By NEIL D. STEINBERG In these extraordinary times, there is evidence of hope and generosity all around, just as there is uncertainty and urgent, extreme need. We are facing an unrivaled health and economic threat, the long-term effects of which we are
In these extraordinary times, there is evidence of hope and generosity all around, just as there is uncertainty and urgent, extreme need. We are facing an unrivaled health and economic threat, the long-term effects of which we are only beginning to contemplate. We are proud to support local nonprofits like House of Hope, Project Undercover and the Comprehensive Community Action Program as they help residents cope with unemployment, hunger, fear and uncertainty. As Rhode Island’s community foundation, we will work diligently with our partners to encourage creativity and pragmatism, and to be bold in ensuring that all Rhode Islanders emerge better off over the long term than they were before this crisis began.
Our collective goal – no, the obligation – is to do better, to be better. There is much discussion of the “new normal”, but the truth is that the “old normal” left too many people behind, especially in underserved communities and even in very good times. We must not settle for just a “new normal” but focus on a “better future” for all.
It will take a combination of back-to-basics and innovation to move us successfully into the future – with the focus on the necessity of having a job with an adequate steady paycheck, a better education for our children and accessible and affordable health care. Many of the critical problems that existed under the “old normal” are amplified now. Zip codes have determined outcomes related to economic prosperity, access to food, educational attainment, a safe place to live, individual health, and how a person might fare during a pandemic. And yet we also see innovation that shows promise for those most in need. Distance learning is connecting students and teachers in new ways. Telehealth is a streamlined way to connect more readily with care providers to monitor chronic conditions or to manage behavioral health. Innovations like those, combined with getting back-to-basics, could enable us to eliminate achievement gaps in education and health disparities once and for all.
We have a collective opportunity, and obligation, to look and plan long term. Let’s do a real assessment of vulnerable populations and finally structure a more efficient, cost effective and customer friendly way to meet the needs of those who will always require our support. Let’s analyze the delivery of education at the public K-12 and higher education levels to create an efficient and results-oriented structure. Let’s push for health and health care reforms that take us forward with new organizational structures and payment models that are best for the state. And let’s skill-up - at scale - our future work force. These changes would produce more equitable outcomes across Rhode Island, more success and prosperity for all Rhode Islanders.
At the end of last year, the Foundation presented the exciting work of two long-term planning committees consisting of highly regarded, experienced Rhode Islanders– one focused on Pre-K-12 public education and one on health. The plans were presented to state leaders and establish a vision and strategies that could serve as a blueprint for a better future focused on the same social determinants that have been exacerbated by this current crisis.
At the Rhode Island Foundation, we are willing to use our voice and resources for the greater good and to embrace the size, strength and diversity of Rhode Island. Let’s work together to ensure that the plans we make and the actions we take reflect our values and where we want to be – not where we have been. We’ve endured so much – and there is more to come – but hope abides and a better future awaits.
Neil D. Steinberg is the President & CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation