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RI HEALTH

R.I. residents struggle to meet basic needs, new Blue Cross Blue Shield index shows

Indicators related to affordable housing, childcare, education, jobs, medical care, access to food, and other basic needs all trended downward in the The Rhode Island Life Index 2022, published on Monday by BCBSRI and the Brown University School of Public Health

A neighborhood in South Providence.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/file

PROVIDENCE — Even as the COVID-19 pandemic eases, many Rhode Islanders feel that they are struggling to meet their most basic needs, according to a new report by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Brown University School of Public Health.

The Rhode Island Life Index 2022, funded by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island in partnership with the Brown University School of Public Health, reveals trends in Rhode Islanders’ perceptions of quality of life issues. The report, published Monday, showed an overall index a score of 59, four points lower than in 2021, marking the lowest index score of the report’s history.

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Indicators related to affordable housing, childcare and activities for youth, quality education, affordable and nutritious food, good jobs, medical care, programs for seniors, transportation services, feeling safe at home, and the cost of living all trended down for most Rhode Islanders.

BCBSRI President and CEO Martha L. Wofford said it was “not surprising” that Rhode Islanders were struggling with key factors like the cost of living and housing.

Each category was assigned a score. Categories for cost of living and affordable housing had scored the lowest among Rhode Islanders, at 26 and 33 respectively. Categories related to food security and racial equity at work scored the highest, at 80 and 73 respectively. Perceptions about programs and services related to children and their education received a score of 72, down two points since 2021.

“By shining a light on gaps in basic needs through the RI Life Index, we can create a shared agenda with the community to address these gaps,” said Wofford.

Wofford said in a statement that BCBSRI would tackle these problems with the Rhode Island Life Index Coalition. The health insurance company has awarded BlueAngel Community Health Grants to organizations that address housing needs for Rhode Islanders, for example. Since 2019, BCBSRI has invested about $5 million in safe, sustainable, and affordable housing.

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“There is much to do,” she said.

Respondents in cities gave an overall score of 55, while those who did not live in cities gave an overall score of 61. Respondents who were younger than 55 reported a score of 57 compared to those who were 55 or older, who reported a score of 63. In 2022, scores declined more for white respondents than for Black and Latinx respondents.

The index, according to BCBSRI spokesman Richard Salit, was created in 2019 to show that “health is about much more than what happens within the health care system,” and to focus on meeting basic human needs and social determinants of health. For the last four years, Brown researchers have overseen a survey that gathers perceptions from a sample of Rhode Islanders that is shared with elected officials, public health advocates, and community leaders in order to address health inequities in Rhode Island.

The survey was conducted by landline telephone, cell phone, over the Web and in interviews, with 2,093 surveys were completed.

In 2019, the overall score was 62, which stayed the same in 2020. The index increased to 63 in 2021, but decreased to 59 this year.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.