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05/17/2017 14:00 EDT
05/10/2017 09:30 EDT
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05/01/2017 09:45 EDT
The March of Dimes presented Rhode Island with its Virginia Apgar Prematurity Campaign Leadership Award at a ceremony this morning for the state's dramatic reduction in the rate of preterm births, a health issue closely tied to brain, lung, hearing, and vision issues in newborns. Rhode Island's
04/26/2017 15:45 EDT
The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) has alerted healthcare providers that the flu is no longer widespread in Rhode Island, which means that healthcare workers who have not been immunized against the flu are no longer required to wear surgical masks during direct patient contact. The...
04/17/2017 13:00 EDT
Updated regulations intended to make the prescribing of opioids more judicious and safe in Rhode Island are now in effect, marking the implementation of a major component of the Strategic Plan developed by Governor Gina M. Raimondo's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force. "These...
03/15/2017 13:45 EDT
In observance of national Kick Butts Day, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is recognizing teenagers and leaders in three communities for their work over the last year to pass local requirements aimed at keeping youth from accessing tobacco products in all forms, preventing nicotine...
03/13/2017 13:30 EDT
The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) urges anyone with a special healthcare need to enroll in the Rhode Island Special Needs Emergency Registry (RISNER) in advance of the coming winter storm. Enrolling in RISNER does not guarantee assistance, but it does allow local and state emergency...
03/08/2017 14:00 EST
Leadership from hospitals and emergency departments throughout Rhode Island joined Governor Raimondo's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force today to release a first-in-the-nation set of statewide guidelines to save lives by ensuring consistent, comprehensive care for opioid-use disorder...
02/06/2017 13:30 EST
As a part of work toward Rhode Island's ambitious 90-90-90 HIV testing and treatment targets, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is encouraging people to take advantage of expanded hours for free, anonymous HIV testing on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Tuesday, February 7th.
02/06/2017 11:30 EST
As part of a coordinated, statewide effort to address Rhode Island's drug overdose crisis, the North Providence and East Providence Police Departments are working to get naloxone to other municipal police departments whose officers are currently not equipped with the overdose rescue medication.
01/11/2017 16:30 EST
The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) announced today that the flu is "widespread" in Rhode Island, triggering the state's requirement for unvaccinated healthcare workers in hospitals and many other types of healthcare facilities to wear surgical masks. "The masking requirement is...
01/09/2017 18:00 EST
Disease surveillance systems at the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) have detected an increase in viral respiratory and gastrointestinal illness over the past several days. This is not unexpected for this time of year; however, the Department is urging all Rhode Islanders to help prevent...
12/15/2016 10:15 EST
The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are lifting the public health advisories on Mashapaug Pond and the Roger Williams Park ponds in Providence; Melville Pond, Sisson Pond, St. Mary's Pond, and Lawton Valley Reservoir in...
12/09/2016 11:00 EST
More than 500 community members, legislators, members of the business community, and representatives from fields including public health, healthcare, law enforcement, education, and academia gathered today at the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) 2016 Health Equity Summit to discuss the...
12/01/2016 15:30 EST
As a part of work to ensure that all Rhode Islanders with HIV have the opportunity to live long, full, productive lives, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) continue to coordinate closely with community partners throughout the...
11/16/2016 17:00 EST
Health advisories lifted for five bodies of water The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are lifting today the public health advisories on Warwick Pond in Warwick, North Easton and South Easton Ponds in Middletown, and...
10/25/2016 12:30 EDT
The eligibility criteria for financial assistance for breast cancer follow-up services in Rhode Island have been expanded to include some insured women, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) announced today in a move intended to increase access to care amid a shifting health insurance...
10/14/2016 15:30 EDT
The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising consumers that shellfish beds in Wellfleet, Massachusetts have been closed due to suspected norovirus illnesses believed to be linked to the consumption of shellfish from that area. This closure is unrelated to the shellfish harvesting...
10/04/2016 12:00 EDT
At a packed kick-off event today for the state's annual flu vaccination campaign, Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), urged all Rhode Islanders to keep themselves and their family members safe this year by being vaccinated against the flu.

Last Year's News

RIDOH Releases Monthly Accidental Drug Overdose Death Data

01-04-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is releasing the latest data today on confirmed accidental drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island. The data are from January 1, 2015 through December 31, 2015.

Voluntary Recall of One Lot of Trader Joe's Raw Cashew Pieces

01-19-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) advises consumers that Heritage International (USA) Inc. is voluntarily recalling one lot of Trader Joe's Raw Cashew Pieces because of potential contamination with Salmonella.

The product comes in a 16-ounce, clear, non-resealable plastic package (with a barcode number of 00505154) and with the following lot code: "BEST BEFORE 07.17.2016TF4." The "BEST BEFORE" information can be found on the back of the package above the barcode.

No illnesses have been reported to date. The product was distributed to Rhode Island's Trader Joe's location, but has since been pulled from the shelves.

Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy people infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis, and arthritis.

In addition to Rhode Island, this product was distributed to Trader Joe's stores in Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Washington D.C. and Wisconsin.

Heritage International (USA) Inc. initiated the recall after routine testing by an FDA contract laboratory revealed the presence of Salmonella in one lot of Raw Cashew Pieces. Other lots tested by the FDA contract laboratory and further testing of this lot by Trader Joe's resulted in no additional findings of contamination.

Customers who have purchased the specified lot code of Raw Cashew Pieces should not to eat the product, and dispose of it or return it to any Trader Joe's for a full refund. Customers may call Trader Joe's Customer Relations at (626) 599-3817 6:00AM-6:00PM PST, Monday - Friday, with any questions.

RIDOH and BHDDH Partner to Train Healthcare Providers in Medication-Assisted Treatment of Opioid Addiction

01-22-2016

More than 215 healthcare providers are registered for a training tomorrow focused on medication-assisted treatment for opioid-use disorders, a pivotal component of the plan developed by Governor Gina M. Raimondo's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force to tackle Rhode Island's overdose crisis.

Healthcare providers who registered for the event, which is being co-sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH), include physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, dentists, and nurses.

"Part of building healthy communities is ensuring that healthcare providers have the tools and resources they need to help us address Rhode Island's drug overdose epidemic," said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of Health. "Treatment for addiction works, and recovery is possible. Working together and moving quickly at the Governor's direction, we will save lives."

Healthcare providers who complete the training can qualify to deliver medication-assisted treatment, which combines behavioral therapy and medications, such as buprenorphine, to treat substance use disorders. Increasing the number of healthcare providers who are able to deliver medication-assisted treatment is a major strategy in the Task Force's plan.

"Healthcare providers have a vital role to play in our work to address Rhode Island's drug overdose crisis," said Maria Montanaro, Director of BHDDH. "An increase in the number of prescribers who are able to provide medication-assisted treatment will mean hope for people who are living with substance use disorders throughout the state."

"Right now we have approximately 150 prescribers who can provide medication-assisted treatment. We need that number to be closer to 750," said Dr. Alexander-Scott.

In addition to the sessions during the training on medication-assisted treatment, participants will attend sessions on Rhode Island's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), another major focus of the strategic plan developed by the Governor's Task Force. The PDMP allows healthcare providers to supplement their patient-history files when making treatment decisions and to know what controlled substances are being prescribed to their patients by others.

The training on Saturday will also include sessions titled "Addressing Pain/Screening and Recognizing Addiction," "Pain Patients and Other Special Populations," and "Good Prescribing Practices."

In addition to RIDOH and BHDDH, the training is being sponsored by the Warren Alpert Medical School, the American Academy of Psychiatry, and the Rhode Island Medical Society. The training is being funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).

In 2015, 221 people died of unintentional drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island. However, because it often takes several months to confirm drug overdose deaths, that figure will likely rise. In 2014, 241 people died of unintentional drug overdose deaths.

The conference will take place at the Warren Alpert Medical School (222 Richmond Street, Providence) from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Healthcare providers can still register on-site on the day of the event.

Dole Fresh Vegetables Announces Withdrawal of Salads

01-22-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) advises consumers that Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. is withdrawing from the market all Dole-branded and private label packaged salads processed at one of its production facilities as part of an investigation into a listeriosis outbreak.

The production facility is located in Springfield, Ohio. In addition to withdrawing these products, Dole is temporarily suspending operations at this facility. This product was available in Rhode Island. Dole representatives have been contacting retailers and are in the process of confirming that the withdrawn product has been removed from the supply chain.

The packaged salads were sold under the brand names: Dole, Fresh Selections, Simple Truth, Marketside, The Little Salad Bar, and President's Choice. Products subject to the withdrawal have a product code beginning with the letter "A" in the upper right-hand corner of the package. Other Dole products, including fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and packaged salads with product codes beginning with the letters "B" or "N", are not part of this withdrawal.

Since September 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been collaborating with public health officials in several states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate a multistate outbreak of listeriosis. Twelve people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria have been reported from six states (Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania). All 12 people were hospitalized, and 1 person from Michigan died as a result of listeriosis.

Retailers and consumers who have any remaining product with an "A" code should not consume it, and are urged to discard it. Retailer and consumer questions about the withdrawal should call the Dole Food Company Consumer Response Center at 800-356-3111. (Hours are 8:00 a.m. -8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.)

Retailers that carry Dole products produced in its Springfield, Ohio plant (with the product code beginning with the letter "A" in the upper right-hand corner of the package) should check their store shelves and warehouse inventories to confirm that no withdrawn product is available for purchase.

Other states impacted by this withdrawal are Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Listeriosis is an infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems. A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms.

RIDOH Releases Monthly Accidental Drug Overdose Death Data

02-01-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is releasing the latest data today on confirmed accidental drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island. The data are from January 1, 2015 through January 31, 2016.

Free, Rapid HIV Tests To Be Offered on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

02-05-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) encourages Rhode Islanders to take advantage of the free, anonymous HIV testing that will be offered by AIDS Project Rhode Island (APRI) on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day this Sunday, February 7.

Testing will take place from noon to 3 p.m. at APRI's office at 9 Pleasant St. in Providence. No appointments are required, and all are welcome to be tested. The rapid tests that will be done do not require blood to be drawn, and results are available in 20 minutes. Staff will be available to provide assistance in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Between 2010 and 2014, African Americans in Rhode Island accounted for 21% of newly-identified cases of HIV, despite representing only 7% of the state's population. The rates of new HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men is 90 times higher than the rate for heterosexual men and women, and African American men who have sex with men are at an even greater risk.

"Rhode Island is a healthier place when we don't have large gaps in health outcomes like the one we see for HIV/AIDS," said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of Health. "Everyone should be tested for HIV/AIDS at least once in their lifetime. This event is a great opportunity for Rhode Islanders to get tested, know their statuses, and get connected to vital medical care."

People with certain risk factors should be tested more frequently. Men who have sex with men should be tested at least once a year, along with people who have multiple sex partners, people who use injection drugs, and people who have been diagnosed with or sought treatment for another sexually transmitted disease.

"In addition to testing, information will be available at the event about treatment to reduce the risk of HIV infection, Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), and Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)," said APRI Executive Director Stephen Hourahan. "PrEP is an HIV prevention approach where HIV-negative individuals use anti-HIV medications to reduce their risk of becoming infected if they are exposed to the virus. PEP is an HIV prevention strategy where HIV-negative individuals take HIV medications after coming into contact with HIV to reduce their risk of becoming infected."

The disparity of newly-identified cases of HIV infection among African Americans is not unique to Rhode Island. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that African Americans have the largest burden of HIV of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States.

HealthFacts RI Report Shows Potentially Preventable Emergency Room Visits Cost Rhode Islanders $90M Each Year

02-10-2016

Rhode Island launched today the HealthFacts RI database, a new all-payer healthcare claims database, to better understand healthcare spending, utilization and the effectiveness of healthcare policies. As part of the launch, the state's Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) released a report from the database which highlights the need for transformation across the state's entire healthcare industry to foster healthier communities and help more Rhode Islanders avoid preventable visits to the emergency room.

The report found that nearly 60 percent of all visits to Rhode Island emergency rooms in 2014 were potentially preventable, including nearly half of the visits to the emergency room paid for by private insurance and seven out of 10 visits by patients with Medicaid or Medicare. In all, potentially preventable emergency room visits cost Rhode Islanders as much as $90 million each year, including $18 million in additional Medicaid spending, $33.1 million in Medicare and nearly $40 million in private healthcare spending.

"In order to build a sustainable, 21st century healthcare system, we need to pay for better outcomes, better quality and better coordination instead of greater volume. Preventing avoidable emergency room visits by investing in better health will save Rhode Islanders money and help more people live happier, healthier and in many cases longer lives," said Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth Roberts. "I believe strongly that the things that get measured are the things that get done. The HealthFacts RI database is essential to tracking the reforms we've put in place and developing new innovations to reinvent Medicaid and transform healthcare."

The top reasons for potentially preventable emergency room visits vary by payer type, according to the report. Alcohol abuse, teeth disorders and upper respiratory infections were especially prevalent among the Medicaid population. Chest pain, dizziness and urinary tract infections were particular to the Medicare population. Neck sprains, headache and chest pain were among the top reasons for privately insured patients. EOHHS will release updated data from this report every three months.

In addition, upon reviewing the state's potentially preventable emergency room visit data, Medicaid Director Anya Rader Wallack has directed the Medicaid office to regularly convene a group that includes the state's Medicaid managed care organizations to monitor trends and develop interventions to reduce preventable visits.

"We are aggressively implementing an ambitious, progressive package of Medicaid reforms that achieve tens of millions of dollars in savings without cutting eligibility or reducing benefits. To hit our savings targets, we must transform the way we deliver and pay for care and reduce potentially preventable emergency room visits," said Medicaid Director Anya Rader Wallack. "The HealthFacts RI database is a powerful tool to hold us accountable for reaching the goals we've set to improve health and lower costs."

The Reinventing Medicaid reforms passed last year achieved significant savings and laid a strong foundation to move Rhode Island's Medicaid system toward a structure that pays for better outcomes, better coordination and better quality care, instead of paying just for volume of services. Governor Gina M. Raimondo's progressive package of reforms included a number of initiatives targeted specifically to drive down the number of avoidable emergency room visits, including the creation of Medicaid accountable entities to improve care coordination and the establishment of integrated health homes for members with severe and persistent mental illness.

Through the Working Group for Healthcare Innovation, which was created to address growing healthcare costs across the entire system, the Rhode Island Department of Health has established a series of population health goals. The goals seek to remove barriers to better health, encourage preventive care and reduce potentially preventable use of healthcare services.

"The policies we develop based on data gathered through HealthFacts RI will be instrumental in our work to build healthier communities and help more people make it in Rhode Island," said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of Health. "Eliminating barriers to healthy lifestyles and helping everyone have an equal chance at good health depend on improvements in the overall quality, cost, and efficiency of care."

The HealthFacts RI database is the most comprehensive collection of healthcare claims data that the state has ever compiled and is integral to support Raimondo's efforts to spark innovation across the state's entire healthcare system. The database includes data from nearly 825,000 Rhode Islanders with claims totaling $18 billion between 2011 and 2014. Rhode Island is one of just 18 states to launch an all-payer claims database. The state has taken extensive precautions to protect patient privacy while ensuring that the data is useful to the state's health and human service agencies, legislators, researchers and policymakers.

"The HealthFacts RI database provides the State of Rhode Island with an extremely valuable resource it has never had before. We will be able to understand where all healthcare dollars are being spent and use this information to advance our efforts to contain costs. We strive to provide consumers some relief in healthcare expenditures so they have predictable, affordable healthcare expenses," said Rhode Island Health Insurance Commissioner Kathleen C. Hittner, MD.

EOHHS and its partners will make certain datasets available for the general public on the HealthFacts RI website and will release regular reports. In addition, EOHHS will share graphs, facts and key data points on a Twitter account devoted to the HealthFacts RI database: @HealthFactsRI. In the coming weeks, additional data will be made available for researchers and other outside organizations for a fee.

The HealthFacts RI database is a partnership led by EOHHS, with support from HealthSource RI, the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner and the Rhode Island Department of Health. It includes claims information from all major insurers in Rhode Island that cover more than 3,000 Rhode Islanders, including Medicaid and Medicare.

Dr. Alexander-Scott, Public Health Officials Urge FDA to Warn About Dangerous Combination of Medications Amid Prescription Overdose Crisis

02-22-2016

Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), co-led a group of health officials from throughout the country today in calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to adopt labels to explicitly warn about a dangerous combination of medications that is helping drive the nation's prescription drug overdose epidemic.

In a petition submitted to the FDA, the group called for a "black box warning" on opioids and benzodiazepines that states that concurrent use of the medications increases the risk of fatal overdose. Black box warnings appear on the labels of prescription drugs and call attention to serious or life-threatening risks.

Dr. Alexander-Scott was joined in signing the petition by health directors from 16 other states and territories and 13 cities, along with a collection of nationally renowned academics, researchers, and physicians. Leana S. Wen, MD, MSc, FAAEM., the Baltimore City Health Commissioner, spearheaded the national initiative, along with Dr. Alexander-Scott. A second petition, posted on Change.Org, can be signed by the public.

"Existing warnings about the concurrent use of opioids and benzodiazepines are inconsistent, infrequent, and insufficient. The FDA should act swiftly on the clear scientific evidence and add black box warnings to both classes of medication," said Dr. Alexander-Scott. "All of us?federal regulators, public health officials, and healthcare providers?have moral and professional obligations to make sure that people stop dying because of these drugs."

