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Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott exits as Director of the RI Department of Health

Photo: (June, 2020) – Brett Smiley’s Twitter photo with Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott at Black Lives Matter demonstration at the RI State House where members of administration volunteered to hand out masks and information on COVID19.

Yesterday, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott resigned as Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. Her statement: “Serving as the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health has been the most rewarding experience of my career. I would like to thank all Rhode Islanders for their trust over the past two years as we have navigated this unprecedented public health crisis together. It has been an honor to serve you. I would also like to thank all the healthcare providers and community partners who have supported the work we have been doing at RIDOH since 2015 to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to be healthy, regardless of their ZIP code, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, level of education, or level of income. And finally, I would like to express enormous gratitude to the members of my RIDOH family. They embraced me, taught me, challenged me, picked me up when I was down, and had my back every step of the way.”

Dr Alexander-Scott’s letter:

Alexander-Scott mentions her “next chapter in public health” has led to an undercurrent of speculation that she may be headed for a national opportunity due to her close working relationship with Governor Raimondo who is now Secretary of Commerce, a cabinet position in the Biden administration.

Governor Dan McKee said he had regretfully accepted Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott’s resignation, and for the next two weeks, Dr. Alexander-Scott will continue to serve as RIDOH’s Director while a search for new leadership of the Department is conducted. She will also consult to the Department for 3 months. Dr. Alexander-Scott has served as Director of Health since April 2015. She is one of only five current State health directors across the country to serve as long.

“Dr. Alexander-Scott has been a steady, calm presence for Rhode Island as we’ve worked together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Dan McKee. “Her leadership has been crucial to our whole of government response – helping Rhode Island become number one in testing nationwide and getting more people vaccinated per capita than nearly any other state in the country.”

“In addition to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Alexander-Scott has advocated for and secured funding for Rhode Island’s new health laboratory, a legacy that will help improve the health of Rhode Islanders for generations to come and keep our state at the forefront in detecting and preventing future pandemics,” continued Governor Dan McKee. “I thank Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott for her dedication to public health and public service.”

Background on Some of Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott’s Accomplishment’s as RIDOH Director

  • Co-leading Rhode Island’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic since 2019, months before Rhode Island had identified its first case. Dr. Alexander’s work helped establish and maintain a COVID-19 testing effort that has been the best in the nation. She contributed to efforts that set an example nationally for getting schools open and kids in the classroom, and she helped steer a vaccination effort that has resulted in some of the highest coverage rates in the country.
  • Implementing a new public health vision at RIDOH centered on addressing health disparities and striving for health equity through work on the community level factors that most impact health outcomes. For example, RIDOH’s Health Equity Zone (HEZ) initiative has emerged as a national model for improving health outcomes by bringing community collaboratives – including municipal leaders, residents, businesses, transportation and community planners, law enforcement, and educators – together to address the socioeconomic and environmental determinants of health.   
  • Co-leading Rhode Island’s response to the drug overdose crisis. Dr. Alexander-Scott partnered with other State and community leaders to vastly expand access to treatment for substance-use disorder, destigmatize substance-use disorder, get naloxone into the hands of people throughout Rhode Island, expand peer recovery supports throughout the state, and set Rhode Island up to open some of the first Harm Reduction Centers in the nation. 
  • Securing $82 million in funding for a new Rhode Island Center of Excellence for Laboratory Sciences to house RIDOH’s State Health Laboratories, as well as private laboratories that will contribute to Rhode Island’s burgeoning life sciences sector. This new Rhode Island Center of Excellence for Laboratory Sciences will make Rhode Island better prepared for any future epidemic or pandemic with improved public health services, be an economic driver for the state, and foster more collaboration with private industry and academic institutions.

Comments came in from leaders and individuals throughout the state – a sampling:

RI Speaker of the House of Representatives Joseph Shekarchi: “In addition to her exceptional work during this crisis, Dr. Alexander-Scott has been steadfast in her advocacy to eliminate health disparities that disproportionally impact some of our communities. Dr. Alexander-Scott has led our state with compassion, confidence and dignity. She has been a calming influence, and Rhode Island is a healthier place because of her. I wish her the very best in her future endeavors.”

Dr. Ashish K. Jha, Brown University: “Huge loss for RI…[she] is one of the smartest, most capable public health leaders I have met. We have benefitted enormously from her years of leadership as head of the RI Dept. of Health, and of our COVID19 response. Whatever she does next — she’ll be awesome.”

RI Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio: “Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott’s steadfast leadership during these unprecedented times has been invaluable for our state, and she will be sorely missed. Her expertise, guidance, and reassuring presence have helped Rhode Islanders navigate an incredibly anxious and challenging time. We owe her a deep debt of gratitude. My Senate colleagues and I wish her and her family all the best.”

RI House Republican Leader Blake A. Filippi: “We wish Dr. Alexander-Scott well in her future endeavors, and look forward to a fresh perspective to navigate Rhode Island’s comeback.”

Helena Foulkes, candidate for governor, former CVS executive: “The Governor was given clear warnings by public health experts about rising COVID cases in November, which he ignored. He also claimed that COVID cases were trending down in [Nov], a falsehood/disproven by the data.”

