Joint Commission issues re-accreditation for Eleanor Slater – but staffing concerns remain at Zambarano

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BURRILLVILLE/CRANSTON – Three short years ago, the Joint Commission on the accreditation of hospitals issued a scathing 45-page report on Eleanor Slater Hospital, with threats to deny approval following, in part, a visit to Burrillville’s Zambarano unit that they said uncovered major concerns regarding the health and safety of patients.

This week, commission inspectors fully re-accredited the hospital system – with campuses in Burrillville and Cranston – after assessing performance in 18 areas, including nursing services; provision of care, treatment and services; and national patient safety goals, according to a release from the state agency that runs the both units.

The Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals notes that the next review of Eleanor Slater; a state-run hospital that treats patients with acute and long-term medical illnesses, as well as patients with mental health conditions; is not expected until 2026.

“Eleanor Slater Hospital has come a long way, and this survey demonstrates the knowledge and dedication of our staff,” said BHDDH Interim Director Louis Cerbo. “We appreciate their hard work, and the work of others, including the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, for helping to ensure a successful review.”

The re-accreditation comes as positive news amid ongoing concerns by some regarding staffing and leadership at the hospital – particularly in Burrillville.

In September, state Rep. David Place sounded alarm bells following the resignation of all three of the full time doctors at Zambarano over just a few short months. And last month, Chief Medical Officer Katharine Woods resigned after less than one year in the role – making her the latest in a long string of top doctors with abrupt departures from Eleanor Slater. Dr. Sue Ferranti is currently serving as interim CMO.

A spokesman for BHDDH confirmed in December that just one full-time physician was working at the Burrillville campus, with a second doctor splitting time between Zambarano and the Cranston facility. At the time, a team of part-time physicians were reportedly in place to provide the needed 24/7 coverage, while two new full-time physicians were going through the hiring and credentialing processes.

This week, BHDDH spokesman Edgar Randall told NRI NOW that the 58-patient Burrillville hospital now has two full time physicians, with a third still in the hiring process.

Place, however, said he believes that Zambarano will continue to face challenges, despite the new hires and seemingly positive news of re-accreditation.

“You don’t want to see them fail, but if they don’t have doctors, how can they be an accredited hospital?” asked the representative, who serves as House Minority Whip.

Place acknowledged that Eleanor Slater is facing the same staffing shortage affecting many of Rhode Island’s health care facilities. Still, he noted, “They had doctors, and they drove them away because of the environment. Until that environment is addressed, they’re going to continue having issues hiring and retaining doctors, or staff in general.”

A Republican who represents District 47 in Burrillville and Glocester, Place said in his talks with past and current Zambarano staff, he’s heard the problem stems from a lack of patient focus.

“My understanding is the administration, both prior and current, does not prioritize patient care,” said Place. “It’s not patient-centric. (The doctors) can’t do what they know they need to do to help these patients.”

Such troubles with the hospital system may also be reflected through actions like last July’s vote of no confidence in the facility’s leadership by 86 percent of nurses on the Cranston campus. At the time, the union’s list of grievances were directed at Chief Nursing Officer Anne Mongeau, accused of yelling and swearing at nurses, intimidating employees who submitted hotline complaints regarding safety issues and, “using power to manipulate or control others.”

State administrators, however, point to ongoing improvements being made through investment in Eleanor Slater – including longer-term plans for construction of a new facility on the Burrillville campus. 

“Under Governor McKee, and in partnership with the General Assembly and agencies across state government, Rhode Island has made additional investments at Eleanor Slater Hospital to ensure patient and staff safety, record keeping and building upkeep,” said Richard Charest, secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. “These actions, along with the hard work, dedication, and patient care provided by the amazing team at Eleanor Slater Hospital, positively impacted the hospital’s reaccreditation with the Joint Commission.”

The State is investing more than $35 million into renovations that are expected to begin this spring at Eleanor Slater Hospital’s Regan facility in Cranston, and in Burrillville, plans foresee a new, 100-bed acute care hospital to replace the Beazley building, which opened in 1905 on the 460-acre campus.

The recent survey and inspections by the Joint Commission, an independent, nonprofit organization that accredits and certifies more than 20,000 healthcare organizations and programs in the United States, found the hospital to be in compliance with all standards for acute care hospitals.

“Many thanks are due to Eleanor Slater staff for all they did to make this review successful,” said Brett Johnson, the hospital’s CEO. “This survey showcased our patient-centered care and our culture of safety, as surveyors combed through hospital and patient records and commented on our passionate, knowledgeable, and dedicated staff. The surveyors noted our individualized care, careful record keeping and attention to the human beings and not just the illnesses. They also noted our commitment to rebuilding Eleanor Slater Hospital. I thank our staff for their professionalism and for making a positive impact during the survey and every day.”

The accreditation decision is retroactive to Sept. 23, 2023.

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