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Recognizing the good work of public health heroes in RI

The R.I. Public Health Association bestows honors on nine for championing public health in Rhode Island

Photo courtesy of Angela Ankoma

Angela Ankoma, the executive vice president of United Way of Rhode Island, with her family. Ankoma gave the keynote talk at the annual meeting of the R.I. Public Health Association.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 10/21/19
The Rhode Island Public Health Association recognized its local community heroes at its annual meeting last week.
Is there a better way to tell the story about the ongoing efforts and initiatives in the public health arena, to create a compelling story and a more engaged community? What different kinds of networking would help drive the narrative and the conversation about the good work being done? How is public health related to preserving democracy as a political force in an increasing oligarchic world?
Last week, ConvergenceRI published a story written by Dr. Matt Collins, the chief medical officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island, talking about the high incidence of diagnoses of Multiple Sclerosis in Rhode Island. The story, shared with RI News Today, went viral, with more than 1,600 page views and 140 shares, in addition to its reach with the engaged community of hundreds of ConvergenceRI readers.
The story, which attempted to answer questions about why MS was so prevalent in Rhode Island, seems to have touched a nerve ending, reflective of the public’s desire if not hunger for quality health care reporting.

CRANSTON – The 22nd annual meeting of the R.I. Public Health Association, held on Thursday evening, Oct. 17, at the Rhode Island Shriners’s Imperial Room, served as a kind of revelation for ConvergenceRI, about where the conversations converged and where they remained in silos, like traveling across a new elevated bridge where the view of the landscape becomes clearer.

It was the first large public gathering that ConvergenceRI had attended since having major surgery seven weeks ago on Sept. 3, which included a week’s stay in the hospital and then a week and a half in rehab at a skilled nursing facility, followed by limited mobility to attend events, all of which increased the awareness of the differences in access most people take for granted – how uncomfortable chairs can be to sit in that are not designed to provide proper support, and the difficulties in navigating a buffet line and keeping your balance.

Many of the award winners honored by the R.I. Public Health Association were people and organizations which had been featured in stories in ConvergenceRI:

Samuel Zwetchkenbaum, dental director of Oral Health at the R.I. Department of Health and the R.I. Medicaid program, who received the John Fogarty Award. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Moving beyond a state of decay.”]

Colleen Daly Ndoye, executive director of Project Weber/RENEW, who received the Meritorious Program Award for her work in providing peer-based harm reduction and recovery services to high-risk populations, including sex workers. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Eyes on the prize: 2018 health equity summit draws 750.”]

Susan Jacobson, senior director of health equity initiatives at Thundermist Health Center and project director for a Washington County behavioral health planning initiative with the Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds health equity zone, who received a Public Health Champion award. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Of the community, by the community, for the community.”]

Magdalena Andreozzi, the founder of Grands Flourish, Inc., a nonprofit providing support to grandparents raising grandchildren impacted by substance use disorders, who also received a Public Health Champion award. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “A safe place to call home for moms and kids in recovery.”]

Dr. Peter Simon, retired pediatrician and epidemiologist, as well as a frequent contributor to ConvergenceRI, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Dr. Honoris Causa.”]

The Rhode Island Free Clinic Volunteer Corps, which received a Meritorious Program award. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Surviving in a time of uncertainty in health care.”]

New stories to tell

Three other award winners represent new stories to report on in ConvergenceRI: Kerri S. Warren, professor of Biology and Public Health at Roger Williams University, who received the Bertram S. Yaffe award; Henrietta Tonia White Holder, an advocate for the disadvantaged and underserved Liberian, West African and marginalized populations in Rhode Island, who received a Public Health Champion Award; and Susan Campbell, a health services researcher at the Brown University Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research at the School of Public Health, who received a Lifetime Achievement award.

Connecting health equity with public health
The keynote address was given by Angela “Angie” Bannerman Ankoma, the Executive Vice President and Director of Community Investment at United Way of Rhode Island, overseeing more than $5 million of the organization’s grant-making, public policy and evaluation efforts.

Her work has been recognized locally and nationally; in 2018 she received the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Equity Award for her efforts with the developing the Sankofa Initiative in the West End of Providence.

Ankoma began her talk by showing the last speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, on the evening before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The speech includes the memorable phrase, “I’ve been to the mountaintop and I have seen the promised land.”

In talking before groups, Ankoma often begins by sharing a video of that speech and challenging the audience, asking: 50 years later, what is your mountaintop?

In recounting her own life story, Ankoma shared how she became interested in public health, and then through her work at the R.I. Department of Health, with the health equity zone initiative to address social and economic disparities.

When she arrived at United Way of Rhode Island, many of her colleagues were unfamiliar with what health equity meant, and she helped spearhead a change in investment and philanthropic priorities.

And, yes, ConvergenceRI had also written about Ankoma’s work. [See link below to the ConvergenceRI story, “An impromptu tour of the West End, the cultural mecca of Providence.”]

Connecting the dots
There were many familiar faces attending the R.I. Public Health Association, including Dr. Michael Fine, Lynn Blanchette, associate dean at the School of Nursing at Rhode Island College, Toby Simon, and Dr. Andrew Saal from Providence Community Health Centers, each part of their own network of an engaged community around the public health enterprise, each with important stories to tell, stories that are often not heard above the din of the dominant narrative, say, of Fox News on the TV at a medical office or at a car repair shop.

As one student attending the event told ConvergenceRI, he and many of his colleagues no longer read newspapers, preferring to get their news content on social media.


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