PROVIDENCE – The union that represents nurses at the Zambarano unit of Eleanor Slater Hospital is calling on Rhode Island Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott to conduct a formal review of, “the effort underway to eliminate care at the facility.”
The statement follows the release of an open letter by a retired Zambarano doctor stating that patients with no other alternatives for care have been discharged as a cost-saving measure.
Last week, advocacy group Disability Rights Rhode Island also announced that it has been investigating the facility’s discharge practices since February.
United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5019 President Cynthia Lussier noted that her group sent a letter to Alexander-Scott in November calling attention to what the union has deemed unlawful conduct by the administration.
“The frontline workers at Zambarano are dedicated to their patients and have been ringing an alarm bell about the troubling changes to patient care at this critically-needed state facility for months,” said Lussier.
Lussier said the communication regarding former Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal to repurpose and relicense the facility was never acknowledged.
The union head points out that Rhode Island General Law prohibits any licensed hospital from eliminating and/or significantly reducing primary care services without prior approval.
“As such, both the statute and the corresponding regulations require that a hospital submit a written plan describing the impact of the reduction and/or elimination on the community,” noted a statement from UNAP on Wednesday, March 10. “In the last few months, dozens of patients have been discharged against the will of their caregivers, and units are being closed all while the state has reportedly stopped admitting patients at Zambarano.”
Lussier confirmed that two out of six units at the hospital were closing, affecting 22 patients, in communications with NRI NOW last month.
The state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, which runs the facility, has denied allegations that the state ultimately plans to close Zambarano.
BHDDH spokesperson Randal Edgar has said that discharges have only been based on need, that two floors at the facility are being “temporarily consolidated” to make more efficient use of resources, and that no staff have been laid off or reassigned,
But local officials have also raised alarm bells, saying that they’ve received no response to numerous requests to members of the Raimondo administration for updates on the state’s plan for the hospital, which provides care for patients with complex medical and psychiatric needs.
“The previous administration turned its back on Zambarano patients and nurses and it is well past time for Dr. Alexander-Scott to initiate a full and formal review of the effort underway to eliminate care at this hospital of last resort,” said the statement from UNAP.