North Smithfield’s Charest picked to lead BHDDH

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PROVIDENCE – A North Smithfield man who retired from the position of president and CEO of Landmark Medical Center in 2017 has been named director of Rhode Island’s Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Development Disabilities and Hospitals by Gov. Dan McKee.

Richard Charest will lead the agency, which boasts a $480 million budget and 1,100 employees.

Charest, the husband of former town councilor, school committee member and North Smithfield postal worker Christine Charest, received his MBA in health care administration from Bryant University, and his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Northeastern University. He formerly served as a chair of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island board.

He was named president and CEO of the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island, Landmark’s sister facility, in 2000, and became president of Landmark Medical Center in 2007. Charest was named CEO the following year as part of a cost-saving measure when the facility went into receivership.

The administrator guided the Woonsocket hospital through an extended period of fiscal uncertainty prior to its eventual purchase by California-based Prime Health Services.

The experience may serve him well as he takes the helm at the state agency, which has seen problems all its own in recent months. The department oversees the Eleanor Slater Hospital system, including the Zambarano unit in Burrillville.

Zambarano provides acute care for some of the state’s most vulnerable patients, but the facility fell out of compliance with Medicaid in 2019, leading to the loss of millions in state revenue, and some say, a plan to quietly phase out the hospital. A plan to restructure the hospital system left behind by Mckee’s predecessor, Gov. Gina Raimondo, has been the subject of continued scrutiny among hospital supporters and heath care advocates.

R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha is currently investigating both finances and patient care at Zambarano, an issue that has also been subject of numerous legislative hearings.

Charest will replace former director Kathryn Power, who resigned earlier this year.

McKee announced the pick with Health and Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones, who has filled the BHHDDH vacancy as interim director.

“As our administration begins to address the long-standing challenges facing the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, we are pleased to have recruited a strong candidate who can help improve departmental policy, operations, staffing and patient care,” McKee said in a statement.

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