Warwick Beacon: Ambassador on a Bike

Warwick Beacon: Ambassador on a Bike

Published 04/20/2022

Ambassador on a Bike

by John Howell, Editor  
Published 4/12/22 in The Warwick Beacon

How fast can you go? 

It’s a question Bob Walker expects when asked about the electric bicycle he’s built and rides – except for rainy days when he take public transportation  – from his apartment in East Greenwich to Hillsgrove House on Minnesota Avenue in Warwick. Speed is not what Bob is about. Rather, he’s focused on sustainability and (as he puts it), the three legs to his life – housing, socializing and medicine. Without one of the legs, like a three-legged stool, it won’t work. 

(Pictured Left) THE POWER OF CHANGE: Bob Walker points to the engine and the battery pack on the electric bike he built. (Warwick Beacon photos)

For a good portion of his time on Earth, from age 17 to 45, Bob says “I wasn’t well.”  He was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Bob didn’t understand his illness. He had difficulty keeping a job, making friends and enjoying life. He discovered he had a low tolerance for foreign substances – he names marijuana – and loud noises. 

He was in and out of hospitals and spent a year in the Institute of Mental Health, now named at the Eleanor Slater Hospital, where he was when his mother died from cancer. He wasn’t allowed out to even attend his mother’s funeral.  

He was homeless for two years, living in a tent in the Snake Den State Park.  He tried homeless shelters, but didn’t feel like he belonged there. Besides, he couldn’t tolerate the body lice. 

That was hard to believe Friday morning when Thrive Behavioral Health hosted a breakfast at Hillsgrove House bringing together state legislators and Thrive board members. Bob was mingling with the legislators and later showed off his electric bike. 

(Pictured right)
PEDDLING LEGISLATION: Thrive director Daniel Kubas-Meyer, center, and Bob Walker talk with Rep. Joe Solomon, Jr. at left, at the Hillsgrove House breakfast held Friday. (Warwick Beacon photos)

Push for legislation

Thrive had prepared for the event and to get across the message it needs additional funding to continue providing services to the mentally ill. There were handouts for the legislators and placard displays of key points from a February-March survey of 500 residents finding 43 percent of Rhode Islanders have felt there was something wrong in terms of their own mental well-being in the past year.

Daniel Kubas-Meyer director of Thrive is not surprised by the finding. 

He points to the pandemic and how it has impacted our lives and especially our children. The survey found 60 percent of Rhode Islanders felt there was something wrong, or were unsure if their child needed mental healthcare.

Addressing these issues has become increasingly difficult for Thrive that services between 3,000 and 4,000 patients annually because of the level of Medicaid reimbursement that hasn’t be increased in nine years.

“We know what to do,” says Kabas-Meyer, but faced with declining resources the agency isn’t capable of meeting all the needs. Kubas-Meyer doesn’t fault therapists, clinicians and other staff who have left to take higher paying jobs at the DCYF and other agencies that in some cases is paying $15,000 more a year. DCYF is a federally funded healthcare center as are a number of centers including those operated by Thundermist and Comprehensive Community Action Plan with higher rates of reimbursement. It should be noted the community health and behavioral centers aren’t providing the same services even though many professionals are qualified in either of the two fields.

Read the full story here.