"This petition reflects Rhode Island's number-one priority as we address our drug overdose epidemic: saving lives," said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. "I commend Dr. Alexander-Scott's tremendous leadership in addressing this issue in Rhode Island and at the national level. If adopted, the black box warning will help drive down rates of drug overdose, which is hurting too many families in our state and across the country."

One of the four strategies of the Strategic Plan developed by Governor Raimondo's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Taskforce is to prevent overdoses through safer prescribing, particularly opioids and benzodiazepines. The goal of this Strategic Plan is to reduce opioid overdose deaths in Rhode Island by one-third within three years.

"The science is clear: combining opioids with benzodiazepines is dangerous and is

fueling the overdose epidemic," said Dr. Wen. "A black box warning will help to educate both patients and clinicians about this potentially lethal drug interaction. By following our recommendations, the FDA can take an important step to reduce the toll of addiction and fatal overdose in communities across the country."

In addition to black box warnings, the petition calls for medication guides for both classes of medication to specifically warn patients about the risks of combined opioid and benzodiazepine use. Patients with chronic pain are often prescribed opioids to treat their pain and benzodiazepines to treat their associated symptoms, such as anxiety and sleep disorders.

In 2012, prescribers wrote 82.5 opioid prescriptions per 100 people and 37.6 benzodiazepine prescriptions per 100 people in the United States. Between 2000 and 2010, treatment admissions for co-occurring addiction to opioids and benzodiazepines increased by 569%. Evidence suggests that these two drugs interact in the brain and place patients at increased risk of respiratory depression and fatal overdose.

Every day in the United States, 44 people die as a result of prescription opioid overdose. In 2013, 22,767 people died of drug overdose deaths that involved prescription drugs. Approximately one in three unintentional overdose deaths from prescription opioids also involve benzodiazepines.

'Widespread Flu' in Rhode Island Prompts Activation of Masking Requirement

03-02-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) announced today that the flu is "widespread" in Rhode Island, triggering the state's requirement for unvaccinated healthcare workers in hospitals and many other types of healthcare facilities to wear surgical masks.

"The masking requirement is critical in protecting healthcare workers from catching the flu, and also in protecting patients who are often dealing with other serious health issues," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "For people who have not been vaccinated yet, it is not too late. Flu vaccine is the best way to keep yourself and the people you love safe from the flu."

The healthcare facilities and organization to which this regulation applies are: Adult day care programs; Assisted living facilities; CVS Minute Clinics; Free-standing ambulatory care surgical centers; Free-standing emergency care facilities; Home care providers; Home nursing care providers; Hospice providers

Hospitals; Kidney treatment centers; Nursing facilities; Organized ambulatory care facilities; and Physician ambulatory surgery centers.

Healthcare workers in these facilities must wear surgical masks when involved in direct patient contact. Direct patient contact is considered routinely anticipated face-to-face contact with patients, such as entering a patient's room, serving food to patients, or participating in group patient activities.

Everyone older than 6 months of age should be vaccinated against the flu every year. In addition to healthcare workers, vaccination is particularly important for pregnant women, people over the age of 50, nursing or group home residents, and people with chronic conditions (such as heart, lung, or kidney disease; diabetes, asthma, anemia, blood disorders, or weakened immune systems).

Symptoms of the flu can include fever, cough, head and body aches, fatigue, and runny nose. Some people also have vomiting and diarrhea.

Flu shots are available at doctors' offices and pharmacies throughout Rhode Island.

Statement on Memorial Hospital's Reverse Certificate of Need Application

03-03-2016

Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), issued the following statement today on the Reverse Certificate of Need application submitted by Memorial Hospital:

"RIDOH has processes in place for reviewing changes to primary or emergency services offered by healthcare facilities. One of these processes, which is called a Reverse Certificate of Need, is used to review a proposed closure or a reduction in services. It is intended to ensure access to quality health services and healthcare throughout Rhode Island, and is an important part of RIDOH's work to promote optimal health outcomes and healthy communities. Whenever a Reverse Certificate of Need application has the potential to significantly impact a community, RIDOH holds a hearing to give the public an opportunity to voice their questions and concerns."

"On March 2nd, Memorial Hospital submitted a Reverse Certificate of Need application to RIDOH. However, until that Reverse Certificate of Need application has been fully processed, and until a decision has been made on that application, Memorial Hospital is obligated to continue providing all existing services to patients. Memorial Hospital is not permitted, until the process is complete, to make any changes to the primary or emergency services currently offered, including maternal and delivery services."

Once a date and location for a public hearing on Memorial Hospital's Reverse Certificate of Need application are set, that information will be publicized widely. Additionally, people who are unable to attend the hearing will have an opportunity to submit comments. Dr. Alexander-Scott will attend the hearing.

RIDOH Releases Monthly Accidental Drug Overdose Death Data

03-04-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is releasing the latest data today on confirmed accidental drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island. The data are from January 1, 2015 through February 29, 2016.

Perdue Foods Recalls Chicken Nugget Products

03-08-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) advises consumers that Perdue Foods LLC is recalling approximately 4,530 pounds of chicken nugget products that may be contaminated with plastic material. The chicken nugget products were produced for Applegate Farms.

The recall is for 8-oz. boxed packages containing approximately 18 pieces of "Applegate Naturals Chicken Nuggets" with a Best Before Date of 9/27/2016. The products were produced on Sept. 28, 2015.

The products bear the establishment number "P-2617" inside the USDA mark of inspection. These items were shipped to retail distribution centers in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, and Texas.

The problem was discovered when consumers complained of small, solid, clear plastic inside the Applegate Naturals Chicken Nuggets.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about an injury or illness should contact a healthcare provider.

Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

Consumers and media with questions about the recall can contact Applegate Consumer Relations, at 1-866-587-5858.

Community Meetings Organized for Public Comment On Memorial Hospital's Proposal to End Obstetrics Services

03-08-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) has organized three community meetings to allow the public to comment on Memorial Hospital's proposal to cease providing inpatient obstetrics services.

The community meetings will be held on the following dates and at the following locations March 14th (Goff Junior High School - Vine Street entrance, 974 Newport Avenue, Pawtucket; 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM); March 16th (Woodlawn Community Center, 210 West Avenue, Pawtucket; 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM); March 17th (Segue Institute for Learning - Hedley Avenue entrance, 325 Cowden Street, Central Falls; 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM).

Memorial Hospital has been notified that obstetrical services must remain open, fully staffed, and fully functional until a decision has been made by RIDOH on the proposal.

In addition to attending these meetings, the public can email comments to RIDOH or submit comments via postal mail. Comments will be accepted through March 25th.

Memorial Hospital notified RIDOH on March 2nd of its proposal to cease providing inpatient obstetrics services, and to transfer those services to Women & Infants Hospital and Kent County Memorial Hospital. When a healthcare facility proposes a reduction in services such as this, a process called a Reverse Certificate of Need is used by RIDOH to review the proposal and evaluate how the changes would impact patients and the community. Public comments are being collected and considered as part of the Reverse Certificate of Need process.

Pistachios Recalled Due to Possible Contamination

03-10-2016

"Wonderful Pistachios" has announced the voluntary recall of a variety of in-shell and shelled pistachio products due to a risk of Salmonella contamination.

According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of the products may be linked to an outbreak of Salmonellosis. The products, which were distributed through several retailers nationwide, can be identified by a 13-digit lot code number that can be found on the lower back or bottom panel of the package.

Consumers should not consume these products. These products can be returned to Wonderful Pistachios for a refund by sending the product back or bottom portion of the package that contains the lot code to Wonderful Pistachios, 13646 Hwy 33, Lost Hills, CA 93249. If consumers prefer, they may return the product to the store from which it was purchased for a refund. Consumers should discard the nuts prior to returning the entire package or lot code panel to their retail store.

Consumers with questions can call (844) 505-3844, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

Salmonella is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy people infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis, and arthritis.

Certain DiGiorno, Lean Cuisine, and Stouffer's Products Recalled

03-11-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) advises consumers that Nestl'© USA is voluntarily recalling certain DiGiorno, Lean Cuisine, and Stouffer's products due to the potential presence of glass pieces in those products.

The recall covers the following products with specific production codes:

- DiGiorno Thin & Crispy Spinach and Garlic Pizza

- DiGiorno Rising Crust Spinach and Mushroom Pizza

- DiGiorno pizzeria Thin Crust Spinach and Mushroom Pizza

- DiGiorno pizzeria Tuscan-style Chicken Pizza

- Lean Cuisine Spinach and Mushroom Pizza

- Lean Cuisine Spinach Artichoke Ravioli

- Lean Cuisine Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli

- Lean Cuisine Spinach, Artichoke & Chicken Panini

- Lean Cuisine Mushroom Mezzaluna Ravioli

- Stouffer's Vegetable Lasagna (10 oz., 37 oz. and 96 oz. sizes)

- Stouffer's Spinach Souffl'©

- Stouffer's Chicken Lasagna

To locate the production code, consumers should look on the side panel of the package. No other production codes, sizes, or varieties of DiGiorno, Lean Cuisine or Stouffer's products are affected by this recall.

Nestl'© USA is taking this action after several consumers reported finding small pieces of glass in some of these products. However, no injuries have been reported.

Consumers who may have purchased the products listed above should not consume them. Consumers should instead contact Nestl'© Consumer Services at 1-800-681-1676.

Teens Use Zombie Walk and Press Event To Warn the Living About the Dangers of Tobacco

03-16-2016

Hundreds of Rhode Island teens participated in a zombie walk to the State House on Wednesday to call on policy makers and lawmakers to prevent tobacco companies from taking people's last dying breaths.

The teens were joined at a press event at the statehouse by Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH).

"These brave, inspired students demonstrated today that they refuse to sit back quietly while big tobacco companies shamelessly target teens and people in low-income communities with their dangerous new products," Dr. Alexander-Scott said. "By coming together and taking issues like tobacco use head-on, we are working to build healthy communities and give everyone a chance to make it in Rhode Island."

Dressed as zombies on a walk that started at the University of Rhode Island's Paff Auditorium, and that included a stop at Biltmore Park for a zombie flash mob dance, the students focused on three issues:

- Raising the buying age from 18 to 21 years old

- Restricting the sale of flavored tobacco products

- Tougher laws regarding e-cigarettes

In addition to the walk, the teens participated in a half-day program that included health presentations by youth advocates and students.

Rhode Island's youth smoking rate for lit cigarettes dropped from 8% in 2014 to 4.8% in 2015. However, emerging tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes and flavored cigarettes, threaten to reverse these gains and increase rates of tobacco use for the next generation. For example, e-cigarette use among Rhode Island high school teens reached nearly 20% last year, while nationwide data showed flavored products are used by more than 70% of high school tobacco users.

"Teens came together today because we want adults to know what we're up against. Many flavored tobacco products now taste like candy to mask the harsh taste of tobacco, look like candy wrappers that attract youth, are just as addictive as cigarettes, and are especially harmful to youth," said Jamey Rondeau, 17, of the Woonsocket Prevention Coalition, one of the groups that participated in the zombie walk. "We want to be the first tobacco-free generation for Rhode Island, but we need adults to do everything they can to keep us from getting hooked on harmful tobacco products."

"Two out of every three smokers die from their smoking. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Rhode Island and the nation, killing more than 1,800 Rhode Islanders every year," said Jennifer Wall, Tobacco Free Rhode Island Network Coordinator. "Tobacco addiction takes hold in the teenage years. Nearly 90% of all adult smokers started smoking before age 19. Helping teens stay away from tobacco is the best way to prevent a lifetime of tobacco addiction, disease and death."

In Rhode Island, communities such as Providence and Central Falls have already adopted smoke-free and tobacco-free policies in indoor and outdoor public spaces where youth gather, required tobacco retailers to have local licenses and be subject to enforceable fines, included e-cigarettes in municipal smoke-free policies, and restricted the sales of flavored tobacco products that appeal mainly to youth.

Across the United States, more than 120 communities require tobacco customers to be at least 21 years old. In 2015, Hawaii became the first state to make 21 the legal tobacco purchase age. Legislators in other states, including Rhode Island, are considering similar measures.

The event was sponsored by the national Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Tobacco Free Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Department of Health. Other school- and community-based youth organizations from cities and towns throughout Rhode Island participated.

The Rhode Island Zombie Walk is a registered activity for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' Kick Butts Day, an annual observance that gives youth the opportunity to take a stand against tobacco in creative ways.

More information about tobacco use and teens in Rhode Island and Kick Butts Day is available online.

Bumble Bee Foods, LLC Issues Voluntary Recall on Three Production Codes of Canned Chunk Light Tuna Due to Possible Health Risk

03-17-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) advises consumers that Bumble Bee Foods, LLC announced today that it is voluntarily recalling three specific UPC codes of canned Chunk Light tuna due to process deviations that occurred in a co-pack facility not owned or operated by Bumble Bee. These deviations were part of the commercial sterilization process and could result in contamination by spoilage organisms or pathogens, which could lead to life-threatening illness if consumed. It is important to note that there have been no reports of illness associated with these products to date. No other production codes or products are affected by this recall.

There are a total of 31,579 cases that are included in the recall which were produced in February 2016 and distributed nationally. The products subject to this recall are marked with a can code that starts with a "T" (example: TOA2BSCAFB). Information on UPC codes and "best by" dates can be found at http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm491107.htm?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

The recall is being initiated out of an abundance of caution due to the possible under-processing of the affected products discovered by the co-packer during its routine quality audit. Bumble Bee is working closely with the co-packer and the FDA to expedite the removal of products from commerce. Product photos are available online at http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm491107.htm?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

Consumers are advised to throw away the recalled product. Consumers looking for more information on reimbursement or who have questions about the recall may contact Bumble Bee at (888) 820-1947 between the hours of 9am and 6pm EST seven days a week or visit www.bumblebee.com/recall-march-2016

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Tri-Union Seafoods LLC Issues Precautionary, Voluntary Recall on Select Chicken of the Sea Brand Canned Chunk Light Tuna in Oil and Canned Chunk Light Tuna in Water

03-17-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) advises consumers that Tri-Union Seafoods LLC is voluntarily recalling a 2,745 cases (equal to 107,280 cans) of Chicken of the Sea brand 5 oz. canned chunk light tuna in oil and 5 oz. canned chunk light tuna in water.

This recall has been initiated because the product may have been undercooked due to an equipment malfunction, which was uncovered during a routine inspection. These deviations were part of the commercial sterilization process and could result in contamination by spoilage organisms or pathogens, which could lead to life-threatening illness if consumed. There have been no reported illnesses to date connected with the affected products, and Tri-Union Seafoods LLC is issuing this voluntary recall to ensure the highest level of safety and quality.

The UPC code, "best by" date and lot codes are used to determine the products involved. The UPC code (also known as the bar code) is found on the label of the product. The "best by" date is printed on the bottom of the can. The product lot codes that are part of this voluntary recall can also be found on the bottom of the can. Information on the specific products being recalled can be found on the FDA website at http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm491206.htm?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

"The health and safety of our consumers is our number one priority. As soon as we discovered the issue, we took immediate steps to initiate this voluntary recall, alerting our retail customers that received the product and instructing them to remove it from store shelves," said Shue Wing Chan, president of Tri-Union Seafoods LLC.

No other codes of these products or other Chicken of the Sea products are affected by this voluntary recall. Photos of the affected products can be found at http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm491206.htm?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.

Consumers may return the product to the store where they purchased it for a full refund. Anyone with questions or concerns about this recall should call the 24-hour recall information line at 1-866-600-2681.

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Gerber is Voluntarily Recalling Two Batches of GERBER- " Organic 2ND FOODS- " Pouches Due to a Packaging Defect That May Result in Product Spoilage

03-24-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) advises consumers that Gerber Products Company is voluntarily recalling specific Organic pouch products after identifying a packaging defect that may result in product spoilage during transport and handling. Gerber is working to retrieve from retailers and online stores the remaining pouches from the four affected batches of GERBER- " Organic 2ND FOOD pouches that fail to meet their quality standards. The company is offering replacement coupons for consumers who purchased the following products:

GERBER- " Organic 2ND FOODS- " Pouches - Pears, Carrots & Peas, 3.5 ounce pouch UPC 15000074319

Best By dates/batch codes

12JUL2016 51945335XX

13JUL 2016 51955335XX

GERBER- " Organic 2ND FOODS- " Pouches- Carrots, Apples and Mangoes, 3.5 ounce pouch UPC 15000074395

Best By dates/batch codes

13JUL2016 51955335XX

14JUL2016 51965335XX

This recall does not impact any other Gerber pouches, other Gerber products or products outside of the US.

Consumers may notice that, in some cases, the pouches are bloated and product inside may have an off taste or odor. There have been three consumer reports of temporary gastrointestinal symptoms, however, the company has been unable to confirm that these are related to the product. Consumers should not use the product, since it does not meet Gerber's quality standards.

The products were distributed at U.S. retailers nationwide and through on-line stores. Consumers who purchased pouches with the above UPCs, batch codes and expiration dates are encouraged to contact the Gerber Parents Resource Center at 1-800-706-0556 anytime day or night for a replacement coupon.

Product photos can be viewed online.

Cobblestone Bread Co. Wheat English Muffins Recalled

03-31-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) advises consumers that Flowers Foods Inc. is voluntarily recalling certain packages of Cobblestone Bread Co. Wheat English Muffins because they contain undeclared milk.

The affected packages have the UPC # 0 72250 01316 1 and have best by dates of October 28, 2015 through April 10, 2016. People who have allergies to dairy products run the risk of serious reactions if they consume these products. No illnesses have been reported to date.

