Coinciding with the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the University of Rhode Island celebrated its receipt of a $14 million “Living Right” federal grant to improve the lives and lower the health care costs of adults with disabilities and Alzheimer’s disease.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services awarded the funds, which will be used to open up health care clinics serving this population and helping them to prevent illness and avoid emergency room visits or hospitalization.
“This is a very, very exciting new opportunity for the state of Rhode Island,” said URI Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald DeHayes.
Dr. Elaina Goldstein, director of public policy for URI’s College of Pharmacy, wrote the grant application and championed the cause for Rhode Island. URI was one of just three universities in New England that received these federal monies. Only 100 grants were awarded among 3,000 proposals submitted.
“This is an extremely competitive process that we went through to get here today,” said URI President Dr. David Dooley. “I think that speaks very highly of the quality of the faculty at the University of Rhode Island.”
Dooley thanked Goldstein for her “enormous work” on the project.
Goldstein, who put the application together in a short six weeks, shared the credit with a long list of URI faculty, community agencies and legislators like Rep. Eileen Naughton (D-Warwick), whom she called her “fairy godmother.” Goldstein is particularly pleased to see physicians hearing from this population of patients who require extensive services.
“It was really an incredible process to see physicians listening, maybe for the first time, to people with disabilities,” she said.
Just as the grant-writing process was a collaborative effort, so to will be implementation of the Living Right program.
The program will open up health care centers for eligible individuals who are either developmentally disabled, suffering from Alzheimer’s or fall into a dual eligibility category and suffer from chronic conditions. Roughly 45,000 Rhode Islanders are eligible for treatment through this program, though Goldstein said the number of patients seen would likely be close to 2,000. These centers will provide immediate care, avoiding trips to the hospital, but will also empower patients to manage their conditions.
“You’re not going to have somebody go to an emergency room. You’re going to be able to treat them at a facility like this. It’s making it a more efficient system,” Goldstein said.
It is also a workforce development grant in the sense that it will provide competitive employment to people with development disabilities. Goldstein estimates that 31 jobs will be created because of this grant. Another 226 workers will be trained through the program over its three-year span.
“I believe direct access to medical services when needed, and a team approach to providing medical care, will significantly improve the delivery of care to people with developmental disabilities,” said Lori Gaynor of AccessPoint RI.
Living Right will have two centers to start, with another two to open up roughly a year later, provided that the program has demonstrable savings. The four sites are AccessPoint RI in Cranston (formerly Cranston ARC), Cornerstone in Warwick, Generations in Smithfield and Seven Hills in Woonsocket. The initial two centers must be up and running within the next six months.
“This is a positive aspect of the Affordable Care Act,” said Governor Lincoln Chafee.
Chafee pointed out that people with disabilities, Alzheimer’s and chronic conditions account for a huge portion of health care costs, as they are the group most often hospitalized. Lori Gaynor from AccessPoint RI, where Monday’s press conference was held, said that when one of their clients visits the emergency room, they see costs not only from the visit, but they often have to send two employees with that individual – further increasing costs.
“This saves money. The federal government is spending money in order to save money; we’re spending money in order to improve care and through better care, we provide a lower cost solution,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
He called the program a “win-win,” both for the state and for the population being served. He also said that the acquisition of these funds is part of a larger success story. He believes Rhode Island is slowly chipping away at health care cost inflators, and said that the state has reduced hospital-acquired infections, implemented a chronic care sustainability initiative and is making major strides in growing an electronic health record data exchange, which reduces the duplication of services and medical tests.
Whitehouse said he was glad to be part of that movement to cut costs.
“We will keep, in Washington, trying to provide these opportunities,” he said.
His colleague, freshman Congressman David Cicilline, said the grant is money well spent.
“This is a huge opportunity for our state to build a foundation for an integrative model of services,” he said. “If you make the right investments … we can improve the quality of health care outcomes and at the same time reduce costs.”