan of the CEOs from the state’s largest companies, in order to shepherd civic engagement, continues to put its thumb on the policy scale.

Throughout the last decade, ConvergenceRI has been the one constant source of reporting willing to engage with Steinberg and carry a conversation about his role and the role of the Rhode Island Foundation, asking hard questions.

• On Thursday evening, May 18, EpiVax will host its 25th birthday party at its headquarters in Olneyville, a tribute to the staying power and vision of its founder, CEO and CSO, Dr. Annie S. De Groot, and the team she has assembled. EpiVax is one of the pioneering biotech firms in Rhode Island, developing its proprietary in-silico, in-vitro, and in-vivo data tools, leading scientific advances in vaccine development, immunogenicity risk assessment for biosimilar products, personalized cancer vaccines, and epitope prediction tools, under the practice of what De Groot has labeled ‘Fearless Science.”

All these occurrences – the release of the Rhode Island Kids Count 2023 Factbook, the vote on the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, the 2023 Rhode Island Foundation annual meeting, and the 25th birthday party – represent an important convergence of news. To treat them as unrelated, separate events in news silos represents more than just a failure of vision. It characterizes the way in which the news media, in its pursuit of promoting a dominant news narrative, keeps missing the story, again and again and again, in ConvergenceRI’s opinion.

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