The recalled product was distributed to retail stores in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington DC, and West Virginia.

Approximately 10,000 packages of English muffins are involved in the recall.

The voluntary recall was initiated after Flowers discovered that product containing milk was distributed in packaging that did not reveal the presence of milk.

Consumers who have purchased Cobblestone Bread Co. Wheat English Muffins with the UPC and dates noted above are urged to return to them to the place of purchase for product replacement or refund. No other Cobblestone Bread Co. brand products are included in this recall.

Consumers with questions may call Flowers' Consumer Relations Center at 1-866-245-8921. The center is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Consumers also may contact the center via e-mail by visiting: http://www.flowersfoods.com

RIDOH Releases Monthly Accidental Drug Overdose Death Data

04-01-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is releasing the latest data today on confirmed accidental drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island. The data are from January 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016. - http://eepurl.com/bWnEtb

Flu No Longer Widespread in Rhode Island

04-07-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) announced today that the flu is no longer widespread in Rhode Island, lifting the requirement for unvaccinated healthcare workers to wear surgical masks in hospitals and many other healthcare facilities.

The flu had reached widespread level in Rhode Island on March 2, 2016.

"Rhode Island healthcare workers should be commended for helping prevent the spread of the flu in healthcare facilities, and for protecting the patients they care for, by wearing masks," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "However, flu season is not over yet. For people who have not been vaccinated yet, there is still time to get a flu shot. The flu causes missed days of school and missed days of work, and it forces many people to spend a week in bed. Vaccination is the best protection."

The healthcare facilities and organizations in which the masking requirement applied are: Adult day care programs; Assisted living facilities; CVS Minute Clinics; Free-standing ambulatory care surgical centers; Free-standing emergency care facilities; Home care providers; Home nursing care providers; Hospice providers Hospitals; Kidney treatment centers; Nursing facilities; Organized ambulatory care facilities; and Physician ambulatory surgery centers.

Although the masking requirement was lifted, should an individual healthcare facility experience a flu outbreak, the Director of Health may require unvaccinated healthcare workers in that facility to wear surgical masks during direct patient contact.

Everyone older than 6 months of age should be vaccinated against the flu every year. In addition to healthcare workers, vaccination is particularly important for pregnant women, people over the age of 50, nursing or group home residents, and people with chronic conditions (such as heart, lung, or kidney disease; diabetes, asthma, anemia, blood disorders, or weakened immune systems).

Symptoms of the flu can include fever, cough, head and body aches, fatigue, and runny nose. Some people also have vomiting and diarrhea.

Flu shots are available at doctors' offices and pharmacies throughout Rhode Island.

For more information about the flu, visit www.health.ri.gov/flu

Probable Blue-Green Algae Bloom in Scott Pond

04-08-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are advising the public to avoid contact with Scott Pond in Lincoln due to a probable blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) bloom in the pond. Blue-green algae can release toxins that can harm humans and animals.

Pending test results, which are expected next week, people should be careful to not ingest water or eat fish from the pond. Because pets can also be affected by exposure to algal toxins, pet owners should not allow their animals to drink this water or swim in it.

Irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat are common side effects that result from contact with water containing algal toxins. If water containing algal toxins is ingested, health effects can include stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Young children and pets are at greater risk than adults, since they are more likely to drink contaminated water. Other health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. People who have been swimming in, or have otherwise been in contact with, Scott Pond and experience those symptoms should contact their healthcare providers.

Anyone who comes into contact with this water should rinse their skin with clean water as soon as possible, bathe, and wash their clothes. If a pet comes in contact with this water, the pet should be washed with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off of its fur. Call a veterinarian if the pet shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning, which include loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a few days of contact with the water.

Toxins may persist in the water after the blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

The public should avoid contact with any body of water in Rhode Island that is bright green or has a dense, floating algal mat on the water's surface. Blue-green algae blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup. To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact Brian Zalewsky at RIDEM (401-222-4700, ext. 7145 | brian.zalewsky@dem.ri.gov). If possible, send a photograph of the suspected algae bloom.

Countries with Active Zika Transmission

04-19-2016

http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/active-countries.html

Department of Health Reports First Case of Zika in Rhode Island

04-19-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) today announced the first confirmed case of Zika virus in the state. The individual who tested positive, a male in his 60s, had recently traveled to Haiti, where there is active mosquito-borne transmission of Zika.

"We have been closely monitoring the Zika situation internationally and have been coordinating with Rhode Island healthcare providers for months. We were fully prepared for this first case," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "While the risk to the public is very low, we are coordinating with doctors, especially those who work with pregnant women, on how best to identify symptoms and educate patients about prevention."

Measures that RIDOH has taken to prepare include:

- Established a Zika Task Force that includes fetal medicine specialists from Women & Infants Hospital in February;

- Issuing regular briefs to Rhode Island healthcare providers with updated guidance and information on symptoms and specimen collection;

- Coordinating patient specimen collection and shipment to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and

- Coordinating with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for increased mosquito surveillance and larvaciding.

Zika is spread primarily through bites from infected mosquitoes. It can also be spread sexually.

"We don't expect locally-acquired cases here because the species of mosquitos that are currently known to transmit Zika are not found in Rhode Island," said Dr. Alexander-Scott. "However, Rhode Islanders who are pregnant or are considering becoming pregnant should avoid travel to countries where there is active transmission of the virus."

The virus causes symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain, headache, muscle pain, and conjunctivitis (pink eye). Approximately 80% of those who have the virus do not have any symptoms. Symptoms typically appear within three to 14 days of infection.

Zika is also associated with pregnant women giving birth to babies with microcephaly and other birth defects. Microcephaly is condition when a baby's head is smaller than expected. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that have not developed properly.

Pregnant women or women who are considering pregnancy and have potential for exposure to Zika (from either a mosquito or a sexual partner) should seek counseling from their healthcare providers.

In January, RIDOH first alerted healthcare providers to consider Zika virus in symptomatic patients who had recently traveled to areas with active mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission. Since February 1, 2016, RIDOH has been submitting specimens to CDC for testing. The Rhode Island State Health Laboratories are currently developing the capacity to test for Zika virus in accordance with CDC protocols.

To prevent exposure to Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases, especially while traveling to areas with active mosquito-borne Zika transmission, people should:

- Use and reapply Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved bug spray containing at least 20% DEET.

- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

- Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear.

- Stay in buildings that use air conditioning, or have window and door screens.

- Sleep under a mosquito net.

According to the CDC, Massachusetts has had 7 similar travel-associated cases, and Connecticut has had 1. More information about Zika virus disease is available at the Department of Health's website. A list of countries with active-transmission is available on the RIDOH's website. They are primarily in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Boil Water Advisory for Consumers On Two Streets in Wakefield

04-20-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is issuing a precautionary boil water advisory for consumers of the SUEZ water system on two streets in Wakefield.

The advisory is in effect for consumers on Narragansett Avenue and on Old Tower Hill Road from the Dale Carlia Shopping Center to the Wakefield Mall.

As a result of a water main issue, these consumers currently do not have water service. SUEZ is working to address the issue.

Once service is restored, customers in this area should boil their water for one minute before it is consumed. This includes drinking, cooking, baking, washing dishes, making ice cubes, taking medication, brushing teeth, washing food, mixing baby formula, mixing juices or drinks, and feeding pets. However, the water does not to be boiled for bathing or washing clothes.

The precautionary boil water advisory will remain in effect until it is lifted by RIDOH.

For more information, customers should contact the SUEZ water system at 401-789-0271.

Blue-Green Algae Bloom Confirmed for Scott Pond

04-21-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management are advising people to avoid contact with Scott Pond in Lincoln due to a confirmed blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) bloom in the pond. Blue-green algae can produce toxins that can harm humans and animals.

People should not ingest water or eat fish from the pond. Because pets can be affected by exposure to algal toxins, owners should not allow pets to drink this water or swim in the water. This advisory will remain in effect until further notice.

Irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat are common side effects that result from contact with water containing algal toxins. If water containing algal toxins is ingested, health effects can include stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Young children and pets are at greater risk than adults, since they are more likely to drink contaminated water. Other health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. People who have been swimming in, or have otherwise been in contact with, Scott Pond and experience those symptoms should contact their healthcare providers.

Anyone who comes into contact with this water should rinse their skin with clean water as soon as possible, bathe, and wash their clothes. If a pet comes in contact with this water, the pet should be washed with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off of its fur. Call a veterinarian if the pet shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning, which include loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a few days of contact with the water.

Toxins may persist in the water after the blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

The public should avoid contact with any body of water in Rhode Island that is bright green or has a dense, floating algal mat on the water's surface. Blue-green algae blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup.

To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact Brian Zalewsky in DEM's Office of Water Resources (222-4700 ext. 7145; brian.zalewsky@dem.ri.gov) or Jane Sawyer (222-4700 ext. 2032 ; jane.sawyers@dem.ri.gov). If possible, send a photograph of the bloom.

Boil-Water Advisory in Wakefield Lifted

04-22-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is lifting the Boil-Water Advisory that had been issued for consumers of the SUEZ water system on two streets in Wakefield on April 20th.

The advisory had been in effect for consumers on Narragansett Avenue and on Old Tower Hill Road from the Dale Carlia Shopping Center to the Wakefield Mall. A water main issue had prompted the advisory. The water main has been repaired, and precautionary sampling has confirmed that the water is safe for consumption.

For more information, customers should contact the SUEZ water system at 401-789-0271.

Frozen Vegetables Recalled Due to Possible Health Risk

04-25-2016

Frozen Vegetables Recalled Due to Possible Health Risk

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising consumers that CRF Frozen Foods is voluntarily recalling fifteen frozen vegetable items that may have been contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

The Listeria was discovered through routine testing by state health officials in Ohio. The frozen vegetables were distributed to retailers and distribution centers between September 13, 2015 and March 16, 2016 in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and 33 other states.

The recalled items were sold in plastic bags and are marked with Use By Dates located on the backs of their packages: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm497297.htm

No illnesses have been reported to date, but the company is recalling the products as a precaution. Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Consumers are urged to not consume these products. Consumers who purchased these products may take them back to the store where they purchased them for a refund or simply discard them. Consumers seeking information may call 844-551-5595 Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 p.m. (Pacific Standard Time).

Cookies Recalled Because of Potential for Undeclared Peanuts

04-28-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) advises consumers that Bake Fresh Company of Rhode Island is recalling a particular variety of '7-Eleven Fresh to Go' cookies because they may contain undeclared peanuts.

The cookies being recalled are sugar cookies made with M&M chocolate candy, and have a best by date code of 0424. The recall was initiated after a supplier reported the potential for undeclared peanuts.

People who have allergies to peanuts run the risk of serious or life threatening allergic reactions if they consume these products.

Consumers who have purchased this product should return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may call 1-800-255-0711, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Free Skin Cancer Screening to be Held at the Rhode Island State House

05-03-2016

The Partnership to Reduce Cancer in Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) are organizing a free skin cancer screening event at the Rhode Island State House on May 4th from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The event is open to the public, and no insurance is required. People interested in participating should check in on the second-floor rotunda. From there, they will be directed to private screening rooms. Participants can have moles checked, have partial skin examinations, and get referrals if needed for follow-up.

"By pairing up with the Partnership to Reduce Cancer to put on this free event, we are ensuring that as many Rhode Islanders as possible have access to this very important form of preventive care," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "Other steps that people can take to reduce the risk of skin cancer are to seek shade, wear protective clothing, and use SPF 30 sunscreen while in the sun. Safe sun habits and early detection save lives."

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Melanoma is one of the most serious forms of skin cancer. Approximately 260 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year in Rhode Island, and thousands of people are diagnosed with other forms of skin cancer.

The event will be hosted by State Senator Maryellen Goodwin and State Representative Christopher R. Blazejewski. It will be staffed by Roger Williams Medical Center's Department of Dermatology.

"Rates of melanoma, an often deadly form of skin cancer, continue to rise in Rhode Island," said Dr. Thomas Ruenger, Chair of the Department of Dermatology at Roger Williams Medical Center and Professor of Dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine. "Our goal in holding this screening is to raise awareness about skin cancer, to promote safe sun behaviors, and to recognize and treat melanoma as early as possible, when it is still curable."

Most melanoma is caused by exposure to UV radiation, either through sunlight or indoor tanning. If detected early, melanoma can be surgically removed and monitored carefully to reduce the possibility of recurrence and spreading. Regular skin checks by a dermatologist are highly recommended for people who:

- Spend a lot of time working or playing outdoors

- Enjoy tanning

- Have noticed changes in the number and sizes of moles anywhere on their bodies

- Have already had a skin cancer

- Have a family member with skin cancer

The Partnership to Reduce Cancer in Rhode Island is a group of survivors, caregivers, healthcare providers, and advocates who are working together to reduce the burden of cancer in Rhode Island. More information about the Partnership is available online.

CRF Frozen Foods Expands Voluntary Recall to Include All Frozen Vegetable and Fruit Products

05-03-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising consumers that CRF Frozen Foods is expanding its recall of frozen organic and traditional fruits and vegetables because of potential Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

This expanded recall includes all of the frozen organic and traditional fruit and vegetable products manufactured or processed in CRF Frozen Foods' facility in Pasco, Washington since May 1, 2014. All affected products have best by dates or sell by dates between April 26, 2016 and April 26, 2018. These include approximately 358 consumer products sold under 42 separate brands. A list of products and brands is available online.

The products being recalled may have been purchased in all 50 U.S. states. RIDOH is working with retailers in Rhode Island to ensure that these products are pulled.

Products include organic and non-organic broccoli, butternut squash, carrots, cauliflower, corn, edamame, green beans, Italian beans, kale, leeks, lima beans, onions, peas, pepper strips, potatoes, potato medley, root medley, spinach, sweet potatoes, various vegetable medleys, blends, and stir fry packages, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, peaches, raspberries, and strawberries.

Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Consumers should not eat the recalled products. Consumers who purchased these products may return them to the store where they were purchased for a refund, or simply discard them. Consumers with questions may call the company's consumer hotline at (844) 551-5595, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. EST.

Seven people from three states have recently become ill and were hospitalized due to Listeria. Some of these illnesses have been linked to CRF-manufactured or processed products. Two of these individuals later died, but Listeria was not the cause of death in either person.

Two Manufacturers Announce Recalls of Products With Potentially Contaminated Sunflower Seeds

05-06-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising consumers that TreeHouse Foods and Creative Snacks Co. are both voluntarily recalling products potentially impacted by sunflower seeds contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Products from both manufacturers were distributed nationwide. No illnesses have been reported to date.

The specific products being recalled can be identified by their UPC codes, product descriptions, and their best by date codes.

RIDOH is working to ensure that any of these products that were distributed in Rhode Island are pulled from retailers' shelves.

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Customers who purchased TreeHouse Foods products can call 1-800-756-5781 with questions. Customers who purchased Creative Snacks Co. products can call 336-668-4151 with questions.

Certain Millville Protein Chewy Bar Products Recalled

05-09-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising consumers that Schulze and Burch Biscuit Co. is voluntarily recalling a variety of Millville Protein Chewy Bars because of potential Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

The Millville Protein Chewy Bar products were nationally distributed through Aldi stores. The specific products begin recalled can be identified by their UPC codes, product descriptions, and best by dates.

Schulze and Burch Biscuit Co. became aware of the potential contamination when informed by their supplier about sunflower seeds potentially contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals may suffer short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Consumers who purchased any of the recalled products are urged to dispose of or return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions should call (888) 886-3879.

RIDOH Monthly Overdose Death Data Show Spikes in Fentanyl-Related Deaths and Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths

05-10-2016

Spike in Fentanyl-Related Overdose Deaths

The results of initial toxicology screens suggest that Rhode Island is experiencing a significant increase in accidental opioid overdose deaths that involve the synthetic drug fentanyl. Although the results of confirmatory tests are still pending, these initial screenings suggest that fentanyl could have been involved in approximately 60% of overdose deaths in March, April, and early May. This figure is a significant increase over the approximately 47% of fentanyl-related overdose deaths in 2015. Law enforcement, Rhode Island emergency departments, and outreach workers have reported similar increases in recent weeks and months.

The Dangers of Fentanyl, and Increased Need For Naloxone

Fentanyl is an opioid that is more powerful than heroin, and that is often added to heroin to make supplies more profitable. The addition of even slight traces of fentanyl to heroin, which is a lethal narcotic on its own, increases the deadliness of heroin significantly. Recent victims have reported using heroin without being told by their suppliers that it had been altered with fentanyl.

In working to communicate this warning to heroin users and first responders, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH) will also communicate that additional doses of naloxone are often needed when responding to fentanyl-related overdoses. In some instances, two or three doses of naloxone are needed. Naloxone is a medication that reverses an overdose, and is often carried by people with substance use disorders and their family members.

"People are injecting, swallowing, and snorting this drug without realizing that they are often breathing their last breaths. Unfortunately, fentanyl kills, and it kills quickly," said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Island Department of Health (RIDOH). "In many instances, people don't know that they are taking fentanyl. If someone around you uses heroin or fentanyl, make sure you have naloxone, and if you think that someone around you is overdosing, call 911 as soon as possible. Every second counts."

Changing Trends in Rhode Island's Drug Overdose Crisis

Since 2012, there has been a 135% increase in illicit drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island, and a 34% decrease in prescription drug overdose deaths. In this time, the total number of drug overdose deaths has continued to rise steadily. In 2012, there were 182 drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island, compared to at least 257 in 2015.

