Womazetta Jones to lead RI agency overseeing embattled Eleanor Slater Hospital

Politics - Government
Video Now: HHS Secretary Nominee Womazetta Jones

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee has tapped Womazetta Jones to serve as interim director of the department that oversees the embattled Eleanor Slater Hospital.

Jones will take the helm at the R.I. Department of Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals in addition to her current full-time job as secretary of the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which technically oversees BHDDH and the state-run hospital.

McKee spokesperson Matt Sheaff said the governor has charged Jones with “conducting a thorough review of the Department and to make recommendations to him on issues including, but not limited to, departmental policy, operations, staffing and quality standards for patient care.”

Jones’ biggest challenge will be grappling with the ongoing financial, operational and political mess surrounding Eleanor Slater, which has come under intense public scrutiny in recent months. She is replacing outgoing director Katheryn Power, who resigned effective Friday due to a family medical issue.

Despite holding one of the top jobs in state government, Jones has been less visible than many of her colleagues during her time in public office. Hired by former Gov. Gina Raimondo, Jones oversees several state departments — including the R.I. Department of Health — but has not been seen playing a leading role in the state’s COVID-19 response effort.

She will now be tested with one of the most complicated non-pandemic problems currently facing the McKee administration, as Eleanor Slater has become a hotbed of controversy in recent weeks.

As Target 12 reported Tuesday, a doctor last week accused a union leader of threatening him. And at least one union has voted “no confidence” in the hospital’s administrative leadership. Meanwhile, the agency has cost the state upward of $100 million in general revenue required to backfill costs after Rhode Island stopped requesting federal reimbursements in 2019 after concerns were raised about improper billing of Medicaid at the hospital.

Sheaff said Jones will serve in the position on a temporary basis while the McKee administration conducts a search for a permanent replacement.

“Rhode Islanders who rely on services from BHDDH deserve high-quality care,” Sheaff said. “Given her 30 years of experience in human services, Secretary Jones will work to bring stability to the department. Secretary Jones will work with staff and other stakeholders to rebuild the lines of communication and trust necessary to improve patient outcomes.”

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is an investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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