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Nov 14, 2022

RI Life Index 2022 results show declines in how Rhode Islanders perceive their health and well-being

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Brown University School of Public Health share 2022 Index results, which show some improvement, but overall downward trend

PROVIDENCE, RI (Nov. 14, 2021) – Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI), in partnership with the Brown University School of Public Health (Brown), has announced the results of the 2022 RI Life Index. Now in its fourth year, the Index further reveals trends in Rhode Islanders’ perceptions of their quality of life, community, and other health-related social factors.

The 2022 results identify some areas of improvement and stability as the COVID-19 pandemic eases, particularly on issues affecting children; however, key quality-of-life indicators trended downward amid rising economic challenges.

The Index was created in 2019 to illuminate that health is about much more than what happens within the healthcare system – it’s about meeting basic human needs – and to capture and track over time Rhode Islanders’ perceptions of these social determinants of health. For four years, researchers at Brown, funded by BCBSRI, have overseen a survey that gathers perceptions from a representative sample of Rhode Islanders. The data is then presented graphically in the RI Life Index and shared with elected officials, public health advocates, community leaders and the public to assist efforts to build healthier communities and address health inequities in Rhode Island.

Respondents were asked questions about availability of affordable housing, programs and services for children and older adults, access to healthcare, food security, economic situation, and confidence managing health problems and using technology, among other topics. Scoring is on a scale of 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more positive perceptions. Reporting breaks out results by race, ethnicity, and age as well 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).

Highlights of the 2022 results include the following:

  • RI Life Index: The overall index fell 4 points, to 59. Core cities scored 6 points lower than non-core, and the perceptions of those under age 55 resulted in a score 6 points lower than those for 55+. In 2022, scores declined more for white respondents than for Black and Latinx respondents.
  • Programs and services for children: After seeing a drop in 2020 amid the pandemic, positive perceptions of programs and services for children have remained relatively stable, even as school classes, youth activities and programming were restored. There was a slight upward tick among Black respondents, from 65 to 67.
  • Affordable housing: Housing affordability has been a chronic concern among Rhode Islanders and a top priority of RI Life Index Coalition members. In 2022, the housing market continued to heat up, resulting in soaring prices and rents and decreased availability. Interest rates, too, climbed. Amid these challenging conditions, the score continued to decline, dropping 11 points to 33 since 2020.
  • Food security: Residents were asked how convenient it was for them to access nutritious foods, an important social determinant of health. Overall, the score trended down 4 points, to 73, as food prices rose. Perceptions were similar across all ages, but declines were greatest in non-core communities. For Black respondents, the score dropped 6 points over two years and, in 2022, there was a gap of 8 points compared with white respondents.
  • Community life: Representing a summary of how residents perceive the lived experiences of people in their community, this score dropped from 71 to 67 (69 for non-core areas,
    61 for core cities).
  • Economic situation: As inflation persisted throughout the year, the overall Economic Situation score fell 6 points to 58 (the declines were smaller for Black respondents and 55+). Significant disparities persisted, with Black respondents 10 points below whites and Latinx respondents another 4 points below that.
  • Older adults: The overall score dropped 1 point and scores were generally stable across subgroups.

“Now in its fourth year, this survey offers crucial information about how Rhode Islanders are faring through the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially about the health barriers facing people of color and people living in lower socioeconomic communities,” said Dr. Megan L. Ranney, deputy dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “This data offers policy makers, public health practitioners, and community leaders the information we all need as we seek to eliminate health inequities in our state.”

BCBSRI President and CEO Martha L. Wofford added, “Not surprisingly, Rhode Islanders are struggling with key factors that affect their health, such as cost of living and housing. 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. At Blue Cross, we look forward to continuing to tackle these hard problems with the RI Life Index Coalition so that all Rhode Islanders regardless of skin color, zip code, or language have access to affordable housing and healthy food and can live their healthiest life. There is much to do.”

Driven by the alarming housing findings, BCBSRI has been directing BlueAngel Community Health Grants towards organizations that address critical housing needs for Rhode Islanders. Since 2019, BCBSRI has invested nearly $5 million in safe, sustainable and affordable housing.

For the 2022 RI Life Index, as in previous years, adults were randomly selected – with geographic representation across the state – to take a survey by telephone (landline and mobile) or online. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. In total, 2,003 surveys were completed with an oversample of Black and Latinx Rhode Islanders. To ensure that a broader diversity of voices is included in the Index, an additional 493 interviews were conducted by community-based organizations in person or by phone – and in 14 languages. The organizations that once again undertook this effort – which was introduced in 2021 and grew by three languages this year – were Dorcas International, Center for Southeast Asians, Higher Ground International, and Progreso Latino.

The 2022 Index results are being presented Nov. 14 at a public event at Brown University. 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, will present the survey findings, focusing on 4-year trends. Carrie Bridges Feliz, vice president of community health and equity at Lifespan, will moderate a panel discussion featuring RI Life Index Coalition members and other experts.

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 BCBSRICommunity Provider Network of Rhode Island; United Way of Rhode IslandLatino Policy Institute; the Rhode Island Department of HealthRhode Island Community Food BankBrown University School of Public HealthHousingWorks RIRhode Island Kids CountAARP Rhode IslandThe Economic Progress InstituteRhode Island FoundationLifespan Community Health InstituteMedical Legal Partnership Boston.

For more information on the RI Life Index, please visit RILifeIndex.org.