The shifts in prescription and illicit drug overdose deaths may be due to a number of factors.

During this time, we have seen growth in the global heroin market, and increases in the accessibility of synthetic and research chemicals, including fentanyl. The number of overdose deaths related to fentanyl has increased 15-fold since 2012.

The shifts in prescription and illicit drug overdose deaths also began roughly when more focused efforts were undertaken nationally to reduce the supply of prescription drugs. In Rhode Island, there was a 35% decrease in the number of Schedule 2 and Schedule 3 drugs prescribed between December 2011 and February 2016.

During tomorrow's monthly meeting of the Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force, Governor Gina M. Raimondo will release a detailed action plan developed to address the drug overdose crisis in Rhode Island. The meeting will take place at 11 a.m. at the Rhode Island Department of Administration (One Capitol Hill, Providence, RI 02908) in Conference Room 2A.

Strategies in the plan are all intended to address substance use disorders among people using both illicit and prescription drugs. These strategies include expanding access to medication-assisted treatment, increasing the number of peer recovery coaches in Rhode Island, and pushing naloxone into the community.

Certain Walnuts and Walnut-Containing Products Recalled

05-11-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising consumers of a recall of certain walnuts and walnut-containing products due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination. The products were sold under the names Nature's Promise, Woodstock, Market Basket, and Woodfield Farms.

The lot numbers being recalled, as well as product descriptions, are available online. The lot numbers are printed on the back of each retail bag. The products were shipped to retailers and distributors in limited quantities throughout the United States. Any remaining product with the recalled lot numbers should be discarded.

The recall was issued as a precaution because a single sample in a finished product yielded a positive result for Listeria monocytogenes. No illnesses have been reported in association with the recall and no other walnuts or products under the brands are being recalled.

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune symptoms. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Retailers and consumers with questions should call Melissa McCullough at Woodstock Farms Manufacturing customer service at 732-650-9905.

The recall was initiatied by United Natural Trading LLC (also known as Woodstock Farms Manufacturing), which purchased the Gibson Farms.

Quaker Quinoa Granola Bars Recalled

05-17-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising consumers that Quaker Oats Company is voluntarily recalling a small quantity of Quaker Quinoa Granola Bars due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

The Quaker Quinoa Granola Bars were distributed in Rhode Island. The specific products being recalled are:

6.1-ounce boxes of Quaker Quinoa Granola Bars Chocolate Nut Medley; UPC code 30000 32241; best before dates of 10/16/2016 and 10/17/2016

6.1-ounce boxes of Quaker Quinoa Granola Bars Yogurt, Fruit & Nut; UPC code 30000 32243; best before dates of 10/10/2016 and 10/11/2016

Quaker Oats Company became aware of the potential contamination when informed by their supplier about sunflower seeds potentially contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. No illnesses have been reported in association with recalled items.

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals may suffer short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Consumers who purchased any of the recalled products are urged to dispose of or return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions should call (800) 856-5781.

Dr. Prager's and Ungar's Frozen Food Items Recalled

05-17-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising consumers that Dr. Prager's Sensible Foods, Inc. is voluntarily recalling various not-ready-to-eat frozen food items due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

The recalled products were distributed to stores in Rhode Island, including Stop and Shop, Aldi, and Trader Joe's. A listing of product descriptions and lot numbers being recalled is available online.

This voluntary action is being undertaken in cooperation with the Food and Drug Administration because these products contain vegetables that are part of the recent CRF Frozen Foods recall. No illnesses have been reported in association with recalled items.

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals may suffer short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Consumers who purchased any of the recalled products are urged to dispose of or return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions should call (877) 772-3437.

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RIDOH Announces Awards to Strengthen Healthcare Workforce And Address Health Disparities

05-18-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Health Professionals Loan Repayment Board announced more than $823,000 in loan repayment awards today aimed at strengthening the healthcare workforce and narrowing health disparities by increasing the number of providers in medically underserved communities.

The awards went to 24 healthcare professionals, including physicians, dentists, nurses, and mental and behavioral healthcare providers. In accepting their loan repayment awards, the recipients have committed to practicing in underserved communities in Rhode Island for at least two years.

"The Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program is one of many innovative ways that we are expanding opportunity and bringing top-tier talent to Rhode Island," said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. "The healthcare industry is vital to the health of our overall economy. We need to continue making our state as attractive as possible for providers entering the workforce."

"Health and medical education can be expensive. This program helps remove barriers that may keep talented, motivated people from entering this field," said Elizabeth Roberts, Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. "Innovative partnerships between federal and state government, community partners and employers, and health professionals are helping us draw the best and brightest workforce to Rhode Island."

"The Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program is essential to our work to eliminate health disparities by ensuring access to quality health services and care in every zip code in Rhode Island," said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of Health and Chair of the Health Professional Loan Repayment Board. "One of the best ways to build healthy communities is to make sure that everyone receives the kind of sound, fundamental preventive care that these health professionals provide. I commend each of this year's recipients for helping us build a healthier Rhode Island."

Funding for the program comes from the federal government and from various health and community organizations. The Rhode Island Health Center Association solicited matching funds from many of these organizations.

"The recruitment and retention of health professionals is a critical need in order to have the necessary workforce to provide comprehensive medical services to Rhode Islanders, particularly in communities where access to care can be challenging. The loan repayment program is a critical tool necessary to help ensure an adequate supply of professionals," said Jane A. Hayward, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Center Association.

Contributions to the Health Professionals Loan Repayment Fund were made by the Rhode Island Foundation ($200,000), Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island ($50,000), the Rhode Island Health Center Association ($50,000), Delta Dental of Rhode Island ($50,000), Landmark Hospital ($50,000), and CharterCARE ($50,000), Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Rhode Island ($30,000), and UnitedHealthcare Rhode Island ($25,000).

More information about the Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program, including a definition of a medically underserved community.

Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program Award Recipients

Ann Bisland

Blackstone Valley Community Health Center; Primary Care Certified Nurse Practitioner

Stephanie Bursell

Thundermist Health Center; Registered Dental Hygienist

Jennifer Cabrera

Providence Community Health Center; Registered Nurse

LaShun Carroll

Thundermist Health Center; Dentist

Danielle Cummings

Thundermist Health Center; Dentist

Deborah Doran

Thundermist Health Center; Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Sadie Elisseou

Providence VA Medical Center; Primary Care Physician

Marileni Espinal

Providence Community Health Center; Registered Nurse

Alice Eyo

Blackstone Valley Community Health Center; Registered Nurse

Sarah Gambell

Providence Community Health Center; Licensed Clinical Social Worker

David Greenblatt

Comprehensive Community Action Program; Primary Care Certified Nurse Practitioner

Jennifer Hopgood

Thundermist Health Center; Primary Care Certified Nurse Practitioner

Altug Koymen

Providence Community Health Center; Primary Care Physician

Milton Liu

Blackstone Valley Community Health Center; Dentist

Phina Mayu

Blackstone Valley Community Health Center; Registered Nurse

Cristine McCormick

Thundermist Health Center; Primary Care Physician

Suzanne McLaughlin

The Medicine Pediatrics Primary Care Clinic; Primary Care Physician

Shayna Nadeau

Thundermist Health Center; Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Kanchan Pande

WellOne Primary Medical and Dental; Dentist

Jessica Salak

Providence Community Health Center; Primary Care Physician

Lauren Schlanger

Providence VA Medical Center; Primary Care Physician

Britni Simons

Thundermist Health Center; Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Sara Watson

Thundermist Health Center; Primary Care Physician

Tiffanie Waldeck-Napolitano

Wood River Health Services; Dentist

Sunflower Kernels and Sunflower Kernel-Containing Products Recalled

05-20-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising consumers that SunOpta and TreeHouse Foods have issued recalls for sunflower kernel products and sunflower kernel-containing products because of possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

Although no illnesses have been associated with the products being recalled by SunOpta and TreeHouse Foods, people are urged to not consume them. The products can be identified by their product descriptions, UPC codes, best-by dates, and packaging images.

- SunOpta: product information and images of packaging

- TreeHouse Foods: product information | images of packaging

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals may suffer short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The recalled products can be returned to their places of purchase for full refunds. SunOpta customers can contact SunOpta at contactus@sunopta.com or 1-888-886-4428 for more information. TreeHouse Foods customers can contact TreeHouse Foods at 1-800-756-5781 for more information.

Certain Dakota Style Sunflower Kernel Products Recalled

05-24-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising consumers that Dakota Style Foods is recalling a number of sunflower kernel products because of potential Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

The Dakota Style products being recalled are:

- 16 ounce Roasted and Salted Sunflower Kernels

- 3.5 ounce Roasted and Salted Sunflower Kernels

- 32 ounce Roasted and Salted Sunflower Kernels

- 4 ounce Savory Bacon Sunflower Kernels

- 8 ounce Savory Bacon Sunflower Kernels

- 4 ounce Salted Caramel Sunflower Kernels

The affected lots have the lot codes: 8B6M02, 8B6M09, 8B6M17, 8B6M18, 8B6M24, 8B6M25, 8C6M02, 8C6M08, 8C6M10, 8C6M28, 8C6M31, and 8D6M01. The items' packages bear the company logo and product name with the lot code located on the back right hand panel of the consumer package.

These products were shipped by Dakota Style Foods between February 15, 2016 and May 17, 2016. They were distributed to outlets nationwide.

Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

No illnesses have been confirmed to date. The recall resulted from notice by SunOpta, one of Dakota Style's sunflower kernel suppliers, that SunOpta expanded a voluntary recall of certain lots of sunflower kernels. Dakota Style has identified the lots that may have included ingredients received from SunOpta and is actively working to return all affected products.

Consumers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact Dakota Style Foods at 1-800-446-2779.

RIDOH and RIDEM Urge Rhode Islanders to Protect Themselves Against Mosquito-borne Diseases

05-26-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) want to remind people of the dangers posed by mosquitoes this time of year and reinforce the importance of personal protection in preventing mosquito bites.

Mosquitoes carry many diseases, including West Nile Virus (WNV), Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), and Zika virus (Zika). The species of mosquitoes that carry WNV and EEE are found in Rhode Island and bite from this time of year until the first heavy frost (usually the end of October). Although the species of mosquito that can transmit Zika are not established in Rhode Island, individual mosquitoes have occasionally been found in traps here.

"We want Rhode Islanders to get outdoors and enjoy our beautiful state," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "We also want to remind everyone about how to prevent exposure to mosquito-borne diseases by protecting themselves from mosquito bites and getting rid of mosquito breeding grounds."

Protect yourself

- Put screens on windows and doors. Fix screens that are loose or have holes.

- At sunrise and sundown (when mosquitoes that carry WNV or EEE are most active), minimize outside activities. If you must be outside, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and use bug spray.

- Use EPA-approved bug spray with one of the following active ingredients: DEET (20-30% strength); picaridin, IR3535; and oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthan-diol. Always read the label and follow all directions and precautions.

- Do not use bug spray with DEET on infants under two months of age. Children should be careful not to rub their eyes after bug spray has been applied on their skin. Wash children's hands with soap and water to remove any bug spray when they return indoors.

- Put mosquito netting over playpens and baby carriages.

- If you are traveling to an area with Zika, be aware that the species of mosquitoes that carry Zika are active throughout the day (dawn through dusk).

- If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you and your partner should postpone your travel to areas with Zika, if possible. Discuss any necessary travel plans with your doctor.

Get rid of mosquito breeding grounds

- Get rid of anything around your house and yard that collects water. Just one cup of water can produce hundreds of mosquitoes; an unused tire containing water can produce thousands of mosquitoes.

- Clean your gutters and down spouts so that they can drain properly.

- Remove any water from unused swimming pools, wading pools, boats, planters, trash and recycling bins, tires, and anything else that collects water, and cover them.

- Remove or treat any shallow water that can accumulate on top of a pool cover. Larvicide treatments, such as Mosquito Dunks can be applied to kill immature mosquitoes. This environmentally-friendly product is available at many hardware and garden stores and on-line.

- Change the water in birdbaths at least two times a week, and rinse out birdbaths once a week.

- Encourage your neighbors, friends, and family do the same things.

In order to monitor disease in Rhode Island, beginning in June each year, mosquitoes are trapped every week statewide by RIDEM staff and tested at the RIDOH State Health Laboratories for WNV and EEE. RIDEM will normally report mosquito test results once a week on a routine basis, with additional reports as necessary.

Visit RIDOH's website for additional prevention tips and for Rhode Island-specific data.

RIDOH Hosts Eighth Annual Dare to Dream Leadership Conference for Students with Special Needs

05-26-2016

On May 25th, an estimated 900 high school students, their teachers, and community partners gathered at the University of Rhode Island's Kingston campus to attend the eighth annual Dare to Dream Student Leadership Conference sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH). They were joined by Commissioner of Education Ken Wagner, PhD, and RIDOH Executive Director Ana Novais.

The event, which featured nationally known keynote speakers, breakout session workshops, and music and dance performances, provided students with special needs the opportunity to examine the concepts of transition from adolescence to adulthood and to share their personal experiences with other students. The primary goal of the conference is to help students gain self-determination and leadership skills. The conference is unique because it is developed by youth, for youth.

"Helping to build valuable life skills for all of Rhode Island's adolescents is important," said Executive Director Novais. "Rhode Island is stronger when everyone has the opportunity to attain their full potential. We want to be a driving force behind these students learning valuable skills such as advocacy, teamwork, public speaking, time management, and mentoring."

Speaker Eric Rowles combined energy and innovation to reach students through his stories, research, and on-the-ground strategies. Speaker Monique Johnson shared her personal experiences and talked about meeting life's challenges by focusing on the reward of hard-pressed effort. Johnson is just 24 inches tall due to a genetic anomaly, but she is proof that physical limitations neither measure nor predict one's success in life.

Many of the individual breakout workshops were created and presented by peers on topics such as emergency planning, stress management, voting in upcoming elections, and preparing for a successful college career.

"At RIDOH, we are all too familiar with the statistics that show students with learning and emotional challenges are less likely to achieve in school, more likely to have disruptive behavior, and are often sad and isolated," said RIDOH Health Equity Institute Co-Director Deborah Garneau. "Through the Dare to Dream conference, we create an environment where students with diverse abilities can explore their potential, identify their unique capabilities for growth and development, and realize the powerful person they are."

RIDOH Issues Decision on Memorial Hospital Obstetrics Proposal With Patient-Focused Conditions

05-27-2016

Today the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) approved Care New England's proposal to transfer obstetrics services from Memorial Hospital to Kent Hospital and Women & Infants Hospital in a decision that includes conditions aimed at ensuring access to care for patients and communities served by facilities throughout the Care New England system. The conditions of approval were informed by a series of public meetings and hundreds of comments from Rhode Islanders across the state.

The decision with conditions requires Care New England to provide transportation for patients to other hospitals within the network, and to submit a plan to replicate Memorial Hospital's unique, alternative birthing experience at another Care New England hospital. Care New England, a health system that employs thousands of Rhode Islanders, has a financial standing that has grown increasingly unstable since 2013.

"Care New England's current financial situation has serious implications, not just for Memorial Hospital, but for patients, communities, and employees throughout Rhode Island," said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of Health. "We listened carefully to the community throughout this process. Our decision is responsive to those who expressed their preference for Memorial's unique birthing environment, while at the same time helping to ensure that people throughout Rhode Island continue to receive quality, affordable care."

Care New England is not authorized to begin transferring obstetrics services from Memorial Hospital before August 1st, 2016.

The conditions of the decision include:

- Memorial Hospital shall execute a transportation plan for a minimum of nine months that includes expanded shuttle service with multiple scheduled stops at each Care New England facility; preferred arrangements with a taxi company; and the provision of vouchers to patients for supplemental transportation services.

- Women & Infants shall maintain its alternative birthing services, and within six months Care New England shall submit a plan to RIDOH for replicating Memorial's obstetrics unit's unique, birthing center experience within another Care New England hospital. In developing this plan, Care New England will be required to convene an expert group of consultants who are familiar with, and who helped implement, this model at Memorial Hospital.

- Care New England shall engage an outplacement services firm for displaced staff, and shall notify staff of this career transition service; and

- Care New England shall cover any additional out-of-pockets costs for current Memorial obstetric patients with commercial health insurance whose obstetrical care is transferred to other Care New England hospitals.

Rhode Island law calls for the decision to consider the impact of the change on the following four criteria: access to care for traditionally underserved populations; healthcare delivery in the community; other healthcare facilities in the local community; and other healthcare facilities in the state. The decision issued by RIDOH today is based on the potential impacts on patients, the community, and other healthcare facilities.

RIDOH conducted public meetings in Central Falls and Pawtucket in March to gather community input on the proposal and collected written comments from hundreds of Rhode Islanders, many of whom expressed their preference for Memorial's alternative birthing environment. Care New England representatives cited steady declines in births at Memorial and expressed concerns about how declines in volume can affect quality of care.

As part of its review, RIDOH collected aggregate patient data and audited financial statements from Care New England. An independent financial analyst was engaged by RIDOH to review the financial documents. Some of the findings from the information received were:

- The majority of women in Memorial Hospital's service area receive obstetrical care at Women & Infants Hospital. In 2015, more than 92 percent of the 3,687 children born to women who lived in Central Falls, Pawtucket, and Providence were delivered at Women & Infants.

- There are five other birthing hospitals in Rhode Island, including Women & Infants, seven miles away.

- The current financial situation at Care New England is unsustainable, and further deterioration in Care New England's operating margins increases the risk of a bond covenant violation. This could have serious implications on the entire Care New England system.

