Five Questions With Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott

5Q: Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott | Director, R.I. Department of Health

1. What do residents who live in a state-designated “health equity zone” get that residents elsewhere do not? Part of the goal is to create partnerships that help align public and private investment where the community needs it the most. Action plans vary by community because they are based on what the community has identified as their most important needs and priorities. For example, some communities are working to address housing instability and create jobs, while others are working to improve access to healthy, affordable foods.

2. What are the factors in deciding whether a local request for a health equity zone gets approved? Communities can apply for designation through a competitive application process. Municipalities and nonprofit organizations can apply on behalf of the community. To qualify, the community must be a geographically self-defined area that generally includes at least 5,000 people. We’ll also look for zones to be established in places where socio-economic and environmental factors are preventing communities from being as healthy as possible.

3. Beyond Rhode Island’s nine current zones, how many more could be created? The exact number of new zones that will be created through the current round of funding depends on the number of applications we receive, and the specific requests included. We’re aiming to share more information about funding awards [this month].

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4. Why do you think Rhode Islanders sometimes go to emergency rooms when they don’t necessarily need it? Because it is always open and can seem more convenient. But the reality is that nonemergency care is usually available more quickly and conveniently through a primary care provider, a community health center or an urgent care facility. … Most primary care provider offices have a doctor on call after-hours.

5. Does the 6% drop in opioid overdose deaths statewide in the first 10 months of 2018 mean the problem is subsiding? The opioid overdose crisis is a very complex epidemic. While all the efforts we have made … are starting to pay dividends, we know that we still have a tremendous amount of work to do together. Fentanyl, for example, remains a huge challenge. We know that we have to continue building on our momentum in the areas of prevention, treatment, rescue and recovery.

Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at