State fire marshal shuts down kitchen at Zambarano

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BURRILLVILLE – A state hospital that has dominated news headlines for the past month over questions about patient discharges and the loss of more than $60 million in state revenue through failure to update a computer system, now has staff members cooking for patients on outdoor grills.

The Zambarano unit of Eleanor Slater Hospital reportedly had to shut down some of its kitchen operations last week after a state fire marshal inspection found unsafe conditions.

A report dated Friday, March 19 notes that the cooking exhaust system was not properly ventilated and had not been properly cleaned. The system also did not have the required two-hour fire rating separation.

The news comes following a four-hour Senate hearing this week that saw wildly differing accounts of discharge processes at the facility, which is overseen by the state Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.

The hospital, a division of the Eleanor Slater system, serves patients with complex medical and psychiatric needs, has been in the process of shutting down two of its six units. While administrators and a spokesman for BHDDH have said that recent discharges were only authorized after suitable placements were found, former doctors and patients gave accounts this week of being pushed out of the facility.

In one letter delivered as part of testimony for the Senate oversight committee looking at the issue, Attorney R.J. Connelly noted that officials have known of the need to upgrade the hospital’s computer system since 2009, but did not want to sign up for the required $250,000 due annually for tech support.

As a result, Zambarano’s system was deemed out of compliance in 2019, resulting in an estimated $60 million loss in Medicare and Medicaid, Connelly said.

According to a report last Thursday, the application to reinstate compliance and resume payments, submitted last April, was finally approved this week. As a result, the state will be able to retroactively bill for some services, although it is unclear how much money Rhode Island will recoup.

Gov. Dan McKee announced plans to build a new $65 million hospital on the Zambarano campus as part of his budget, a proposal that has been questioned by lawmakers.

According to a report this week in the Boston Globe, the deep fryer, flat top grill or oven range at the hospital have been shut down since last Friday. Staff has used steamers, a steam kettle and outside grills to cook food for patients.

A BHDDH spokesman reportedly told the paper that the state hopes to have the full kitchen back open in about a week.

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