Care New England facilities include Butler Hospital, Care New England Wellness Center, Kent Hospital, Memorial Hospital, the Providence Center, VNA of Care New England, and Women & Infants Hospital. This decision relates only to obstetric services at Memorial Hospital. On April 22nd, Care New England submitted a complete application to RIDOH for the transfer of obstetric services from Memorial Hospital to Kent Hospital and Women & Infants Hospital.

A copy of the full decision is available online.

Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra, and Signature Kitchens Flour Products Recalled

06-01-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising consumers that General Mills is recalling certain Gold Medal flour, Wondra flour, and Signature Kitchens flour products as part of an investigating into an ongoing, multistate outbreak of E. coli.

Authorities have been researching 38 occurrences of illnesses across 20 states related to a specific type of E. coli (E. coli O121) between December 21, 2015, and May 3, 2016. While attempting to track the cause of the illnesses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that approximately half of the individuals reported making something homemade with flour at some point prior to becoming ill. Some reported using a General Mills brand of flour.

However, to date, E. coli O121 has not been found in any General Mills flour products or in the flour manufacturing facility. The company has not been contacted any consumers reporting confirmed illnesses related to any of these products.

Details about the specific products being recalled are available online. The products were sold in Safeway, Albertsons, Jewel, Shaws, Vons, United, Randalls, and Acme.

Based on the information that has been shared with General Mills, some of the ill consumers may have also consumed raw dough or batter. Consumers are reminded to not consume any raw products made with flour. Flour is an ingredient that comes from milling wheat, something grown outdoors that carries with it risks of bacteria which are rendered harmless by baking, frying, or boiling. Consumers are reminded to wash their hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with raw dough products or flour, and to never eat raw dough or batter.

Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can cause illness. E. coli O121 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration. Seniors, the very young, and people with compromised immune systems are the most susceptible to foodborne illnesses.

Any consumers concerned about an illness should contact a physician. Anyone diagnosed by a physician as having an illness related to E. coli O121 is also urged to contact state public health authorities.

Recall products should be thrown away. Consumers who have additional questions or who want to request replacements should contact General Mills at 800-230-8103. Additional recall information can also be found at www.generalmills.com/flour.

Granola and Granola Bars Recalled By Kashi and Quaker Oats

06-02-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising consumers that Kashi Company and Quaker Oats Company are recalling products because of potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

Kashi is recalling Trail Mix Chewy Granola Bars and Bear Naked Soft Baked Granola: Cinnamon + Sunflower Butter with specific UPC codes and best-by dates. Quaker Oats is recalling Quaker Quinoa Granola Bars with specific UPC codes and best-by dates. All of the recalled products contain sunflower seeds from the supplier SunOpta, which could have been contaminated.

Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Consumers who have purchased these products should discard them. Kashi customers with questions should call 1-877-747-2467 for more information. Quaker Oats customers with questions should call 1-800-856-5781 for more information.

RIDOH Streamlines Process for Initial Licensure for Nurses Through Lean Government Initiative

06-06-2016

As a part of larger efforts across state government to make services more efficient, effective, and customer-oriented, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) has replaced its paper-based application process for initial licensure for nurses with a new online portal.

"To ensure that we retain and attract top-notch healthcare providers to Rhode Island, it is essential that we create a licensing environment that moves at the speed of business," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "By streamlining our process in this way, we will also be reducing costs and improving the quality of service by freeing up staff to assist potential licensees who have specific issues with their applications."

The change in RIDOH's system for initial licensure for nurses was undertaken as a part of Rhode Island's "Lean Government Initiative." In April, 2015, Governor Gina M. Raimondo signed an Executive Order creating the initiative to foster innovation and promote a culture of continuous improvement. Lean is a business process improvement method that leads to the elimination of waste while focusing on added value and efficiency.

RIDOH began piloting the new system for initial licensure for nurses in mid-April 2016. A nurse applicant can now create a personal account and check on the status of his or her application. Once an application is approved, an e-mail notification goes to the applicant with a certificate-sized copy of his or her license, along with a wallet-sized version.

"Our Community College of Rhode Island nursing graduates now have the opportunity to complete their initial application for licensure as a Registered Nurse online," said Hilary Jansson, PhD, RN, Interim Assistant Dean, Nurse Education, Community College of Rhode Island. "We are pleased that the Rhode Island Department of Health is utilizing technology to facilitate the entrance of nursing graduates into the healthcare workforce."

Within RIDOH's Center for Professional Licensing, which is part of the Division of Customer Services at the Department, the process for initial licensure for nurses was the first to be streamlined through the Lean Initiative because of the high volume of applications received. However, RIDOH is working to make services more efficient and effective throughout the Center for Professional Licensing, the Division of Customer Services, and the entire Department. An RIDOH Customer Service Improvement Strategy has been developed to ensure the efficient, courteous, and clear delivery of public health services to Rhode Islanders, with a focus on quality and safety. Examples include:

- Conducting surveys with food business owners to learn how food inspectors can better help owners create safe, healthy environments for their customers and employees;

- Streamlining the application review process to improve the customer experience when a retail food business applies for a license, and streamlining the investigations process for restaurants, all in the Center for Food Protection;

- Establishing a Training Officer to centralize and enhance the training provided to owners and operators of public water systems; and

- Ensuring an efficient, effective, and responsive complaint and investigations system for professional license holders and healthcare facilities.

More information about Rhode Island's Lean Initiative is available online.

RIDOH Releases Monthly Accidental Drug Overdose Death Data

06-07-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is releasing the latest data today on confirmed accidental drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island. The data are from January 1, 2015 through May 31, 2016. The data are available by clicking the link below.

RIDOH and RIDEM Lift Public Health Advisory on Scott Pond in Lincoln

06-21-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are lifting the public health advisory that had been put in place for Scott Pond in Lincoln because of a cyanobacteria bloom.

The cyanobacteria bloom was identified in April. Samples taken at the pond by the Town of Lincoln on May 31st and June 14th indicate that the cyanobacteria bloom has subsided. Contact with and recreational activities on the pond may now be resumed.

Cyanobacteria blooms (or blue-green algae, as they are sometimes called) affect freshwater lakes and ponds throughout the state each year. Rhode Islanders should avoid contact with water that is bright green, either on or beneath the surface, as well as water that has dense, floating algal mats on the surface. Water with cyanobacteria blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup. The public can report cyanobacteria blooms to DEM by calling 401-222-4700.

Cyanobacteria have the potential to form the naturally occurring algal toxins Microcystin and Anatoxin. These toxins can harm humans and animals. Skin rashes and irritation of the nose, eyes, and/or throat are common side effects that result from contact with water containing algal toxins. If water containing algal toxins is ingested, health effects may include stomachache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Young children and pets are at greater risk than adults because are more likely to drink contaminated water. Other health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage.

People who experience these symptoms and have been swimming or fishing in water with a suspected bloom, or who have been drinking untreated water from a waterbody with a suspected bloom, should contact their healthcare providers. People observing pets exhibiting adverse health symptoms after contact with potentially affected water should contact their veterinarians. People that come into contact with potentially affected water should rinse their skin with clean water as soon as possible, and wash their clothes.

RIDOH Urges Rhode Islanders to Get Tested on National HIV Testing Day - Free and Low-Cost Tests Available at Multiple Locations

06-23-2016

As a part of efforts to build healthier, thriving communities across Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is joining leading HIV prevention organizations in urging Rhode Islanders between 13 and 64 years of age to get tested at one of four free or low-cost HIV testing events on June 27th, National HIV Testing Day.

"All Rhode Islanders deserve the opportunity to live a healthy, productive life - yet in Rhode Island, approximately 280 people are living with HIV and don't know it. These HIV testing events are perfect opportunities for every Rhode Island teenager and adult to learn his or her HIV status and, if need be, get connected to vital medical care," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "Testing is particularly important in the communities where we see higher rates of HIV, such as in the community of men who have sex with men, among African Americans, and among Latinos."

Everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 years old should be tested for HIV at least one time. People who have unprotected sex or who share injection drug paraphernalia should get tested at least once a year. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (for example, every 3 to 6 months).

The free or low-cost HIV testing events will be offered on June 27th at the following locations:

- AIDS Care Ocean State: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 557 Broad St., Providence. (Walk-in testing, no appointment necessary.)

- Crossroads RI: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.; 160 Broad St., Providence. (This testing site is run by AIDS Care Ocean State.)

- AIDS Project Rhode Island: 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; 9 Pleasant St., Providence. (Testing services are offered in Spanish and Portuguese too.)

- Project Renew Drop-In Center: 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.; 105 Dodge St., Providence. (This testing site is for high-risk women and is located in a basement office at the First Tabernacle Church. Enter in the rear of the building near the pink sign.)

In December 2015, RIDOH joined the international 90-90-90 campaign, which sets out ambitious testing and treatment targets for cities and states. The three targets are that by 2020, 90% of HIV-positive Rhode Islanders will know they are HIV positive, 90% of HIV-positive Rhode Islanders will be receiving treatment, and 90% of HIV-positive Rhode Islanders will have suppressed viral loads. Currently in Rhode Island, 89% of people infected with HIV know they are HIV-positive; 60% of people infected with HIV are getting treatment; and 56% of people infected with HIV have suppressed viral loads.

Rhode Island and Providence represent the first state-city 90-90-90 partnership. Other cities that have joined include Paris, Atlanta, Miami, and San Francisco.

"Last World AIDS Day, we pledged our support to the 90-90-90 campaign. Testing events such as the one we are hosting on June 27th are important steps in our work to reach those benchmarks, and to give all Rhode Islanders the chance to live long, healthy lives," said AIDS Project RI Executive Director Stephen Hourahan. "Testing is free, fast, and anonymous."

"A large number of persons with HIV are still undiagnosed, and the disease continues to spread. The importance of testing, and retesting cannot be over stressed," said AIDS Care Ocean State President/CEO Kenneth J. Mayer. "We have made great progress treating for HIV/AIDs, but without a safe and confidential method to identify those needing care, we cannot link people to treatment."

In 2015, there were 67 newly-identified cases of HIV in Rhode Island. In addition to men who have sex with men, African Americans, and Latinos, HIV rates are elevated among Hispanic Rhode Islanders and people who use injectable drugs. The count of 280 Rhode Islanders living with undiagnosed HIV is a projection generated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Across the United States, one in seven people who have HIV do not know they are infected.

Rhode Islanders who do not have primary care doctors, who do not have insurance, or who may not be able to afford testing costs may take advantage of free or low-cost HIV testing offered through RIDOH's year-round partnerships with community organizations. A listing of HIV testing sites is available online.

RIDOH, RIDEM Warn of Possible Rabies Exposure at Westerly Store

07-05-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are warning the public of possible exposure to rabies after an animal bit several customers at a Walmart in Westerly (258 Post Road) on July 4 between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Anyone who may have had any physical contact with a small black mammal (possibly a ferret, mink, or weasel) while inside the Westerly store, or in the immediate vicinity, should contact RIDOH for an assessment. During normal business hours, call 222-2577. Outside of normal business hours, call 272-5952.

At least two people were reportedly bitten by the animal. Neither has come forward to seek treatment. Because the animal was not tested, state officials are operating under the assumption that it could have rabies. The two individuals who were bitten, and others who may have had contact with the animal, are at risk of rabies exposure and should be evaluated.

Once symptoms appear, rabies is fatal in people and in animals. Rabies immunization must be started as soon as possible after exposure.

The public is reminded to always:

- Make sure all pet dogs, cats, and ferrets are up to date on rabies vaccinations (as is required by Rhode Island law).

- Avoid all contact with stray, wild, or free-roaming domestic animals, and avoid feeding these animals.

- Avoid feeding pets outdoors, as this will attract other animals (this is especially dangerous when feeding groups of free-roaming cats).

- Protect pets by controlling them (Dogs should be walked on leashes and kept in fenced yards. Do not let pets wander unsupervised).

- Report all animal bites to local city or town animal control officers.

- Securely cover all garbage cans so wild animals cannot scavenge for food.

For more information, visit www.health.ri.gov/diseases/rabies.

RIDOH & RIDEM Recommend Avoiding Contact with Melville Pond in Portsmouth

07-19-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are advising people to avoid contact with Melville Pond in Portsmouth because of a blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) bloom in the pond. Blue-green algae can produce toxins that can harm humans and animals.

People should not ingest water or eat fish from the pond. Because pets can be affected by exposure to algal toxins, owners should not allow pets to drink this water or swim in the water. This advisory will remain in effect until further notice. Because Melville Pond is not used for drinking water, Aquidneck Island's public drinking-water supply is not at risk.

Irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat are common side effects that result from contact with water containing algal toxins. If water containing algal toxins is ingested, health effects can include stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Young children and pets are at greater risk than adults, since they are more likely to drink contaminated water. Other health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. People who have been swimming in, or have otherwise been in contact with, Melville Pond and experience those symptoms should contact their healthcare providers.

Anyone who comes into contact with this water should rinse their skin with clean water as soon as possible, bathe, and wash their clothes. If a pet comes in contact with this water, the pet should be washed with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off of its fur. Call a veterinarian if the pet shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning, which include loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a few days of contact with the water.

Toxins may persist in the water after the blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

The public should avoid contact with any body of water in Rhode Island that is bright green or has a dense, floating algal mat on the water's surface. Blue-green algae blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup.

To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact Brian Zalewsky in RIDEM's Office of Water Resources (222-4700 ext. 7145; brian.zalewsky@dem.ri.gov) or Jane Sawyer (222-4700 ext. 2032 ; jane.sawyers@dem.ri.gov). If possible, send a photograph of the bloom.

RIDOH and DEM Recommend Avoiding Contact with Sisson Pond in Portsmouth

07-20-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are advising people to avoid contact with Sisson Pond in Portsmouth because of a blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) bloom in the pond. Blue-green algae can produce toxins that can harm humans and animals.

People should not ingest water or eat fish from the pond. Because pets can be affected by exposure to algal toxins, owners should not allow pets to drink this water or swim in the water. This advisory will remain in effect until further notice.

Irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat are common side effects that result from contact with water containing algal toxins. If water containing algal toxins is ingested, health effects can include stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Young children and pets are at greater risk than adults, since they are more likely to drink contaminated water. Other health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. People who have been swimming in, or have otherwise been in contact with, Sisson Pond and experience those symptoms should contact their healthcare providers.

Anyone who comes into contact with this water should rinse their skin with clean water as soon as possible, bathe, and wash their clothes. If a pet comes in contact with this water, the pet should be washed with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off of its fur. Call a veterinarian if the pet shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning, which include loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a few days of contact with the water.

Toxins may persist in the water after the blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

The public should avoid contact with any body of water in Rhode Island that is bright green or has a dense, floating algal mat on the water's surface. Blue-green algae blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup.

To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact Brian Zalewsky in RIDEM's Office of Water Resources (222-4700 ext. 7145; brian.zalewsky@dem.ri.gov) or Jane Sawyer (222-4700 ext. 2032 ; jane.sawyers@dem.ri.gov). If possible, send a photograph of the bloom.

###

RIDOH Urges Hepatitis C Testing For Baby Boomers

07-28-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) urges all Baby Boomers (people born in the United States between 1945 and 1965) who have not been previously tested for hepatitis C to do so at one of Rhode Island's free, confidential testing sites today on World Hepatitis Day.

Of the more than three million people in the United States who are living with hepatitis C, 75% were born between 1945 and 1965.

More information about the free, confidential testing sites is available online. Testing is available at these sites year round.

"Hepatitis C is a serious disease, but it is also absolutely curable through testing, early diagnosis, and treatment," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "Testing is especially important for Baby Boomers, who are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other older adults. To build healthy communities and a healthy Rhode Island, we need to address health disparities wherever they exist in the state, and give everyone the chance to live a long, full, productive life."

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Health impacts of hepatitis C can include liver damage, liver failure, and liver cancer. It results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus, which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis C can be either acute or chronic. Today, there are medications that can virtually cure hepatitis C.

In addition to encouraging testing for hepatitis C, RIDOH and RI Defeats Hep C are co-sponsoring a "C is For Cure" hepatitis C Waterfire on August 6th. Educational material and other resources will be available to help Rhode Islanders learn about the illness, as well as testing and prevention. This educational event will be complemented in the coming weeks by the release of a hepatitis C epidemiological profile by RIDOH and the Rhode Island Public Health Institute. This first comprehensive hepatitis C epidemiologic report for Rhode Island will include data on hospitalizations, mortality, Medicaid claims, testing, substance use, health disparities, and many other facets of hepatitis C.

Other people who should be tested, in addition to Baby Boomers, include anyone who:

- Currently injects drugs, or who has ever injected drugs, even once or a few times, in the past;

- Received clotting factor concentrates produced before 1987;

- Has ever had long-term hemodialysis;

- Has persistently abnormal alanine aminotransferace (ALT) levels;

- Has HIV infection;

- Has received blood transfusions or organ transplant(s) before July 1992;

- Has been notified they received blood from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis C; or

- Received a blood transfusion, blood components, or an organ transplant before July 1992.

Although high prices have prompted some health plans to restrict access to treatment to individuals with more advanced stages of hepatitis C, testing is still extremely important for Baby Boomers who have not been previously tested and for people who fit into one of the categories listed above. This is because without testing, people cannot know if they have hepatitis C in a more advanced stage. Often, people with later stage hepatitis C who may be a priority group for receiving treatment do not have symptoms.

More information about hepatitis C is available online.

