The most notable trend is a significant decrease in perceptions around access to programs and services for children in every comparison group from 2019 to 2021. Additionally, while seniors as a whole did not experience lower access to services, unfortunately Latinx older adults did. Importantly, BIPOC Rhode Islanders living in core cities – cities where 25 percent or more of children are living below the federal poverty level - continue to perceive access to affordable housing and cost of living as much greater impediments to health and well-being than do white Rhode Islanders living in more affluent communities.
The RI Life Index is based on interviews with more than 2,500 Rhode Islanders about their perceptions of several factors that influence health and well-being. Respondents were asked questions about housing availability and affordability; programs and services for children and older adults; food security, economic situation, managing health problems, and confidence using technology, among other topics.
This year's survey asked Rhode Islanders of all demographics—with an oversample of Black and Latinx members—about their communities and experiences. Scoring also broke out results by non-core areas and core cities (those in which at least 25 percent of children live below the federal poverty level: Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence, and Woonsocket). Scoring was done on a scale to 100, with higher scores indicating more positive perceptions. Findings include:
Programs and services for children, which reflects community perceptions of offerings for children, earned a score of 74 (78 non-core areas, 63 core cities).
Community life, which represents a summary of how residents perceive the lived experiences of people in their community, earned a score of 71 (74 non-core areas,
63 core cities).
Affordable and safe housing, which gauges Rhode Islanders’ perceptions of the availability of quality housing to members of their communities, earned a score of 40
(41 non-core areas, 37 core cities).
In addition, the Index’s reach was extended to Rhode Islanders who do not speak English at home. The RI Life Index survey team partnered with four community-based organizations – Dorcas International; Center for Southeast Asians; Higher Ground International; and Progreso Latino – to translate the survey into 11 languages for more than 400 interviews conducted in person or via telephone.
“This survey tells us a lot about the barriers the people of Rhode Island face every day to achieving health, especially people of color and people living in lower socioeconomic communities,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “Directly connecting with Rhode Islanders and listening to them closely through the RI Life Index, lets us ensure that efforts to address public health take everyone into account and can have impact on the most vulnerable people in our communities.”
BCBSRI President and CEO Martha Wofford added, “By measuring gaps in health equity through the RI Life Index, we have a clearer path to create a shared, urgent agenda to address disparities. At Blue Cross, we are committed to working with our community to achieve greater health equity for every person in the state, no matter the color of their skin, the neighborhood where they live, or the language they speak.”
Wofford also commented on the three-year trend data. “Access to safe and affordable housing continues to be a crisis for the people of Rhode Island, but other issues such as access to healthcare and food remained fairly stable. This is a testament to the collective efforts of many organizations who came together to support our most vulnerable neighbors, so that we did not lose more ground during the pandemic.”
As a result of the original 2019 Life Index findings, BCBSRI BlueAngel Community Health Grants were directed toward organizations that address critical housing needs for Rhode Islanders. BCBSRI has invested nearly $3 million in safe and affordable housing since 2019.
At the virtual event, which was open to the public, Melissa Clark, Ph.D., professor of health service, policy and practice, and director of the Survey Research Center at the Brown University School of Public Health, presented the survey findings. A panel discussion moderated by Carrie Bridges Feliz, director of the Lifespan Community Health Institute, featuring RI Life Index Coalition members and other experts followed.
The RI Life Index Coalition, a group of community partners from across the state, assists in shaping the survey. Coalition members also offer thought leadership on solutions to the challenges identified in the Index. Coalition member organizations include BCBSRI; United Way of Rhode Island; the Rhode Island Department of Health; Rhode Island Community Food Bank; Brown University School of Public Health; HousingWorks RI; Rhode Island Kids Count; AARP Rhode Island; The Economic Progress Institute; Rhode Island Foundation; Lifespan Community Health Institute, and Medical Legal Partnership Boston.
For more information on the RI Life Index, please visit RILifeIndex.org.
Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (bcbsri.com) is a non-profit, community-focused health plan established in 1939 to help Rhode Islanders finance their healthcare needs. Today, that purpose is still foundational to our work. We have a vision to passionately lead a state of health and well-being across Rhode Island. And we are committed to improving the health and peace of mind of our 420,000 members by facilitating their access to affordable, high-quality healthcare. We are an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Listen to BCBSRI’s podcast, The Rhode to Health, on SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.