R.I. Senate panel to explore potential of URI medical school

President Parlange to co-chair 21-member committee

KINGSTON, R.I. – July 10, 2024 – Named last week, the Rhode Island State Senate committee that will analyze the potential for establishing a medical school at the University of Rhode Island will include several URI stakeholders – led by President Marc Parlange, who will co-chair the committee with Sen. Pamela J. Lauria.

Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio announced the appointments to the 21-member commission that will study the state’s health care workforce with a focus on educating and retaining primary care physicians, along with how a medical school at URI could help alleviate that critical need.

Along with Parlange, URI will be represented on the committee by Board of Trustees chair and vice chair Margo Cook and Armand Sabitoni; Trustee Thomas Ryan; Barbara Wolfe, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs; Kerry LaPlante, dean of the College of Pharmacy; Danny Willis, dean of the College of Nursing; and Dr. Patrick Vivier, dean of the College of Health Sciences.

“Few issues are as important as health care, and right now, our health care system is in critical condition,” Ruggerio said in a statement. “Strengthening the primary-care pipeline is an essential part of our work to make health care more accessible and affordable for Rhode Islanders, and this important commission will explore all options to achieve this goal, including a new medical school at URI.”

“We support the senate’s resolution forming a special legislative commission, and we look forward to partnering with Senate President Ruggerio, House Speaker [Joseph] Shekarchi, and other elected officials and health care leaders on collective efforts to enhance health and wellness across Rhode Island,” said Parlange. “URI, as Rhode Island’s flagship public research university, is committed to addressing the state’s most pressing needs and to making a positive difference in our communities and in the lives of Rhode Islanders.”

“Rhode Island is headed for a crisis in primary care,” Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, who sponsored the resolution to create the study commission, said in a statement. “While we took important steps this year to address this problem as part of the Senate’s health care package, including monetary support for primary care training sites and tuition assistance included in the budget, more remains to be done. While we will continue to work on the aspects of the health package that address the coming primary care crisis, such as reimbursement rates, we also know that these bills are not a silver bullet. We need to explore every avenue we can to ensure Rhode Islanders can access the care they need.”

The resolution notes that the state is experiencing a net loss of primary care clinicians and the shortage is expected to worsen in the years ahead. The inability of many Rhode Island residents to find primary care physicians is resulting in the use of community health centers and urgent care facilities to meet their medical needs, which strains resources and creates additional pressures on the health care system.

While Rhode Island is home to a private medical school, no new medical schools have been established in the state since 1972. 

The commission is scheduled to issue recommendations to the Senate by Dec. 20, 2025.

Other members of the committee are: 
Senators Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown), Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham), and Thomas J. Paolino (R-Dist. 17, Lincoln, North Providence, North Smithfield); Representatives Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth) and Jacquelyn Baginski (D-Dist. 17, Cranston); Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera; Dr. Staci Fischer of the Rhode Island Department of Health; M. Teresa Paiva Weed, president of Hospital Association of Rhode Island; Stacy Paterno, executive vice president of Rhode Island Medical Society; Christopher F. Koller, former state health insurance commissioner; and Dr. Michael Fine, former state health director; and Dr. Marie Ganim, adjunct professor of health services policy and practice at Brown University.