RIDOH, Community Partners Celebrate New Community Health Worker Certification Program

08-05-2016

As part of statewide efforts to build healthier communities and help Rhode Islanders develop skills that matter for jobs that pay, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) today joined partners in government, higher education, and community organizations in celebrating new certification opportunities for Community Health Workers through the Rhode Island Certification Board. Community health workers are frontline, public health workers that often serve as a link between individuals or communities and needed health or social services.

"Health begins where we live, learn, work, and play, and Community Health Workers can play an essential role in addressing the social and environmental factors that make an individual, family, or community unhealthy," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "These new certification standards will help ensure that every Rhode Islander has access to high-quality health and wellness services in their communities. They will also help Community Health Workers develop and demonstrate their unique skills and pursue meaningful careers in healthcare."

The new professional credentialing process was made possible through a recently-formalized academic partnership between RIDOH and Rhode Island College (RIC). Through this collaboration, the Healthy Jobs for RI initiative at RIC will house Rhode Island's Community Health Worker Association (RICHWA), assist individuals who are seeking Community Health Worker certification, and lead workforce development initiatives.

"Rhode Island College is proud to be working collaboratively with government, business, education, and Rhode Island citizens to develop and implement programming that will create meaningful change both economically and socially," said RIC President Dr. Frank S'¡nchez.

The collaboration between RIDOH and RIC collaboration will enhance the work of the existing RICHWA.

"Through supporting certification, the State of Rhode Island joins with the Community Health Worker Association of Rhode Island in acknowledging the Community Health Worker as a vital part of the healthcare workforce," said Rhode Island Parent Information Network Director and CHWARI Advisory Board member Laura Jones. "With Healthy Jobs for RI support, the CHWARI will be re-established as the go-to organization for those interested in becoming a Community Health Worker."

In addition to the services provided through the Healthy Jobs for RI initiative, RIC will offer a Community Health Worker training program in Central Falls through the RIC Parent College. A listing of other training sites can be found on RIDOH's website at www.health.ri.gov/community/about/workers/.

"We're delighted Rhode Island has navigated the complex process of setting up a certification system, and that you listened to and addressed a variety of concerns during that process," said US Department of Health and Human Services Region I Health Administrator Betsy F. Rosenfeld, J.D. "It's necessary for creating a reimbursable labor force that will link clinical issues to community social determinants of health, and move the needle on health outcomes both for individuals and communities."

To be a certified Community Health Worker, applicants should possess education in nine separate modules on topics like individual and community assessment, public health concepts and approaches, promotion of health and wellbeing, and culturally and linguistically appropriate services. In addition to the formal classroom training, applicants must have completed six months (or 1,000 hours) of paid or volunteer work experience in the last five years and 50 hours of supervised work. Community Health Workers must be re-certified every two years and must complete 20 hours of continuing education.

For information on the Community Health Worker Certification Program or to apply for certification, visit http://www.health.ri.gov/communities/about/workers/

Hepatitis C-Associated Deaths, Hospitalizations Increasing in Rhode Island, According to New Report

08-11-2016

Rhode Island has seen a significant increase in hepatitis C virus-related hospitalizations and deaths in the last decade, underscoring the importance of diagnosis and treatment, according to a new report released today by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Public Health Institute (RIPHI).

"Building healthy communities and a healthy, thriving Rhode Island means working to eliminate infectious diseases such as hepatitis C," said Director of Health, Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "As the first comprehensive epidemiological profile of hepatitis C in Rhode Island, this report will be an invaluable tool in our work in the areas of hepatitis C prevention, testing, diagnosis, and treatment, which together will saves lives."

Some key findings of the report include:

- Hepatitis C-related deaths rose from 25 in 2005 to 102 in 2014, based on death certificate data, which may underreport hepatitis C-related deaths.

- The number of inpatient hospitalizations with a primary discharge diagnosis of hepatitis C increased six-fold between 2005 and 2014.

- Clinical and laboratory reports since 2009 suggest significant increases in hepatitis C diagnoses at hospital systems throughout Rhode Island, and screening data from both inpatient and outpatient clinical settings suggest that hepatitis C prevalence is much higher than previously estimated.

- The Rhode Island Department of Corrections has significantly increased its efforts in the areas of screening and treatment since 2013.

- Safe, highly effective hepatitis C medications are now available. These medications create an opportunity to reduce rates of hepatitis C and, cure the virus in a few weeks or months.

"The rise in hepatitis C-related death rates is alarming. However, the good news is, we have medications that can cure people living with hepatitis C," said Dr. Amy Nunn, Director of RIPHI. "The first step in curing Rhode Islanders of hepatitis C is screening. Both Baby Boomers and anyone who is at high risk, such as people who have used injection drugs or people who received blood transfusions prior to 1992, should ask their physicians to screen them for hepatitis C. People should then seek evaluation and treatment if they have hepatitis C ."

Hepatitis C virus can cause a liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks (acute hepatitis C) to a serious, lifelong illness (chronic hepatitis C). Health impacts of hepatitis C can include liver damage, liver failure, and liver cancer. This results from infection with the hepatitis C virus, which is spread through direct blood-to-blood contact with the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis C is the most common blood borne illness in the United States. Between 3 and 5 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C.

All Baby Boomers (people born in the United States between 1945 and 1965) who have not been previously tested for hepatitis C should do so at least once. Approximately 75% of the people who are living with hepatitis C in the United States were born between 1945 and 1965. This is because of high rates of transmission of hepatitis C between the 1950s to 1980s, before the discovery of hepatitis C in 1989. Most Baby Boomers were infected decades ago, do not believe themselves to be at risk, and have never been screened.

The increases in hospitalizations and deaths are partially attributable to the fact that, as Baby Boomers age, the illness is progressing in those who are infected and are unaware of their infection. The symptoms and health impacts of chronic hepatitis C are often not experienced until later in life. Increases in diagnoses may also be attributable to increased testing and increased use of injection drugs.

Other people who should be tested, in addition to Baby Boomers, include:

- People who have ever injected illegal drugs, including those who injected only once many years ago.

- People with a history of intranasal (through the nose, or snorting) drug use, including those who snorted only once many years ago. An example is snorting cocaine.

- All people with HIV infection.

- People who received clotting factor concentrates made before 1987.

- People who received a blood transfusion or solid organ transplants before 1992.

- People who have ever received long-term hemodialysis treatment.

- People with signs or symptoms of liver disease (e.g., abnormal liver enzyme blood tests).

- Children born to hepatitis C-infected mothers.

- People who received unsafe medical injections (steroids, for example).

People should see their primary care providers to get tested for hepatitis C.

Although high prices have prompted some health plans to restrict access to treatment to individuals with more advanced stages of hepatitis C, testing is still extremely important for Baby Boomers who have not been previously tested and for people who fit into one of the categories listed above. This is because without testing leading to diagnosis, people cannot know if they have hepatitis C. Often, even people with later stage hepatitis C, who may be a priority group for receiving treatment, do not have symptoms.

RIDOH is working closely with the Rhode Island Department of Corrections and with insurers, including Medicaid, to continue expanding access to hepatitis C treatment for Rhode Islanders who would benefit.

A copy of the complete report is available online.

RIDOH Launches Academic Center in Partnership with Brown's Newly Accredited School of Public Health

08-17-2016

Rhode Island now has two accredited public health entities- ”the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Brown University School of Public Health- ”which have launched a new academic partnership aimed at building healthy communities and creating a hub of public health research and innovation in Rhode Island.

This alliance makes RIDOH an "academic health department", or a teaching health department- ”the public health equivalent of a "teaching hospital" affiliation that formalizes the relationship between medical schools and hospitals.

The partnership is one outgrowth of the newly formed RIDOH Academic Center, which aims to ensure a highly skilled public health workforce focused on innovation, research, evaluation, quality improvement, and academic collaboration. The Academic Center, under development since Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH was appointed Director of Health, has four components: the Continuous Quality Improvement Program, which applies the continuous quality improvement training that staff engage in; the Workforce and Career Development Program, which aims to instill a culture of learning within the Department; the Public Health Education Academy, which formalizes partnerships with Rhode Island academic institutions and develops a cadre of Public Health Scholars; and the Public Health Research Laboratory, which will drive public health research to advance innovative public health outcomes.

"This new collaboration will allow us to develop, implement, and evaluate cutting-edge public health interventions that will help improve health outcomes and build healthier communities in every zip code in Rhode Island," said Dr. Alexander-Scott. "Good public health does not happen without research and collaboration. I'm proud to be entering into this partnership with the Brown University School of Public Health, and to establish a national model for partnerships between academic institutions and public health departments."

"The Brown University School of Public Health and RIDOH have worked side by side for the well-being of Rhode Islanders for many years as we strive together to improve population health. This new agreement strengthens our ties to better translate public health science into policy and delivery of services across the state," said Terrie Fox Wetle, MS, PhD, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

The partnership builds upon years of close cooperation and will include: research and evaluation collaboration, data exchanges, staff and faculty exchanges, public health job placement initiatives, teaching agreements, and technical assistance and consultation. In particular, the two agencies will:

- Co-lead the Public Health Academic Working Group that was established to place students in the RIDOH Academic Center's Public Health Scholars Program to work on pressing public health projects for academic credit;

- Promote opportunities for collaborative research with School of Public Health faculty and RIDOH staff;

- Refine the mechanisms for RIDOH staff to be reviewed for faculty appointments at the School of Public Health, and for School of Public Health faculty to participate on RIDOH committees and project teams; and

- Establish a centralized mechanism for sharing public health data and information, such as preventoverdoseri.org, which supports the work of Governor Gina M. Raimondo's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force to reduce overdose deaths by one-third in three years.

The School of Public Health was accredited recently in June by the Council on Education for Public Health, to join with RIDOH that was accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board in November 2015 to become the state's public health- accredited entities.

RIDOH and DEM Recommend Avoiding Contact with Watson Reservoir, North Easton Pond, Lawton Valley Reservoir, and Sisson Pond

08-19-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are advising people to avoid contact with Watson Reservoir in Little Compton, Lawton Valley Reservoir in Portsmouth, and North Easton Pond in Middletown because of blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) blooms in those ponds. An advisory issued earlier this summer for Sisson Pond in Portsmouth remains in effect.

Blue-green algae can produce toxins that can harm humans and animals. People should not ingest untreated water or eat fish from those ponds. Because pets can be affected by exposure to algal toxins, owners should not allow pets to drink this water or swim in the water. This advisory will remain in effect until further notice.

Contact with water containing cyanobacteria can cause irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat. If water containing algal toxins is ingested, health effects can include stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Young children and pets are at greater risk than adults, due to their size and because they are more likely to drink contaminated water. Other health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. People who have been swimming in, or have otherwise been in contact with, these ponds who experience symptoms should contact their healthcare providers.

Anyone who comes into contact with water from these ponds should rinse their skin with clean water as soon as possible, bathe, and wash their clothes. If a pet comes in contact with this water, the pet should be washed with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off of its fur. Call a veterinarian if the pet shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning, which include loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a few days of contact with the water.

Note that all of these reservoirs or ponds are drinking water sources maintained by Newport Water. Newport Water's primary goal is to provide safe drinking water for all of its customers. As the main drinking water supplier for the residents of Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth, Newport Water serves nearly 70,000 people.

Water that is treated to become drinking water comes from nine different surface reservoirs or ponds located on Aquidneck Island, in Tiverton, and in Little Compton all owned and maintained by Newport Water. Newport Water needs all residents and visitors on Aquidneck Island and in Tiverton and Little Compton to help protect these valuable drinking water supplies. State law prohibits both people and animals from swimming and bathing in ponds that are drinking water sources. In addition, Newport Water prohibits fishing, swimming, and boating in these reservoirs, as posted. (The only exception is that RIDEM allows recreational fishing from of St. Mary's Pond dam in Portsmouth when there is no cyanobacteria bloom and there are no other restrictions in place.) Newport Water announced earlier this summer that effective June 13th, St. Mary's Pond would be closed indefinitely to the public to allow crews to perform required maintenance and repairs to the pond's dam and spillway.

While public health advisories are currently in effect for Watson Reservoir, Lawton Valley Reservoir, North Easton Pond, and Sisson Pond, the other water supply ponds also routinely experience blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) blooms. Cyanobacteria blooms also occur in other waterbodies in the state. Most algae blooms occur in the summer and fall, but they can occur at any time of year.

The public should avoid contact with any body of water in Rhode Island that is bright green or has a dense, floating algal mat on the water's surface. Blue-green algae blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup. Toxins may persist in the water after a blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

Even when a cyanobacteria bloom is present in a pond, the treated water that Newport Water distributes to homes is safe. Treatment removes harmful bacteria, including cyanobacteria, before the water is delivered to customers. Newport Water follows all state and federal drinking water testing and monitoring requirements to ensure that treatment processes are working correctly and the water is safe to drink. Drinking untreated water from any pond at any time is not recommended.

To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact DEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-4700 or DEM.OWRCyano@dem.ri.gov.

Probable Blue-Green Algae Bloom in Warwick Pond

08-19-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are advising the public to avoid contact with Warwick Pond in Warwick due to a probable blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) bloom in the pond. Blue-green algae can release toxins that can harm humans and animals.

Pending test results, which are expected next week, people should be careful to not ingest water or eat fish from the pond. Because pets can also be affected by exposure to algal toxins, pet owners should not allow their animals to drink this water or swim in it.

Irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat are common side effects that result from contact with water containing algal toxins. If water containing algal toxins is ingested, health effects can include stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Young children and pets are at greater risk than adults, since they are more likely to drink contaminated water. Other health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. People who have been swimming in, or have otherwise been in contact with, Warwick Pond and experience those symptoms should contact their healthcare providers.

Anyone who comes into contact with this water should rinse their skin with clean water as soon as possible, bathe, and wash their clothes. If a pet comes in contact with this water, the pet should be washed with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off of its fur. Call a veterinarian if the pet shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning, which include loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a few days of contact with the water.

Toxins may persist in the water after the blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

The public should avoid contact with any body of water in Rhode Island that is bright green or has a dense, floating algal mat on the water's surface. Blue-green algae blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup.

To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact DEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-4700 or DEM.OWRCyano@dem.ri.gov. If possible, send a photograph of the suspected algae bloom.

RIDOH and RIDEM Confirm Algae Bloom in Warwick Pond

08-25-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are advising people to avoid contact with Warwick Pond in Warwick due to a confirmed blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) bloom in the pond.

Blue-green algae can produce cyanotoxins which can harm humans and animals. A preliminary advisory about a probable blue-green algae bloom at the pond was issued last week.

People should be careful not to swim in, ingest water or eat fish from Warwick Pond and should not allow pets to drink or swim in the pond water. Young children and pets are more at risk to algal toxins than adults, since they are smaller and are more likely to drink contaminated water.

Irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and or throat may result from skin contact with blue-green algae. Ingestion of water containing algal toxins may cause stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Other possible health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. People who have been swimming in or otherwise in contact with Warwick Pond and experience those symptoms should contact their healthcare providers.

If you come into contact with the water, rinse your skin with clean water as soon as possible and, when you get home, take a shower and wash your clothes. Similarly, if your pet comes in contact with the water, immediately wash your pet off with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off of its fur. Call a veterinarian if your animal shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning, which include loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a day or so after being in contact with water. People are cautioned that toxins may persist in the water after the blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

It is possible that blue-green algae blooms may be affecting other areas of Rhode Island. People are advised to avoid contact with waters that exhibit the following conditions: bright green coloration in the water or at the water surface and/or dense floating algal mats that form on the water's surface. The water may look like green paint, thick pea soup, or green cottage cheese. To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact DEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-4700 or DEM.OWRCyano@dem.ri.gov and if possible, send a photograph of the reported algae bloom.

Fentanyl-related Drug Overdoses Continue to Cause Deaths in RI

09-01-2016

New overdose death data from the spring and reports from overdose survivors indicate that Rhode Island remains in the midst of a fentanyl-use crisis that is increasingly claiming victims who are unaware that the cocaine or heroin they have purchased has been altered with the synthetic drug.

"Fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more lethal than heroin. Fentanyl kills and it kills quickly, often only moments after someone has snorted or injected a quantity the size of the head of a match," said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH). "Governor Raimondo's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force has helped make recovery resources available throughout the state. Anyone who is using drugs should come forward and ask for help. Addiction is a disease, but recovery is possible."

There have been 150 overdose deaths thus far in 2016. Last May, RIDOH used preliminary data to report a spike in those overdose deaths related to fentanyl. The confirmed causes of death in those incidents now reveal that in April, May, and June, fentanyl was involved in roughly 70%, 61%, and 67% of overdose deaths respectively. These numbers are significantly higher than in 2015, when roughly 47% of the 258 overdose deaths were related to fentanyl.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a warning about the influx of fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills and carfentanil, an extremely potent form of fentanyl. Although carfentanil has yet to be identified in Rhode Island, state officials remain vigilant.

An important part of Rhode Island's response to the overdose crisis is expanding access to naloxone. Naloxone is rescue medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose. Additional doses of naloxone are often needed when responding to fentanyl-related overdoses (in some cases, three or four doses are required). Anyone who lives with or spends time with someone who uses drugs should have naloxone on hand. Naloxone is available at CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and many community pharmacies. No prescription is required and many pharmacists offer free training on how to use it.

