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Distributed September 7, 2004
Contact Wendy Lawton

Brown Medical School
Groundbreaking Grant To Boost Rhode Island Health Care Access

Brown University has received a federal grant to establish Rhode Island’s first Area Health Education Center. This statewide partnership will give the Ocean State’s neediest residents more and better medical care through student recruitment and training as well as education for doctors, nurses and other health professionals. The grant award represents an unprecedented collaboration between educators, physicians, advocates and politicians to improve care for the underserved.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has awarded Brown University a three-year, $2.6-million grant to improve primary care for Rhode Island’s poor, minority, and non-English speaking residents.

The grant will create the Area Health Education Center of Rhode Island, which will be based at Brown Medical School. When fully developed in 2007, it will operate through regional centers in Providence, Woonsocket and Newport. HRSA has released $500,000 and recommends that Brown receive an additional $2.1 million over two years to support this growth.

The need for the program is great. While the state compares favorably compared with the rest of the nation on the number of residents with health insurance, Rhode Island Department of Human Services data shows that 10 percent of the population has no coverage. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that nearly 10 percent of residents speak English “less than well,” which can be a major barrier to care.

State statistics also reveal significant health disparities.

For example, African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to die from homicide, AIDS and unintentional injuries compared with the state average. Smoking rates for Native Americans are more than double the state average. And Asians are nearly four times as likely to live in poverty and more than twice as likely not to have health insurance.

“In Rhode Island, there are serious social and economic obstacles to health care,” said Arthur Frazzano, M.D., associate dean for clinical faculty at Brown Medical School, who will serve as director of the new program. “We also know that the supply of primary care is low in places like Central Falls, Woonsocket and North Providence.

“But Rhode Island is small and we’re pulling together. Brown Medical School has a role to play in eliminating health disparities. Part of our mission is to turn out socially responsible doctors – which is why we pursued this grant.”

Area Health Education Centers were created in 1972 and are funded by HRSA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The goal of these academic-community partnerships is to increase access to care in medically underserved areas – from poor inner cities to remote rural counties. Centers exist in all but five states, and in a typical year train a total of 32,000 students in community clinics and provide classes to 330,000 local care providers.

The Area Health Education Center of Rhode Island will serve the state three ways:

  • Create training programs for medical, nursing and pharmacy students in community health centers and other facilities that serve a large number of poor, minority or non-English speaking patients. Participating institutions include Brown Medical School, the University of Rhode Island, Salve Regina University, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island.
  • Recruit more poor and minority high school students into the health professions through partnerships with the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island State Nurses Association and other organizations. Tools will include shadowing and mentoring programs, guidance counselor training, and a new guide to health careers in the state.
  • Offer continuing education programs for health providers – including doctors, dentists, pharmacists and nurses – to improve disease prevention and primary care. The centers will also provide training for some Rhode Island Department of Health employees as well as community outreach workers and medical interpreters.

The first regional center in Providence will open in October. The Woonsocket center will open in October 2005. The Newport center opens in October 2006.

When student training begins in fall 2005, it will strengthen the Medical School’s commitment to the community, particularly the underserved.

“It is a wonderful achievement in these times of reduced federal funding for health and social programs to have a new award for Rhode Island and for Brown,” said Richard Besdine, M.D., interim dean of medicine and biological sciences. “This grant will improve medical education and service delivery at the grass-roots level and provide unique and essential training for our students. Dr. Frazzano and colleagues are to be congratulated for their outstanding work.”

Planning for the grant began two years ago and involved a coalition of organizers from academia, government and medicine. It’s the first time such a broad group has worked together to address the needs of the medically underserved in Rhode Island.

Members of the grant advisory committee include representatives from Brown Medical School, University of Rhode Island, Salve Regina University, Rhode Island College, Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Hospital, Rhode Island Department of Health, Rhode Island Department of Human Services, Rhode Island Health Center Association, Providence Health Center Association, Rhode Island Free Clinic, Crossroads Rhode Island (formerly Travelers Aid of Rhode Island), Family Care Center of Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, Hospital Association of Rhode Island, Rhode Island State Nurses Association, Thundermist Health Centers, State Sen. Elizabeth Roberts, State Rep. Carol Mumford, and the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.

The project received strong support from the state’s Congressional delegation: U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy and U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin.

The Rhode Island Foundation and Pfizer Inc. provided planning grants, while the Occupational and Environmental Health Center of Rhode Island provided meeting space.

“People were really willing to pitch in and make this work,” said Michael Fine, M.D., chairman of the grant advisory committee, physician-in-chief of the departments of family and community medicine at The Miriam Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital, and physician operating officer of Hillside Avenue Family and Community Medicine, the state’s largest family medicine practice.

“Rhode Island is exactly the place to create this kind of collaboration,” Fine said. “We all know each other. And to provide access to care for everyone, to really make the health care system serve all Rhode Islanders, everyone has to be involved.”

Brown has committed $193,230 in first-year funds to the Area Health Education Center, and medical school officials will seek additional funding from state government and other sources.

To arrange interviews with Arthur Frazzano at Brown Medical School, call Wendy Lawton in the Brown News Service at (401) 863-2476. For additional information, contact:

  • Michael Fine, M.D., Hillside Avenue Family and Community Medicine, (401) 725-6160
  • Kerrie Jones-Clark, executive director, Rhode Island Health Center Association, (401) 274-1771
  • Rick Schwartz, vice president for communications, The Rhode Island Foundation, (401) 274-4564


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