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Gruesome patient incident at Eleanor Slater Hospital sparks investigation

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Department of Health is investigating a recent incident involving an Eleanor Slater Hospital patient who partially removed their own eye with a spoon, Target 12 has confirmed.

State officials are so far saying little about the incident, which happened earlier this week at the hospital’s Benton facility in Cranston. But multiple sources have confirmed the patient was inside their room when they used the spoon to hurt themselves, and state officials are now investigating how the patient had access to the utensil.

Randal Edgar, a spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Development Disabilities and Hospitals, confirmed an incident occurred but declined to provide any specific details.

“A reportable adverse event occurred earlier this week at Eleanor Slater Hospital and was reported to the Department of Health,” Edgar said. “For confidentiality reasons, we cannot share further information.”

Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken likewise would not divulge any information regarding what happened.

“We are not able to release any information or comment on incidents that are being investigated,” Wendelken said in a statement. “For that reason, there isn’t anything I can share at this time.”

The Benton facility serves the hospital’s so-called “forensic psych” patients, who are people that have been ordered there through the state’s courts system for mental health reasons. There are typically about 50 patients living there at any given time, according to BHDDH documents shared with lawmakers earlier this year.

Target 12 has independently confirmed investigators are examining whether staffing policies and procedures were followed as it relates to tracking utensils used during mealtimes. It’s also unclear how long the patient was left unchecked.

In 2017, Eleanor Slater leaders put in place a requirement to visit psychiatric patients every five minutes after a national accrediting agency, The Joint Commission, determined the state-run hospital had too many ligature risks, which are physical aspects of the building that make it easier for patients to harm themselves.

The check-ups are mandatory in some of the hospital’s older buildings, and they are required of many patients in the newer Benton building.

A recent report by the Hospital Association of Rhode Island and Care New England concluded that the review team had been “very impressed” with the quality of patient care. But the reviewers did not visit the hospital’s Benton facility, saying it was outside of the scope of their review of clinical care, and the report was later criticized by the hospital’s former chief medical officer.

Eleanor Slater is currently trying to stay in the good graces of The Joint Commission, which earlier this year issued a scathing report on the hospital’s conditions and threatened to revoke its accreditation, which allows the state to receive millions of dollars in federal support. The commission’s report referenced an incident in 2019 involving a nurse who told a patient to “go shoot yourself.”

The state-run hospital has become the focus of intense scrutiny throughout this year because of its money woes, deteriorating buildings and problematic work environment. That scrutiny includes an ongoing investigation into patient care and billing practices by R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha.

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

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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