At the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI), five inmates survived near fatal overdoses since April after using substances potentially laced with fentanyl without their knowledge. All five individuals were revived because of the availability of naloxone and the excellent response of ACI staff who were well trained on the administration of the rescue medication. The fiscal year 2017 budget passed by the General Assembly includes $2 million in funding advocated for by Governor Gina M. Raimondo to expand the use of medication-assisted treatment in the state prisons, whose population is among the most vulnerable to overdose.

As part of its work to reduce overdose deaths in Rhode Island by one-third within three years, Raimondo's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force has taken many steps to address Rhode Island's overdose and fentanyl-use epidemics. These include:

- Launching a statewide multimedia campaign, which includes a new website and recovery support line (942-STOP).

- Developing and distributing educational materials warning people who use illicit drugs about the dangers of fentanyl.

- Connecting people who have overdosed with a recovery coach and recovery services before being discharged from hospital emergency departments.

- Educating and training correctional officers, other staff, and inmates at the ACI on naloxone use, as well as equipping staff and correctional officers with naloxone (as well as inmates, upon discharge).

- Offering education sessions to inmates on the dangers of fentanyl use, and the dangers of relapse upon discharge.

- Establishing the infrastructure to begin offering medication-assisted treatment at the ACI, which

- Conducting visits to physicians' offices to increase usage of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and providing prescribing profiles to high-prescribing physicians.

- Working to expand the number of physicians throughout the state who are waivered to offer medication-assisted treatment.

Anyone who is using drugs can call 942-STOP to get treatment and recovery support. The phone line is staffed by licensed chemical dependency counselors and is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. Support is available in English and Spanish.

RIDOH Approves Affiliation Between Westerly Hospital and Yale-New Haven Health Services

09-01-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) announced today the approval, with conditions, of the proposed affiliation between Westerly Hospital (LMW Healthcare) and Yale-New Haven Health Services Corporation.

"We looked very closely at the application and issued a decision with a series of patient- and community-focused conditions," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "Our top priorities are ensuring that Rhode Islanders have access to high-quality health services and care in every zip code throughout the state and ensuring the health and sustainability of our state's healthcare system as a whole."

RIDOH accepted an affiliation application from the organizations on June 11, 2016. A public meeting about the affiliation was held in Westerly on August 2, 2016.

Some of the conditions of the decision include that the new hospital must:

  • Submit a plan for the delivery of primary care within an integrated healthcare delivery system for physical (including oral health) and behavioral health (including mental health and substance use) in the new hospital's service area;

  • Submit a plan to address the social and environmental factors within the new hospital's service area that affect people's health (for example, through coordination with RIDOH's Health Equity Zone initiative);
  • Ensure access to services for all patients without discrimination, including payment source or ability to pay;

  • Participate in interventions to improve the safety of opioid prescribing and expand medication-assisted treatment and services to address the overdose epidemic;

  • Submit a plan to RIDOH for the development of relationships with local tribal nations; and

  • Make the CurrentCare data available at all clinical sites.

In addition to this Hospital Conversion Act approval signed by Dr. Alexander-Scott, she also accepted the unanimous recommendation of the Health Services Council to approve the Change in Effective Control application submitted by the two organizations. The Health Services Council is a group that advises RIDOH on healthcare facility licensing reviews. For the affiliation to move forward, both the Hospital Conversion Act and Change in Effective Control applications needed approval (along with approval from the Rhode Island Attorney General).

Both the Hospital Conversion Act and Change in Effective Control decisions are available online.

RIDOH and RIDEM Recommend Avoiding Contact with St. Mary's and South Easton Ponds

09-12-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are advising people to avoid contact with St. Mary's Pond in Portsmouth and South Easton Pond in Middletown because of blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) blooms in those ponds.

Blue-green algae can produce toxins that can harm humans and animals. People should not ingest untreated water or eat fish from those ponds. Because pets can be affected by exposure to algal toxins, owners should not allow pets to drink this water or swim in the water. This advisory will remain in effect until further notice.

Contact with water containing cyanobacteria can cause irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat. If water containing algal toxins is ingested, health effects can include stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Young children and pets are at greater risk than adults, due to their size and because they are more likely to drink contaminated water. Other health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. People who have been swimming in, or have otherwise been in contact with, these ponds who experience symptoms should contact their healthcare providers.

Anyone who comes into contact with water from these ponds should rinse their skin with clean water as soon as possible, bathe, and wash their clothes. If a pet comes in contact with this water, the pet should be washed with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off of its fur. Call a veterinarian if the pet shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning, which include loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a few days of contact with the water.

These ponds are drinking water sources maintained by Newport Water. However, even when a cyanobacteria bloom is present in a pond, the treated water that Newport Water distributes to homes is safe. Treatment removes harmful bacteria, including cyanobacteria, before the water is delivered to customers. Newport Water follows all state and federal drinking water testing and monitoring requirements to ensure that treatment processes are working correctly and the water is safe to drink.

Water that is treated to become drinking water comes from nine different surface reservoirs or ponds located on Aquidneck Island, in Tiverton, and in Little Compton, all owned and maintained by Newport Water. State law prohibits both people and animals from swimming and bathing in ponds that are drinking water sources. In addition, Newport Water prohibits fishing, swimming, and boating in these reservoirs, as posted. (The only exception is that RIDEM allows recreational fishing from of St. Mary's Pond dam in Portsmouth when there is no cyanobacteria bloom and there are no other restrictions in place.)

The public should avoid contact with any body of water in Rhode Island that is bright green or has a dense, floating algal mat on the water's surface. Blue-green algae blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup. Toxins may persist in the water after a blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact RIDEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-4700.

RIDOH and RIDEM Advise Avoiding Contact with Mashapaug Pond

09-16-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are advising people to avoid contact with Mashapaug Pond in Providence due to a blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) bloom in the pond.

Blue-green algae can produce toxins that can harm humans and animals. People should not ingest untreated water or eat fish from those ponds. Because pets can be affected by exposure to algal toxins, owners should not allow pets to drink this water or swim in the water. This advisory will remain in effect until further notice.

Contact with water containing cyanobacteria can cause irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat. If water containing algal toxins is ingested, health effects can include stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Young children and pets are at greater risk than adults, due to their size and because they are more likely to drink contaminated water. Other health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. People who have been swimming in, or have otherwise been in contact with, these ponds who experience symptoms should contact their healthcare providers.

Anyone who comes into contact with water from these ponds should rinse their skin with clean water as soon as possible, bathe, and wash their clothes. If a pet comes in contact with this water, the pet should be washed with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off of its fur. Call a veterinarian if the pet shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning, which include loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a few days of contact with the water.

It is possible that blue-green algae blooms may be affecting other waterbodies in Rhode Island. The public should avoid contact with any body of water in Rhode Island that is bright green or has a dense, floating algal mat on the water's surface. Blue-green algae blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup. Toxins may persist in the water after a blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact RIDEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-4700 or DEM.OWRCyano@dem.ri.gov.

RIDOH Reports First Human Case of West Nile Virus in 2016

09-21-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) received confirmation September 20 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the first human case of West Nile Virus (WNV) in Rhode Island in 2016. A 49-year-old Pawtucket resident was diagnosed with meningoencephalitis caused by WNV on August 12th and was admitted to Rhode Island Hospital that same day. The individual left the hospital on August 23rd after recovering. (Initial WNV test results had to be confirmed by additional testing from CDC.)

"Although we continue to hear about Zika virus in Florida, Rhode Islanders should be aware of other mosquito-borne illnesses as well, such as West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "Anyone who spends time outside should protect themselves from mosquito bites and prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Enjoy all of our state's natural beauty, but be sure to protect yourself and your family at home and when traveling elsewhere."

Protect yourself

Put screens on windows and doors. Fix screens that are loose or have holes.

At sunrise and sundown (when mosquitoes that carry WNV or EEE are most active), minimize outside activities. If you must be outside, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and use bug spray.

Use EPA-approved bug spray with one of the following active ingredients: DEET (20-30% strength); picaridin, IR3535; and oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthan-diol. Always read the label and follow all directions and precautions.

Do not use bug spray with DEET on infants under two months of age. Children should be careful not to rub their eyes after bug spray has been applied on their skin. Wash children's hands with soap and water to remove any bug spray when they return indoors.

Put mosquito netting over playpens and baby carriages.

Get rid of mosquito breeding grounds

Get rid of anything around your house and yard that collects water. Just one cup of water can produce hundreds of mosquitoes; an unused tire containing water can produce thousands of mosquitoes.

Clean your gutters and down spouts so that they can drain properly.

Remove any water from unused swimming pools, wading pools, boats, planters, trash and recycling bins, tires, and anything else that collects water, and cover them.

Change the water in birdbaths at least two times a week, and rinse out birdbaths once a week.

Encourage your neighbors, friends, and family do the same things.

RI Achieves 100% Enrollment in Prescription Drug Monitoring Program

09-29-2016

One hundred percent of healthcare providers who are authorized to prescribe opioids and other potent medications are now enrolled in the state's prescription drug monitoring database, marking an important step in Rhode Island's work to prevent overdose deaths, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) announced today.

Known as the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), this statewide database allows healthcare providers to see what controlled-substance prescriptions are being filled for their patients. In addition to preventing over-prescribing, the PDMP helps prevent drug diversion and unsafe combinations of prescribed medications. Increasing enrollment in and utilization of the database is a key target in Governor Gina M. Raimondo's overdose action plan, which aims to reduce overdose deaths by a third within three years.

"To save lives from drug overdose, we have to support safer prescribing practices," said Raimondo. "Achieving 100% enrollment in our Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is an important milestone, and we will continue to set the bar high to ensure that providers on the frontlines of Rhode Island's overdose crisis are actively using the system to keep their patients safe."

In addition to prescribers, the PDMP is used by pharmacists when filling prescriptions. Legislation from 2014 requires all prescribers of controlled substances to register for the PDMP; however, before RIDOH initiated a PDMP Education, Notification, and Enforcement Plan in January 2016, only approximately 40% of prescribers had done so. Through increased training and staff visits to practices, RIDOH helped boost enrollment to 100%.

"The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is an indispensable tool in the fight against the epidemic of overdose in Rhode Island," said Director of Health and Overdose Task Force Co-Chair Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "It helps to prevent over-prescribing and promotes better coordination among healthcare providers throughout the state to ensure that patients with chronic health needs continue to get the treatment they need in a way that is as safe as possible."

In addition to ensuring all eligible users are enrolled in the PDMP, RIDOH is working to enhance the tool to make it easier for users to integrate it into their current practice and support better patient care. Rhode Island's PDMP is now connected to similar databases in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and seven other states, and prescribers will soon automatically be notified about potentially risky prescribing behaviors by any prescriber treating their patients. RIDOH is also working with practices to help connect the PDMP to patients' electronic health records.

RIDOH is now focusing efforts on increasing utilization of the PDMP to ensure compliance with 2016 legislation that requires prescribers to check the PDMP before initiating an opioid prescription and every three months while the patient is prescribed opioids. Only 24% of prescribers are currently running patient reports in the PDMP. To increase utilization, RIDOH is visiting the offices of prescribers with the highest prescribing rates to educate them on the new legislation and the value of the PDMP. RIDOH has also developed a customized prescriber profile that compares providers' prescribing patterns to state averages, demonstrates PDMP utilization rates, and indicates when patients have been to five different prescribers and/or five different pharmacists in a six-month period, an indication of possible drug diversion.

At least 171 people have died of drug overdoses in 2016. In 2015, 258 Rhode Islanders died of drug overdoses.

Blue-Green Algae Blooms in Cunliff Lake, Elm Lake and the Japanese Gardens in Roger Williams Park

09-30-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are advising people to avoid contact with Cunliff Lake, Elm Lake, and the Japanese Gardens, all in Roger Williams Park in Providence, due to blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria) blooms in those bodies of water.

Blue-green algae can produce toxins that can harm humans and animals. People should not ingest untreated water or eat fish from these bodies of water. Because pets can be affected by exposure to algal toxins, owners should not allow pets to drink this water or swim in the water. This advisory will remain in effect until further notice.

Contact with water containing cyanobacteria can cause irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat. If water containing algal toxins is ingested, health effects can include stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Young children and pets are at greater risk than adults, due to their size and because they are more likely to drink contaminated water. Other health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. People who have been swimming in, or have otherwise been in contact with, these ponds who experience symptoms should contact their healthcare providers.

Anyone who comes into contact with water from these ponds should rinse their skin with clean water as soon as possible, bathe, and wash their clothes. If a pet comes in contact with this water, the pet should be washed with clean water. Do not let the animal lick algae off of its fur. Call a veterinarian if the pet shows any symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning, which include loss of energy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a few days of contact with the water.

It is possible that blue-green algae blooms may be affecting other waterbodies in Rhode Island. The public should avoid contact with any body of water in Rhode Island that is bright green or has a dense, floating algal mat on the water's surface. Blue-green algae blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup. Toxins may persist in the water after a blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact RIDEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-4700 or DEM.OWRCyano@dem.ri.gov.

RIDOH Launches Flu Vaccination Campaign with State House Kick-Off

10-04-2016

At a packed kick-off event today for the state's annual flu vaccination campaign, Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), urged all Rhode Islanders to keep themselves and their family members safe this year by being vaccinated against the flu.

"A flu shot is the single most effective way for every Rhode Islander to protect against the flu. Getting a flu shot this year will help you stay at work, stay in school, and stay at the top of your game!" said Dr. Alexander-Scott. "Part of building healthy communities and a thriving Rhode Island is ensuring that everyone has access to immunizations and other important preventive care. Even if you don't have health insurance or can't afford a flu shot, there are clinics in Rhode Island where you can get vaccinated for free."

Everyone older than six months of age should get vaccinated against the flu every year. Vaccination is important every year because flu viruses change. By being vaccinated, you are not only protecting yourself; you are also protecting your family members, friends, co-workers, and everyone else in your life by helping to prevent the spread of the flu.

The flu is a serious virus that keeps many people in bed for at least a week. Symptoms of the flu can include body aches, a headache, chills, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea. Last year, the flu sent 512 Rhode Islanders to the hospital and resulted in seven deaths. Approximately 56% of the state was vaccinated last year. This was second only to South Dakota, where 57% of residents were vaccinated.

In addition to Dr. Alexander-Scott, other speakers at the State House event included Women & Infants Health Care Alliance Chairman and Women's Care President and CEO Pablo Rodriguez, M.D.; and Rhode Islander Cathy Sousa. Cathy Sousa lost her daughter to H1N1 influenza in 2009.

"My husband Lou and I want to encourage everyone to get a flu shot," Sousa said. "We lost our precious 12-year-old daughter, Victoria, to the H1N1 flu virus in 2009. She was a perfectly healthy, athletic girl with absolutely no health issues. We don't want what happened to our family to happen to other families when there is a very simple solution to help prevent this. Please get vaccinated. There is no down side."

Although doctors recommend flu shots for everyone older than six months of age, flu shots are especially important for the elderly, young children, healthcare workers, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions. Examples of chronic medical conditions include diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and asthma.

Only injectable flu vaccine will be available this flu season. There have been indications in years past that the nasal spray, or "Flumist," was not as effective as injectable flu vaccine. Until studies on the effectiveness of nasal spray vaccine are complete, nasal spray vaccine will not be available.

Rhode Islanders can be vaccinated against the flu by their doctors, at pharmacies, at school clinics, and at community clinics. Most evening school clinics are open to the entire community. The list of community clinics is available online at www.health.ri.gov/flu

To coincide with today's media event, RIDOH has also kicked off a statewide communications campaign in English and Spanish encouraging all Rhode Islanders older than six months of age to be vaccinated against the flu. The campaign is running on Facebook, RIPTA buses, and radio stations.

For more information about the flu and flu clinics, including clinics where people can be vaccinated if they don't have insurance or cannot afford a shot, call 401-222-5960 / RI Relay 711.

Shellfish Harvested in Wellfleet, Massachusetts Recalled: Recall unrelated to the shellfish harvesting closure in Narragansett Bay

10-14-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising consumers that shellfish beds in Wellfleet, Massachusetts have been closed due to suspected norovirus illnesses believed to be linked to the consumption of shellfish from that area.

This closure is unrelated to the shellfish harvesting closure in Narragansett Bay, which was prompted by the presence of harmful algae.

Public health officials in Massachusetts received reports of approximately 75 suspect cases of norovirus over the past two days, primarily associated with eating raw shellfish at weddings and restaurants in the Outer Cape Cod area. Officials in Massachusetts are instructing businesses to recall any affected shellfish that was harvested on or after September 26, 2016.

Norovirus is easily spread through food, person-to-person contact, or through contact with contaminated surfaces such as countertops or door knobs. The viruses can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Other symptoms may include headache, fever, chills and muscle aches. Illness from norovirus lasts for one or two days for most people. The elderly, the very young, and people with weakened immune systems are at risk for more serious illness.

People should not eat shellfish from Wellfleet, Massachusetts that was harvested or purchased on or after September 26, 2016. This includes oysters, hard-shell clams ("quahogs"), soft-shell clams ("steamers"), mussels and razor clams. If you are unsure where shellfish was harvested, contact the retailer or restaurant where the product was purchased.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of norovirus, or are caring for someone who is, should practice good hand washing with warm, soapy water to prevent further spread of the illness. After episodes of vomiting or diarrhea, be sure to clean contaminated surfaces immediately with a bleach-based household cleaner and wash hands thoroughly afterwards.

More information about norovirus is available online at http://www.health.ri.gov/diseases/food/?parm=73.

