Community and Public Health Professionals Working Towards Changing the World

RIC alumna Luzandra Rivas ’18 presents a poster about her research work
Rhode Island College Impact

“I am very fortunate for my time at RIC. It definitely helped mold me into the person I am today.”

Community and public health professionals try to prevent health problems from happening or recurring. The important work they do includes everything from implementing educational programs and recommending policies to administering services and conducting research. 

Ransel Cruz ’18 is a Rhode Island College alumnus with a degree in community health and wellness with a concentration in public health. He works at AIDS Care Ocean State as a bilingual case manager providing services to their Spanish speaking clients. 
“Our overall goal is to make sure that clients are as healthy as they can be,” says Cruz.

He believes that a big part of keeping clients healthy is reducing or eliminating worries. Circumstances like not having insurance or access to the right medication cause stress, which is an especially dangerous condition for patients already dealing with a serious disease. 

Cruz tries to alleviate stress for his clients, providing resources like food cards (to Price Rite and Stop&Shop), picking them up for appointments, serving as interpreter, teaching them how to navigate the healthcare system, assisting with paperwork for funding and housing assistance, and even searching for information related to healthcare programs that would specifically work for them. He also helps uninsured clients who can’t afford medication enroll in the Aids Drug Assistance Program, a state benefit administered by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services that covers antivirals.

“The level of clients’ need is vast,” he notes. “We basically receive everybody with open arms, and later get to learn what type of help they need.”

Luzandra Rivas ’18, is also a graduate of RIC’s community health and wellness program with a concentration in public health. And like Cruz, she works with people living with HIV/AIDS in her role as a specialist with the 340B Public Health Act at Providence Community Health Center (PCHC). 

The 340B Drug Pricing Program created by this act allows certain hospitals and other health care providers (“covered entities”) to obtain discounted prices on “covered outpatient drugs” (prescription drugs and biologics, other than vaccines) from drug manufacturers. At PCHC the program started as a veteran’s care act, because some veterans were not able to afford their medication; the program was later expanded for anyone who didn’t have Medicaid.  

“The clinic isn’t just able to buy prescriptions at a discounted price; we also have contracts with certain pharmacies in the state, where they ‘store’ medications for us. We are lucky enough to have these services available to our HIV/AIDS patients,” explains Rivas. “If someone has insurance, we are able to bill their insurance to cover the full price and the rest of the revenue is used to create more services for our underinsured patients, like a Hep C clinic or HIV/AIDS services.”

Examples of new programs and services created by this revenue include the Met (Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center) clinic, where the PCHC, Inc. operates The Adolescent Health Center that serves as a “medical home”, providing primary care services to the students during the academic year, a dermatology office and a podiatry clinic.

“As of today 70 percent of PCHC patients benefit from the 340B program, so I just try to find ways to bring in more savings to create more services for our patients,” she says. “That way patients would have easier access to specialists and lower copayments.”

Both Rivas and Cruz feel that some of the passion that drives them to help others comes from the years they spent at RIC.
“I am very fortunate for my time at RIC. The people I met, the relationships I built –  they are the reasons I’m in this line of work,” says Cruz, who recently enlisted in the Air Force. “I didn't know where I was going to be after graduation, but doors just opened up. My time at RIC definitely helped mold me into the person I am today.”