PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The head of the embattled R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals has resigned, adding further uncertainty over the future of Eleanor Slater Hospital.
Target 12 has learned Director Kathryn Power has submitted a letter of resignation, citing a recently diagnosed health issue in her family. She’s departing a little more than one year after she accepted the post from former Gov. Gina Raimondo, who directed Power to try – among other things – to shore up operations and finances at Eleanor Slater.
“I believe that I helped move the organization in the right direction to embrace a more aligned set of programs and services that are highly reflective of the least restrictive environment, the most appropriate level of clinical care, and the strong themes of personal choice, a safe, stable living situation, and whole life self-management,” Power wrote in her resignation letter submitted to Gov. Dan McKee.
“BHDDH has a critical mission and it will be a priority for the McKee administration to find a candidate to live up to its values providing high-quality care and services for some of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable residents,” McKee spokesperson Matt Sheaff said in a statement. “We thank Director Power for her service on the state and federal level and wish her all the best.”
The state-run hospital has been under intense scrutiny in recent months, as employees and some families of patients have pushed back on an ongoing plan to restructure and downsize the facility. The disagreements have become ugly at times and Power was recently called to testify before both of the General Assembly’s oversight committees. She faced criticism from lawmakers last week for leaving a House hearing without answering all their questions.
Power’s departure will only add to the turmoil at the hospital system, which currently provides psychiatric and complex medical care through Zambarano in Burrillville and multiple other units in Cranston.
“This is a department in utter disarray, and we believe a thoughtful pause is appropriate on all efforts underway to fundamentally alter the health services provided by the Eleanor Slater Hospital Zambarano unit,” said United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5019 president Cynthia Lussier, whose represents registered nurses at the Burrillville facility.
Lussier wished the outgoing director well as she transitions out of the department, but called for greater clarity about what would happen next with the hospital.
“Zambarano patients, families and frontline workers are all struggling with the uncertainty surrounding the hospital’s future and the state has yet to outline a clear plan for maintaining this critically-needed care facility,” Lussier said.
The Raimondo administration’s plan to downsize the facility, which included discharging patients who could receive similar levels of care outside of a hospital setting, has been moving forward under the McKee administration. According to a recent report, the cost of hospital operations and services totals about $550,000 per patient — which is about five times the average cost of services provided in nursing facilities and community-based placements.
The new governor has proposed allocating $65 million in the fiscal 2021-22 budget to build a new long-term care facility to replace the Zambarano hospital in Burrillville.
Power’s resignation is effective April 9, according to her letter.
“It has been an honor to serve you and the state of Rhode Island and I wish you the very best in all of your future endeavors,” Power wrote.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram