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Pawtucket, Central Falls mayors ask to reopen Memorial Hospital

Coronavirus

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The leaders of two Rhode Island cities are asking the state’s second-largest hospital group to consider reopening Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket, which was shuttered in 2017.

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa have sent a letter to the CEO and board of Care New England, asking that the empty facility be reopened. They suggested it could be used as a testing site, respiratory center or isolation center.

“You have an obligation to these communities,” the mayors wrote to the hospital group. “This is a true opportunity for CNE to prove that the needs outweigh the finances.”

Grebien and Diossa said many of their constituents don’t have cars to make it to other hospitals, or the testing sites now open at Rhode Island College in Providence, CCRI in Warwick and URI in South Kingstown.

“We might not want to persuade people to take mass transportation if they have symptoms,” Diossa said in an interview with Target 12.

“In the Blackstone Valley we have not one testing site, we have not one potential respiratory site. We have no isolation,” Grebien said. “And then we have this building sitting here vacant.”

Grebien said the city required Care New England to keep the heat and water on at the facility when it closed. He acknowledged that a recent inspection found some issues — including some potentially rotted pipes — but said he thought it would only take a week or two to open the building back up.

Target 12 first reported last week that state emergency officials toured the hospital, but both hospital and state officials have downplayed the possibility of using it as a triage site.

“Memorial, as a building, has some significant challenges to be able to open up in this kind of condition,” Dr. James Fanale, the president and CEO of Care New England, told Target 12 last week. “And could they get it ready in four to five weeks’ time when this surge may or may not happen?”

Grebien said if it going to be too difficult to reopen the building, the hospital’s parking lot could be used for drive-through testing tents such as the ones currently set up at on the college campuses.

At her daily briefing Tuesday, Raimondo said the state is looking at Memorial Hospital, along with other possibilities such as the R.I. Convention Center.

“Are we looking at it? Yes,” Raimondo said. “Are we looking at another 15 to 20 alternatives? Yes.”

She criticized the mayors for going public with their pitch, adding that it had been brought up on multiple daily calls her office has had with municipal leaders.

“Public statements like that on the basis of limited information aren’t very helpful right now,” Raimondo said. She said the R.I. National Guard and Army Corps of Engineers have been “on the ground” touring facilities for the past week.

“You can assume every hotel, abandoned building, former hospital, convention center, large hall, formerly occupied business building — we have engineers, architects and the Army Corps all over it, trying to make a statewide plan to meet the needs of COVID,” Raimondo said.

Care New England shuttered Memorial in 2017, citing low patient counts and deep financial losses. But a report released earlier this year found the hospital’s absence has left some communities with limited access to emergency services.

Care New England still has outpatient doctor’s offices on the campus, but is selling the main hospital building. The company reached a deal last year with the firm Lockwood Development Partners to buy the property and turn it into a center for military veterans.

A spokesperson for Care New England said Tuesday there was no update on the status of the sale. Grebien said Lockwood is still planning to buy the property, but the sale has not closed.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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