Notes from the Field


Meet the Council: Joan Kwiatkowski

Joan Kwiatkowski, M.S.W., C.A.G.S.  
Lives in: Barrington
Joined the Council: 2022
Profession: CEO of PACE Organization of Rhode Island

Joan believes everybody should have an advocate who really hears their voice, and puts that voice in the center of that person’s healthcare. This is a lifelong passion for her, having experienced healthcare injustices first hand in losing both of her parents at a very young age.

“It’s a huge driver in my life in terms of how I chose my career and what I feel like my purpose is on this Earth. For me, the tragedy became a real motivator.”

Her career has been rich with fulfilling experiences in behavioral health settings and acute care, but there was a turning point at which she was recruited to a community-level position, and she chose to pivot.

“I liked being in an acute care environment because not only could you deal with people in their darkest moments and be helpful to them, but you were also learning this incredible science, which I just found fascinating. But, it got to a point when I realized, at least for me, the business of healthcare, the business of hospital care was becoming further and further separated from the patient experience. That awareness really motivated me. It just clicked at the right time to get back to community-based care, and be in touch with people…I have real conversations with real people about the choices they want to make in their life – it matters to me that I can reinforce and support them through that. I feel like I have the best job ever.”

New to the Council in 2022, Joan’s food systems policy advocacy is centered in the work she’s doing with PACE:

“I don’t think RI is invested enough in diverse housing options for adults. People should be able to age, and not have to move so many times as they change in functionality and needs. There are other states that have a more ‘elastic’ system of care so that people can stay where they are but receive different levels of support in that environment. That’s not true here. We have a lot of rules that keep people in boxes.

Workforce is also a big deal for me. [PACE] makes a choice about what our minimum is for staff and it’s a livable wage. I don’t think that’s true for all healthcare providers to direct care workers. That concerns me greatly. I need someone to take care of me in 20 years – who is going to do that? If we are not paying those people or attracting those people to this work, there is not going to be a caregiver. Because the population is dominated by older people right now, and the workforce age and youth age is much, much smaller, which means the caretaking population is going to shrink over time…I’m really interested in a system of care, but there is no appetite in Rhode Island. There is no system that allows for the impending changes to the workforce.”

With this policy perspective and healthcare-centered expertise, Joan wasn’t sure what her value could be in joining a food policy council, but with encouragement from a current Council Member, she decided to get involved. 

“I worried I had nothing to contribute…I want to be sure that if I’m going to be a part of something, I’m adding value…There are actually times that I contribute a comment and it seems relevant, and it seems useful, and it seems helpful…I realize it’s the bridge between the food and nutrition world, and healthcare. I wasn’t sure I could find that bridge or not, and that’s been a surprise to me.”

Over the last year, Joan has been a strong voice in helping shape RIFPC’s priorities and messaging through meeting and event participation, reviewing strategic objectives, and active input on advocacy initiatives.

“I am super impressed by the diversity within RIFPC. And, as a resident of RI, I’m really jazzed by some of the interesting people and interesting initiatives and curiosity people bring to the table. I also have a daughter who is a farmer, and this helps me understand her world a little bit more. Those have been some unexpected delights.”

When she isn’t passionately steering the work PACE is doing or engaging in Council activities, Joan enjoys the challenge of elaborate weekend-long baking projects, pastel and watercolor painting, and spending time with her family. 

Learn more about PACE Organization of Rhode Island.