Media release

Recommendations issued by Rhode Island Foundation-led independent effort to gather and share community input aimed at informing proposed Integrated Academic Health System

Expanding access to care for communities of color and increasing workforce diversity and inclusion across the continuum of its workforce are among dozens of recommendations issued today by the Rhode Island Foundation-led independent effort to gather and share community input aimed at informing the proposed Lifespan/Care New England hospital merger and creation of an integrated academic health system (IAHS) through an affiliation with Brown University.

“Our goal was to gather feedback and ideas from Rhode Islanders, including those who may not otherwise have a voice in this process."

- Neil D. Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation

He continued, “While the Foundation has been supportive of the idea of a locally-controlled integrated academic health system for many years, this process was focused not on whether the merger should move forward, but on identifying the key priorities, investments and policies that would ensure broader community benefit if the merger is to happen. Ultimately, the measure of success for the IAHS must be if it helps catalyze change that sets the state on a trajectory towards creating a healthier Rhode Island for all its residents.”

The Foundation convened a committee of 25 members (listed in the report) with a broad range of experience and expertise, to develop a set of clear recommendations for consideration by the Department of Health, Office of the Attorney General, elected officials, Lifespan, Care New England, Brown University and the broader community. In addition to the experience, expertise and perspective of the committee members, this work was also informed by multiple community outreach efforts that were conducted over the past five months, including online focus groups and a set of community conversations hosted by committee members.

“The creation of an integrated academic health system through the merger of Lifespan and Care New England could be a transformational step for Rhode Island’s health care delivery system."

- Jane Hayward, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Center Association and co-chair of the group

“It was critical to develop a robust, independent and equally transformational process to gather input from the broader Rhode Island community, with particular intentionality around those communities that have experienced historical barriers to accessing care," said Hayward.

This work was informed by, and the recommendations center on, four guiding principles:

  • Equity – The committee’s recommendations take into account the need to address the root causes and conditions of systemic inequalities based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and economic status, which have created barriers to healthcare access and led to health inequalities for historically marginalized or oppressed communities in Rhode Island.
  • Independence – The committee did not include any members affiliated with Lifespan, Care New England or Brown University. Committee members informed recommendations with their experience and insight, as well as sharing the perspective of the communities they work with and represent.
  • Impact – The committee focused on short- and long-term recommendations, with an overarching goal towards systemic change that can both help improve the proposed merger and Rhode Island’s overall healthcare delivery system.
  • Sustainability – The committee’s work reflected the need to ensure processes are created and sustained that allow for the implementation of the recommendations, so as to deliver solutions that enhance the impact of the proposed IAHS.

The committee identified eight priorities areas: Equity, Oversight, Access, Cost, Quality, Workforce, Community Responsibility and Governance. Within those priority areas, the committee identified nearly 40 recommendations. These include recommending that the state, with support from the merged system, develop a permanent regulatory entity to focus on healthcare costs, quality, access, population health and health equity, among other areas; having the merged system commit to achieving specific benchmarks for nationally accepted measures that address health disparities; improving access to primary care and behavioral health services within the proposed merged system; and increasing direct community investment from both the merged system and Brown University.

The committee includes members of the Foundation-convened Long Term Health Planning Committee that developed the “Health in Rhode Island” plan. The group is co-chaired by Steinberg and Hayward, and has set a 10-year vision where Rhode Island is the healthiest state in the nation, and where all Rhode Islanders have the opportunity to be in optimal health, to live, work and play in healthy communities, and to have access to high quality and affordable healthcare.

The committee’s work has been endorsed in an Executive Order issued by former Governor Raimondo, and by both the Rhode Island House of Representatives and Rhode Island State Senate. Connecting these two aligned efforts provides the opportunity to work collaboratively in ensuring that, wherever possible, the design and implementation of the IAHS, if approved, is informed by, and aligns with, the priorities of the “Health in Rhode Island” plan.

"Connecting these efforts provided the opportunity to work collaboratively in ensuring that, wherever possible, the planning around the proposed integrated academic health system is informed by, and aligns with, the priorities of the ‘Health in Rhode Island’ plan," said Steinberg.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $68 million and awarded a record $87 million in grants in 2020. Since its centennial five years ago, the Foundation has awarded more than $284 million in grants and has raised more than $328 million. Through leadership, fundraising and grant-making activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.