BHDDA announces limits, time frame for Zambarano patient transfer as doctor resigns

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BURRILLVILLE – The Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities Administration has announced the exact time frame and limits for the temporary transfer of oxygen-dependent patients out of the Zambarano unit of Eleanor Slater Hospital, information that comes following controversy and skepticism over the move, and the resignation of one doctor involved.

According to a statement provided by BHDDA spokesman Randal Edgar, nine medically compromised, oxygen dependent patients will be moved to the Regan unit in Cranston for approximately five days.

The announcement follows questions and criticism from local legislators over transparency regarding the state’s plans for the hospital, which provides long-term acute and post-acute care for patients with complex medical and psychiatric needs. Local leaders who represent Burrillville on the state level, Sen. Minority Whip Jessica de la Cruz and Rep. David Place, have been ringing alarm bells for the past month over what they say is a long-term plan by BHDDA to close the town-based hospital, a concern that’s been echoed by some staff members and former doctors at the facility.

The hospital reportedly stopped accepting patients last year, and recently-retired physician Normand Decelles has said that hospital administrators began planning the closure last year under the guise the services were not needed. Decelles said he resigned after officials began pressuring physicians to discharge patients, even though doctors could find no other facilities to accept them.

Last month, two out of six units of the hospital were closed.

And last week, a fire marshal’s inspection report identified “leaking isolation valves,” in the oxygen system at Zambarano. BHDDA officials initially denied plans to relocate patients as a result of the problem, while the legislators issued multiple statements warning that the transfer of patients was part of a “shadow closure,” of Zambarano, which would use the inspection as an excuse to bring the hospital census to a low enough level to ultimately shut down the facility.

Republican legislators Place, who represents District 47 in Burrillville and Glocester, and de la Cruz, who represents District 23 in Burrillville, Glocester and North Smithfield, noted that the issue with the oxygen system was well-known for years, and no action had been taken to fix the problem.

NRI NOW has learned that Doctor Bette Gillerin, an internal medicine specialist at the Burrillville facility, submitted her resignation amid the ongoing controversy.

A staff member at Zambarano, who has asked to remain anonymous, said the decision came on Thursday, April 1, as Gillerin was tasked with informing around 20 ventilator patients that they would have to transfer to Cranston, or accept only hospice-level care in Burrillville, an administrative order the legislators called “horrifying.”

“This is nothing short of appalling,” said de la Cruz. “Zambarano is going from hospital to hospice. What these doctors are being ordered to do is immoral and unethical. And it’s all in the name of cutting costs.”

Place and de la Cruz have been calling on Gov. Dan McKee to intervene.

On Friday, April 2, NRI NOW received an update from BHDDA.    

“While it remains that there is no immediate health and safety risk to patients at the hospital, there will be two days of maintenance repair work, which will require the oxygen system to be fully shut down for short periods of time,” the agency stated, noting that “out of an abundance of caution,” a decision had been made by the medical team and hospital leadership to temporarily relocate nine patients.

The statement noted that Arden Engineering would fix every leaking oxygen valve in a three-phased approach over the course of a work week, using newer technology than originally planned. According to BHDDA, the work will begin on Monday, April 5 and should be completed by Friday, April 9.

“The patients will be moved back to the Zambarano campus as soon as the Fire Marshal has certified the work on each valve,” it stated.

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