Dr. Luis Daniel Munoz, candidate for Governor: “While I have, and continue to be critical of the admin’s management of COVID19 response efforts, I have had the privilege of witnessing the courage of Dr. Alexander-Scott, in pushing back against misinformation and leaders who fail to prioritize public health. Thank you, Doctor!”

RI Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea: “Like many Rhode Islanders, I have deeply valued Dr. Alexander-Scott’s leadership during the pandemic and these unprecedented times. Her departure creates a real vacuum in leadership during the biggest public health crisis in a generation. After recent reports of failed action on the part of Gov. Dan McKee, her departure signals a lack of confidence in his leadership and handling of COVID19. Rhode Island needs leadership now that will face the stark realities of the pandemic head-on, to ensure that we are taking our public health and safety seriously while securing Rhode Island’s economic stability. I know her team at the RI Department of Health will remain committed to keeping us all safe, but we will miss her exceptional leadership through this crisis. On behalf of all Rhode Islanders, I thank Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott for her tireless and exceptional contribution to our state. I know she will succeed in her future pursuits.”

Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos: “Dr. Alexander-Scott has been a source of comfort and indispensable knowledge for all of Rhode Island, especially as she’s helped shepherd our state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a fellow woman leader of color, I am immensely proud of her selfless service and steadfast leadership. Rhode Island is so well positioned to continue its battle with this virus thanks in large part to Dr. Alexander-Scott’s selfless dedication to public service and public health. I wish her the best in her future endeavors, but today, I want to say thank you.” 

Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner: “Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott has been an incredible leader in her role as Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, and every Rhode Islander has benefitted from her sound judgment and expertise through the Covid-19 pandemic,” said General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. “I thank Dr. Alexander Scott for her tireless commitment to keeping Rhode Islanders safe and informed throughout her tenure. She has saved countless lives, and tirelessly advocated for correcting the health inequities that plague our state. Her voice and presence will be profoundly missed, and it is important now, more than ever, for Governor McKee and all Rhode Islanders, to listen to experts like her as we navigate the pandemic and work together to build a healthier state.”

Brett Smiley, candidate for Mayor of Providence, former RI Director of Administration: “I am incredibly grateful to Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott for her leadership these past 7 years. I had the honor of serving w/her under @SecRaimondo & worked closely w/her as our state developed a timely and strategic response to COVID-19.”

Larry Warner, Chief Impact & Equity Officer, United Way: “How did we lose an infectious disease expert / health equity champion / woman of color leading the RI Department of Health in the middle of a pandemic?”

Michael DiBiase, RI Public Expenditure Council: “I had the privilege of working with Dr. Alexander-Scott for five years. She has served through some of most trying and difficult circumstances ever faced by a state leader– essentially an emergency that has never ended. We will miss her dedication and professionalism.”

RI Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee: “It’s a sad day in the Ocean State. Thank you Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott for your exceptional leadership at the Department of Health. You have kept Rhode Islanders informed and safe throughout the pandemic and beyond.”

Prof. Wendy Shiller, Brown Political Science professor and political commentator: “Thank you to Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott for working extraordinarily hard during this entire pandemic for Rhode Islanders. Not sure why she is leaving, but her shoes will be hard to fill. Creates potential instability in RI health care leadership when we can least afford it.”

Dr Michael Fine, former Dir. of RIDOH: “Thanks to Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott for her courage, dignity and leadership these last six years.”

Brown University: “It is nearly impossible to put into words the leadership Dr. Alexander-Scott has demonstrated throughout her tenure at the RI Department of Health, and especially during the pandemic. We have all been better for her expertise, empathetic ability to listen and communicate, and service to our state.”

Angela Ankoma, RI Foundation: “Dr. Alexander-Scott’s leadership and expertise has been a giftto our  state especially during an unprecedented global pandemic. I am sad to see her go.It was an incredible honor to work for her at RIDOH. I wish her nothing success in what comes next.

Megan Ranney, MD, Brown University, ER Physician: “Our state should be forever grateful to Dr. Alexander-Scott for her leadership, her vision, her tirelessness, and her organizational brilliance. She will be missed.”

Cranston City Councilwoman Aniece Germain: “Today’s resignation of Dr. Scott,Director of RIDOH prove again that our state is moving in the wrong direction amid a surge in COVID-19. When great and competent experts start to disassociate themselves with a government, it tells you that something is fishy. It’s a big loss 4 RI”

Providence City Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune: “o lose Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, a nationally recognized infectious disease and public health expert who has prioritized health equity, particularly during a global pandemic, is a tremendous loss for our state. It’s been an honor and inspiration for my daughter and me to watch Dr. Alexander-Scott, one of two Black women leading a state agency with intellect, grace, and empathy. Thank you for your service and for being a role model for women and girls throughout our state and nation.”

In a story done by Richard Asinof of ConvergenceRI, as Dr. Alexander-Scott took her position in 2015, she said, “if I could change the name of the department, it would be to the Department of Health and Health Equity, because we want to make sure that all Rhode Islanders have the opportunity to live in the healthiest communities and have the healthiest lives that they can.”

Read the full story, here: http://newsletter.convergenceri.com/stories/One-on-one-with-Dr-Nicole-Alexander-Scott,1617

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