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RIDOH Expands Eligibility for Follow-Up Breast Cancer Services

10-25-2016

The eligibility criteria for financial assistance for breast cancer follow-up services in Rhode Island have been expanded to include some insured women, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) announced today in a move intended to increase access to care amid a shifting health insurance landscape.

The expansion will make these services available to insured women whose incomes fall beneath a certain level. A donation from the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation made this change possible.

"With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, more Rhode Islanders have health insurance to cover breast cancer services. But many women struggle to get recommended follow-up services after an abnormal finding because high co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses start to kick in," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "I want to thank the Gloria Gemma Foundation for their generous donation, and for more than a decade of work to expand access to quality health services and care for Rhode Islanders in every zip code throughout the state."

With support from the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, RIDOH has already provided more than 38,000 uninsured or underinsured women with breast and cervical cancer screenings and follow-up services.

"We know how important the Rhode Island Department of Health's Women's Cancer Screening Program is to women in Rhode Island, and we are pleased to be able to help get vital follow-up services to as many people as possible," said Maria Gemma, the Executive Director of the Gloria Gemma Foundation Breast Cancer Resource Foundation.

Examples of breast cancer follow-up services include diagnostic breast imaging, breast ultrasounds, breast biopsy procedures, and lab work related to biopsies.

Financial assistance for breast cancer follow-up services is now available to insured women whose incomes are not more than four times the federal poverty level. (This is sometimes described as being below 400% of the federal poverty level.) For example, a woman with a family size of two is below 400% of the federal poverty level if her family income does not exceed $64,080.

This new funding will enhance RIDOH's Women's Cancer Screening Program, which already provides breast and cervical cancer services to uninsured women whose incomes are not more than two and a half times the federal poverty level (which is sometimes described as being below 250% of the federal poverty level). For example, a woman with a family size of two is below 250% of the federal poverty level if her family income does not exceed $40,050.

The most recent contribution from the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation to RIDOH's Women's Cancer Screening Program was $7,580. The Foundation has been providing funding to RIDOH's Women's Cancer Screening Program annually through the sale of Ribbon of Hope breast cancer awareness license plates. The funding helps the Women's Cancer Screening Program provide services to women from age 40 to 49 years of age. This funding is an important complement to the funding received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Anyone who has questions about eligibility and or who is interested in this service can call 401-222-4324. Staff are available to answer questions in English and Spanish. More information about the Women's Cancer Screening Program is available online.

Update from RIDOH and RIDEM on Health Advisories on Rhode Island Bodies of Water

11-16-2016

Health advisories lifted for five bodies of water

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are lifting today the public health advisories on Warwick Pond in Warwick, North Easton and South Easton Ponds in Middletown, and two lakes in Roger William Park in Providence - Cunliff Lake and Elm Lake.

Advisories for these waterbodies were put in place in August and September due to the presence of blue-green algae blooms, also known as cyanobacteria.

Contact with and recreational activities on Warwick Pond, Cunliff Lake, and Elm Lake may now be resumed. Since Rhode Island law prohibits people and animals from swimming and bathing in ponds that are drinking water sources, those activities are not allowed in North Easton and South Easton Ponds, which are owned and operated by Newport Water. In addition, Newport Water prohibits fishing, swimming, and boating in these reservoirs, as posted.

Other health advisories remain in place, and new health advisories put in place

Because of the continued presence of cyanobacteria, health advisories remain in place for Mashapaug Pond and the Roger Williams Park Japanese Gardens in Providence; Melville Pond, Sisson Pond, St. Mary's Pond, and Lawton Valley Reservoir, all in Portsmouth; and Watson Reservoir in Little Compton.

Health advisories are also being issued for Pleasure, Polo, and Willow Lakes in Roger Williams Park in Providence and Paradise Pond in Middletown as a result of newly confirmed cyanobacteria blooms.

General information about cyanobacteria and Newport Water

Cyanobacteria can produce toxins that are harmful to humans and animals. Contact with water containing cyanobacteria can cause irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat. Ingestion of water containing cyanobacterial toxins can cause stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Other health effects, which are rarer, include dizziness, headache, fever, liver damage, and nervous system damage. Young children and pets are at greater risk than adults, due to their size and because they are more likely to drink contaminated water.

Five of the waterbodies affected by ongoing cyanobacteria blooms (Sisson Pond, St. Mary's Pond, Lawton Valley Reservoir, Watson Reservoir, and Paradise Ponds) are drinking water sources maintained by Newport Water. Even when a cyanobacteria bloom is present in its source reservoirs, the treated water that Newport Water distributes to homes is safe. Treatment removes harmful bacteria, including cyanobacteria, before the water is delivered to customers. Newport Water follows all state and federal drinking water testing and monitoring requirements to ensure that treatment processes are working correctly and the water is safe to drink. Drinking untreated water from any pond at any time is not recommended.

Newport Water treats water from nine different surface reservoirs or ponds located on Aquidneck Island, in Tiverton, and in Little Compton. Residents and visitors on Aquidneck Island and in Tiverton and Little Compton can help protect these valuable drinking water supplies by adhering to prohibitions on swimming and other recreational activities on these reservoirs, as posted. While public health advisories are currently in effect for these five reservoirs, the other Newport Water supply ponds also routinely experience cyanobacteria blooms. Most blooms occur in the summer and fall, but they can occur at any time of year.

The public is reminded to avoid contact with any body of water in Rhode Island that is bright green or has a dense, floating algal mat on the water's surface. Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup. Toxins may persist in the water after a blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible.

People who experience the symptoms associated with cyanobacteria exposure and who have been swimming or fishing in water, or drinking untreated water from a waterbody with a confirmed or suspected cyanobacteria bloom, should contact their healthcare providers. People who come into contact with potentially affected waters should rinse their skin and wash their clothes with clean water as soon as possible. People observing pets exhibiting adverse health symptoms after contact with potentially affected waters should contact their veterinarians. Pets who have come in contact with potentially affected waters should not be allowed to lick water off their fur and should be rinsed with clean water as soon as possible.

To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact RIDEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-4700 or DEM.OWRCyano@dem.ri.gov.

RIDOH, EOHHS, and Community Partners Working Toward Ambitious HIV Targets

12-01-2016

As a part of work to ensure that all Rhode Islanders with HIV have the opportunity to live long, full, productive lives, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) continue to coordinate closely with community partners throughout the state to meet aggressive HIV targets by 2020.

Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, provided an update on this work, which is known as the 90-90-90 Campaign, at a state house event today, World AIDS Day.

"Despite the progress that we have made over the last three decades, stigma and discrimination are still realities for people living with HIV. To combat this, we are putting HIV front and center, not just on World AIDS Day, but 365 days a year through a strategic campaign that is getting resources to the places where they are needed most," said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. "The 90-90-90 Campaign is an innovative, data-driven approach that is building healthier communities and a healthier Rhode Island."

The three targets of the 90-90-90 Campaign are that by 2020, 90% of all HIV-infected Rhode Islanders will know their HIV status, 90% of all HIV-infected Rhode Islanders will be in care and receiving treatment, and 90% of all HIV-infected Rhode Islanders will have suppressed viral loads. Early diagnosis and treatment of people living with HIV promotes healthy living and prevents transmission to others.

"The goals of the 90-90-90 Campaign are ambitious and aggressive," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "It truly takes a village to achieve success. In Rhode Island, we are fortunate to have so many amazing clinical and community partners on our team who work every day to help Rhode Island achieve 90-90-90."

With the signatures of Governor Raimondo, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, and Dr. Alexander-Scott, Rhode Island and Providence became the first state-city partnership to join the International 90-90-90 Campaign in December 2015.

90-90-90 Goal 1: Know HIV status

Estimates indicate that there are 280 Rhode Islanders who do not know they are HIV-infected. RIDOH funds several community agencies to provide free and anonymous rapid HIV testing. As of November 15th, RIDOH partners at AIDS Care Ocean State, AIDS Project Rhode Island, and Project Weber have conducted 1,750 rapid HIV tests in 2016.

When an individual is newly diagnosed with HIV, RIDOH's Partner Services Program talks to patients to identify other individuals who may have been exposed to HIV (through sexual contact or needle sharing) and to help get their partners tested.

RIDOH also actively works with community partners to prevent HIV. RIDOH continues to fund ENCORE, the state's needle exchange program run by AIDS Care Ocean State. ENCORE has distributed 74,539 clean needles in 2016 so far. More than 100 community condom distribution sites provide at-risk individuals with a safe and effective way to protect themselves during sex. RIDOH also provides mini grants to five schools (Central Falls High School, Lincoln Middle School, North Kingstown High School, Segue Institute, and Woonsocket Middle School) to improve the environment and opportunities for young people to be healthy. The grants also provide health teachers with a curriculum and resources to help them address sensitive topics.

90-90-90 Goals 2 and 3: Stay in care and suppress HIV viral loads

Individuals with HIV who are connected to care can receive medications that control their virus levels. This not only improves their own health, but means they are also less likely to spread HIV to other people. Through the Ryan White Program, EOHHS works with AIDS Care Ocean State, AIDS Project Rhode Island, Community Care Alliance/AGAPE, Thundermist Health Center, The Miriam Hospital, and University Medical Group/Roger Williams Medical Center to offer case management services to people living with HIV and AIDS to help them stay in care.

"EOHHS is charged with providing high-quality HIV care and treatment for Medicaid beneficiaries and Rhode Islanders in the Ryan White Program who are living with HIV," said Paul G. Loberti, MPH, Administrator for Medical Services at EOHHS. "Consistently throughout the last two years, Ryan White patients and clients have surpassed national averages for viral suppression, a key marker in determining HIV treatment success. In addition, the HIV Provision of Care and Special Populations Unit at EOHHS implements a variety of HIV services, such as case management, ambulatory care, premium assurance, financial assistance, and dental care for people living with HIV in the state."

If someone with HIV stops taking medications to suppress viral loads, RIDOH's Return to Care Program reaches out and helps those people address the barriers that prevent them from staying in care.

Next Steps in the 90-90-90 Campaign

Rhode Island requires a coordinated effort among all partners who are committed to reaching the 2020 targets. The 90-90-90 Campaign Steering Committee and the HIV Care and Prevention Planning Group are focused on leading the way together, with each partner doing their part. The Miriam Hospital's Immunology Center, which cares for more than two-thirds of the people in Rhode Island who are living with HIV or AIDS, recently reviewed their patient records and provided an important insight that will guide Rhode Island's efforts to reach 90-90-90 by 2020.

"Unstable housing, mental health, and substance abuse are the three biggest challenges that impact our patients' engagement with care," said Dr. Aadia Rana, Director of The Miriam Hospital Immunology Center Adherence and Retention Program and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Alpert Medical School of Brown University. "Even though these conditions often co-exist, addressing a basic need, such as housing, is a critical step on our path to the 90-90-90 targets."

As Dr. Rana's recent analysis at The Immunology Center found that unstable housing is a significant predictor for people falling out of care and not taking their medications that suppress their viral load, RIDOH has made this a priority for 2017. Director Alexander-Scott added, "We are committed to working with our partners in the housing field to identify opportunities to reduce the barriers that people who are HIV-infected may face."

Health Equity Summit Participants Lay Out Action Steps for a Stronger Rhode Island

12-09-2016

More than 500 community members, legislators, members of the business community, and representatives from fields including public health, healthcare, law enforcement, education, and academia gathered today at the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) 2016 Health Equity Summit to discuss the steps necessary to build healthier communities and a healthier Rhode Island.

The event's 10 breakout sessions focused on, among other issues, health systems transformation, housing, community-police partnerships, food systems, behavioral health, climate change, and education. Speakers included David Williams from Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health; First Gentleman Andy Moffit; Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) Secretary Elizabeth Roberts; and Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH.

"Rhode Island is a place that embraces diversity, tolerance, and equal opportunity for everyone," Moffit said. "An important part of ensuring that all Rhode Islanders have an equal opportunity to thrive is to address the underlying issues that determine whether people and communities are healthy, such as food access, housing, and education. I applaud everyone at today's Health Equity Summit for rolling up their sleeves and contributing their time, talent, and passion, and for helping build a healthier Rhode Island."

"Ensuring that all Rhode Islanders have access to high-quality, well-coordinated health services is a vitally important goal. But to achieve the best health outcomes for all Rhode Islanders, we also need to focus on what's happening outside the four walls of our medical facilities, in our homes and communities," Secretary Roberts said. "In the coming months and years, we will continue to collaborate and innovate across state agencies and with our dedicated community partners to achieve the shared population health goals we have set and build healthier communities across Rhode Island."

"Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to harness their talents, share their gifts, and achieve their dreams, no matter their race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender orientation, or level of education or income," Dr. Alexander-Scott said. "It's not enough to just track and measure health disparities. We need people from every zip code throughout the state to sit at the same table, embrace a shared vision for a strong, thriving Rhode Island, and then work toward that vision together so that we can measure the improved outcomes that are needed. That's what the 2016 Health Equity Summit gave us a chance to do."

Many different health disparities exist in Rhode Island. For example, LGBTQ youth are much more likely to use tobacco products (43.5% of LGBTQ youth, as opposed to 25% of all youth); non-high school graduates are at risk of living seven years less than those who graduate from college; the infant mortality rate for African-American Rhode Islanders is almost double the state average (11.2 per 1,000 live births, as opposed to 6.6); and more than half of Native American children (54%) live in poverty.

The theme of the 2016 Health Equity Summit was Health Equity in Action: Justice and Health for All. Participants in the breakout sessions identified immediate action steps that will help improve health for all Rhode Islanders, and will help move Rhode Island's current 23 population health goals forward.

Rhode Island's population health goals are targets that all agencies within EOHHS (RIDOH; the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals; the Department of Human Services; and Department of Children, Youth, and Families), and the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner and HealthSource RI, are working toward. These population health goals are the platform for a State Health Plan (including behavioral health) being developed through Rhode Island's State Innovation Model (SIM) work.

Population health goals include increasing access to safe, healthy, affordable food; promoting senior health to support independent living; and reducing the prevalence of substance use disorders. All of Rhode Island's 23 population health goals are available online.

The health equity action steps that summit participants proposed included:

- Developing comprehensive education for all Rhode Island young people on climate change and what they can do to address the issue, and integrating climate change response work into municipal planning.

- Creating more detailed, consistent communication at the state level about programs, services, and organizations that focus on access to healthy, local food.

- Creating and maintaining a built environment infrastructure that promotes healthy living (for example, well-maintained sidewalks), and creating incentives for schools to offer more recess and physical education.

- Expanding high-quality, trauma-informed, accessible mental and behavioral health services that meet the needs of all Rhode Islanders (including the needs of the state's LGBTQ community).

In addition to the breakout sessions and speaking portions, the Health Equity Summit featured a spoken word poetry performance, Bharatnatyam dancers, a photo gallery that provided a journey through Rhode Island's diverse communities, and the work of Rhode Island's Health Equity Zones (HEZs). Health Equity Zones are 10 areas throughout Rhode Island where community collaborations are implementing innovative approaches to make Rhode Island stronger with healthier communities. Some of the many actions to improve birth outcomes and prevent chronic diseases in seniors included HEZ activities that increase access to affordable, healthy food and clean water, enforce transportation policies that improve safety and physical activity, expand walking school buses to decrease school absenteeism, and improve other social and environmental conditions of neighborhoods.

Dr. Alexander-Scott closed the event by pledging to bring the health equity action step proposals to the group managing the development of Rhode Island's State Health Plan, and to keep the community up to date about their integration into the plan.

RIDOH and RIDEM Lift Remaining Public Health Advisories on Rhode Island Bodies of Water

12-15-2016

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) are lifting the public health advisories on Mashapaug Pond and the Roger Williams Park ponds in Providence; Melville Pond, Sisson Pond, St. Mary's Pond, and Lawton Valley Reservoir in Portsmouth; Paradise Pond in Middletown; and Watson Reservoir in Little Compton.

These advisories were put in place in July, August, and September because of the presence of blooms of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria.

Contact with and recreational activities at Mashapaug Pond, the Roger Williams Park ponds, and Melville Pond may now be resumed. Since Rhode Island law prohibits people and animals from swimming and bathing in ponds that are drinking water sources, those activities are not allowed in Sisson Pond, St. Mary's Pond, Lawton Valley Reservoir, Paradise Pond, and Watson Reservoir, which are owned and operated by Newport Water. In addition, Newport Water prohibits fishing, swimming, and boating in these reservoirs, as posted. The treated water that Newport Water distributes to homes continues to be safe to drink.

The public is reminded to avoid contact with any body of water in Rhode Island that is bright green or has a dense, floating algal mat on the water's surface. Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) blooms may look like green paint or thick pea soup. Toxins may persist in the water after a blue-green algae bloom is no longer visible. Although blooms are most common in the summer and fall, they can take place at any time of the year.

People who experience the symptoms associated with cyanobacteria exposure and who have been swimming or fishing in water, or drinking untreated water from a waterbody with a confirmed or suspected cyanobacteria bloom, should contact their healthcare providers.

Contact with water containing cyanobacteria can cause irritation of the skin, nose, eyes, and/or throat. Ingestion of water containing cyanobacterial toxins can cause stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea.

People who come into contact with potentially affected waters should rinse their skin and wash their clothes with clean water as soon as possible. People observing pets exhibiting adverse health symptoms after contact with potentially affected waters should contact their veterinarians. Pets who have come in contact with potentially affected waters should not be allowed to lick water off their fur and should be rinsed with clean water as soon as possible.

To report suspected blue-green algae blooms, contact DEM's Office of Water Resources at 222-4700 orDEM.OWRCyano@dem.ri.gov.