Officials look for answers as Zambarano closes two wings, moves 22 patients

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BURRILLVILLE – With two wings at Burrillville’s Zambarano Hospital in the process of closing and 22 patients slated for discharge, town officials are asking Gov. Gina Raimondo for answers regarding the state’s plans for the facility.

Town Manager Michael Wood sent a letter to Raimondo on Friday, Feb. 19 requesting, “an update and any information you have relative to the short and long-term disposition of Zambarano Hospital.”

The request comes as rumors regarding potential closing of the facility, a long-term acute and post-acute hospital for patients with complex medical and psychiatric needs, dominated discussions on social media throughout the week.

The Department of Behavioral Healthcare Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals announced last year that it was exploring ways to restructure Eleanor Slater Hospital, which includes Zambarano and a second campus at in Cranston, to cut costs.

On Saturday, Feb. 20, Cynthia Lussier, president United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 501, confirmed with NRI NOW that two units of the facility are in the process of closing, with 22 patients affected. Lussier said the union is also seeking more information on the changes, and has not yet issued a statement, but expects to soon.

“I have been told that hospital administration is trying to discharge patients that do not meet their criteria for care at Zambarano,” Lussier said.

The closures amount to roughly a third of the six unit hospital, and legislators pointed out this week that there’s been little communication regarding Raimondo’s long-term plans for Zambarano, with the change coming as a surprise – even to those closest to the situation.

Critics of the move also note that Zambarano provides care for patients in the state with the most extreme needs – who have nowhere else to go.

Rep. David Place and Sen. Jessica de la Cruz both appeared on the Dan Yorke show this week to discuss their concerns.

“We’ve received no answers so there’s a lot of concern that where she’s taking this is to shut it down,” Place said, suggesting that the hospital has been intentionally operating under capacity with intent to move in the direction of closure.

“What we want is a transparent process,” de la Cruz said, noting that she requested information regarding plans for the hospital in a letter to Raimondo more than six months ago. “I am trying to get information but it’s been very difficult. We just want answers.”

On Twitter, Place blamed Burrillville voters’ troubled relationship with the governor.

“It is becoming apparent that Governor Raimondo hasn’t forgotten Burrillville not only beat her power plant but rejected her at the polls,” Place wrote. 

In his letter, Wood noted that there has been no information shared with the town.

“It appears that actions have been initiated by the State to close and/or relocate operations of Zambarano, obviously disrupting the patients and employees who make Zambarano their home and their livelihoods,” he wrote. “It is disconcerting that the Town Council has not been consulted or provided timely information about the short and long-term plans for this facility, which is an important part of our community and its citizenry.”

“We respectfully request your administration provide an update, including an explanation as to why we were not included in the decision making related to the Zambarano facility.”

In response to the discussion, Raimondo’s office issued a statement.

“Governor Raimondo is committed to keeping Zambarano open. Last summer, the administration put forward a proposal to further invest in the campus and provide patients with the highest quality, most appropriate level of care. She hopes the General Assembly will move forward with these important investments in Zambarano.”

“The hospital is currently going through a required process of discharging patients who no longer require hospital-level care,” the statement noted.

Place has pointed out that, with Raimondo awaiting confirmation as President Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Commerce, the changes seem to be the last act of outgoing state leadership.

Andrea Palagi, communications director for Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who will soon become Rhode Island’s governor, said that McKee has received initial briefings on Zambarano Hospital and spoken with hospital administrators.

“He is aware that the state’s consultants have been reviewing the hospital and its operations for several years,” Palagi said. “At this time, he believes all options are on the table and he will make it a priority to evaluate this when he is governor.”

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