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RI HEALTH

Gov. McKee visits Zambarano unit as questions swirl about its future

The governor had previously announced a pause on plans to overhaul Eleanor Slater Hospital’s unit in Burrillville, R.I.

Eleanor Slater Hospital in Cranston, R.I, on Feb. 21, 2021, where ill staff members led to an outbreak of the coronavirus.
Eleanor Slater Hospital in Cranston, R.I, on Feb. 21, 2021, where ill staff members led to an outbreak of the coronavirus.DAVID DEGNER/NYT

PROVIDENCE — Governor Dan McKee visited the Eleanor Slater Hospital’s Zambarano unit in Burrillville on Wednesday amid questions and controversy about the state-run facility’s future.

McKee, who took office in March, has announced a pause on plans to overhaul the facility as his new administration reviews the situation. On Wednesday, he got a first-hand look in a visit that was not publicly announced. Spokesman Matt Sheaff confirmed McKee went there in an official capacity, but did not elaborate on the findings from his trip.

McKee said Thursday that he wanted to make a recommendation before the General Assembly leaves this session about the hospital. McKee said the visit took place Wednesday night, led by staff there.

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“It’s all in the due diligence,” McKee said. “There’s no easy answer there, as you can imagine.”

Also, on Thursday, McKee invited other officials, including General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and some legislators, for a tour of the facility with members of his staff. The tour didn’t include McKee himself, though Womazetta Jones, the secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, was there.

“Governor McKee and Secretary Jones welcome the involvement of other state officials where appropriate to further their fact-finding review of the hospital operations, management and patient care,” Sheaff said. “As always, the focus should be on patient care and long-term planning for a robust health-care system for Rhode Island.”

Magaziner — a potential 2022 McKee challenger for governor — said in an emailed statement: “My concerns remain the same as when I spoke out earlier this year: Zambarano serves some of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable patients, and is an important economic anchor for Northwest Rhode Island. It must remain open and equipped to provide the enhanced level of care that many of its patients so desperately need.”

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Eleanor Slater has campuses in Cranston and Burrillville. Patients there have a wide array of complex medical and psychiatric conditions.

The state, under then-governor Gina Raimondo, developed plans to redesign the system. As part of the consultant-developed plans, the Zambarano unit in Burrillville would transition to a newly built skilled nursing facility. The state was also planning to close buildings on the Cranston campus.

The plan got significant pushback from unions, local politicians and advocates for patients. In Burrillville, legislators said the plans were really a shadow closure, although the state denied that was taking place.

Amid the turmoil, Kathryn Power, the director of the state agency that runs the hospital, resigned. McKee’s administration put a halt to the changes outlined by the Raimondo administration and said it would have a “real and thoughtful dialogue and engagement with the community, stakeholders, and the General Assembly on what the best solutions are to provide high quality care that meets the needs of Rhode Islanders seeking these vital services.”


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.