As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate many Rhode Island communities, addressing the unique needs of the families and small businesses that make up the very fabric of this state remains critical. Tufts Health Plan, a local nonprofit health plan, has been working to address food insecurity, the safe reopening of businesses, remote learning needs of students, and has been making other community-level investments that make the organization an integral part of the R.I. community.
“This is the state where many of our members and employees proudly live, work and where their children go to school,” said Tom Croswell, president and CEO of Tufts Health Plan. “When our communities are struggling, we step up. This year has certainly been challenging on the health and financial security of Rhode Islanders, and Tufts Health Plan continues to find ways to help. The resilience of Rhode Island is inspiring.
Expanding Access to High-Speed Internet and School Supplies
After the pandemic forced the closure of many popular public places that commonly offered free Wi-Fi, like coffee shops, libraries, schools and community centers, many families – particularly in low-income neighborhoods – were left unable to access this important resource for distance learning, work, and home life. ONE Neighborhood Builders launched a fundraiser in response to this need, and Tufts Health Plan provided a $10,000 donation to support the creation of a wireless mesh network covering five million square feet in Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood, providing more than 1,500 households with accessible Wi-fi connections for free.
Ensuring more families have accessible and reliable internet during this time is crucial, especially as many of our social interactions, including doctor’s appointments, have become virtual. According to Domenic Delmonico, executive director of Rhode Island Medicaid at Tufts Health Plan, the COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated the digital divide and made us aware of the vast inequities that exist in our communities.
“This collaboration with ONE Neighborhood Builders is just one small way we can offer support to those who need it most,” added Delmonico.
Beyond the barrier of accessible Wi-Fi, back-to-school season brought new challenges for many local students and families who were facing remote learning environments. Tufts Health Plan teamed up with area nonprofits to provide children with essential back-to-school items for success, like Chromebooks for those in remote or hybrid learning environments and traditional school items, like backpacks. In addition to company donations, more than 100 employees at Tufts Health Plan contributed back-to-school items to organizations including: Boys and Girls Club of Providence, City of Central Falls, Fogarty Elementary, Paul Cuffee School, Restoration Church, and R.I.S.E. (Rhode Islanders Sponsoring Education).
Addressing Food Insecurity and Inequities in Housing and Services
As the pandemic progressed, it continued to expose stark health disparities in communities of color, including food insecurity and accessible housing and services. With the goal of addressing these inequities, Tufts Health Plan Foundation invested $280,000 in non-profits on the frontlines of the pandemic, particularly in Rhode Island’s communities with more families of color who are reporting the highest rates of COVID-19.
Rhode Island non-profits that received Tufts Health Plan Foundation COVID-19 support funds include United Way of Rhode Island – Rhode Island COVID-19 Response Fund ($50,000), Rhode Island Community Food Bank ($50,000), Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island ($25,000), House of Hope Community Development Corporation ($20,000), Federal Hill House ($20,000), Progreso Latino ($10,000), and Saint Elizabeth Community ($10,000).
To address housing insecurity, the Foundation granted ONE Neighborhood Builders $100,000 to increase the supply of affordable, quality housing for diverse populations of older people in Rhode Island. The two-year grant was part of the $1.7 million that Tufts Health Plan Foundation awarded in the Northeast to programs that support healthy aging. As the sole grantee in R.I., ONE Neighborhood is aiming to develop a housing system to serve older Rhode Islanders with low to very low incomes.
In addition to Foundation funding, Tufts Health Plan collaborated with the Elisha Project. Focused on food rescue, as well as meal and grocery delivery through a lens of cultural competency, the Elisha Project is helping communities throughout Rhode Island. Through Tufts Health Plan’s vendor partner, Good Measures, Elisha Project food deliveries included a cutting board, recipe card, face mask, hand sanitizer, activities for kids, and more.
Targeting Hotspots with Support of Essential Items
With Central Falls and Providence experiencing some of the state’s highest rates of COVID-19, Tufts Health Plan donated more than $30,000 worth of toiletries, hand sanitizer, diapers, and other essential items to more than a dozen community-based organizations in these hotspots.
Investments in frontline organizations like Family Services of Rhode Island, Thundermist Health Center, and Children’s Friend have helped ensure these agencies could provide key supplies for the community, like face masks and food pantry bags. New mothers and parents have been uniquely supported through virtual baby showers hosted by Thundermist Health Center, where Tufts Health Plan donated important maternal and baby health essentials, as well as doula support services.
Supporting Minority-Owned Small Businesses
Together with Lawyers for Civil Rights and Washington Trust, Tufts Health Plan awarded 30 small businesses, specifically those that are minority-owned and women-owned, with $1,000 grants to support their reopening.
The grants were designed to help secure masks, cleaning supplies, provide a safe work environment or other critical measures in anticipation of small businesses reopening in Rhode Island. The selected group of 30 small businesses are incredibly diverse (77% female-owned, 20% Black-owned, 63% Latinx-owned, 13% Asian-owned, and 3% LGBTQ+ owned).
“These small businesses are the economic engines fueling the growth of Rhode Island,” said Rebecca Rosen, director, business diversity at Tufts Health Plan. “Minority- and women-owned businesses have been some of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are happy to be able to help, at least in some small way, and contribute to their recovery.”
The 30 grant recipients from across the state include small businesses in wellness industry, personal and support services, food industry, and more.
For more information on Tufts Health Plan and its continued investments in Rhode Island communities, visit www.tuftshealthplan.com.