PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee has tapped Richard Charest, the retired president and CEO of Landmark Medical Center, to lead the problem-plagued R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Development Disabilities and Hospitals.
The governor and Health and Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones announced Wednesday the longtime hospital executive will take over responsibility for the agency, its $480 million budget and 1,100 employees.
“As our administration begins to address the long-standing challenges facing the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, we are pleased to have recruited a strong candidate who can help improve departmental policy, operations, staffing and patient care,” McKee said in a statement.
Charest worked at Landmark in Woonsocket for several decades. He will be taking the reins from Jones, who had been serving in an interim capacity since former director Kathryn Power left earlier this year.
“I look forward to working closely with him, and Governor McKee, so we can continue improving our state’s behavioral health care system,” Jones said in a statement, adding that the department would benefit from his leadership.
Charest will join a department that is currently in turmoil.
BHDDH, as it’s known, oversees the embattled Eleanor Slater Hospital, which has dominated headlines in recent months due to various problems tied to its finances, workforce and building conditions. The state-run medical system provides psychiatric and medical care at its Zambarano unit in Burrillville and three more units in Cranston.
The governor’s office said Charest has already been doing consulting work for Eleanor Slater, saying that would give him “crucial knowledge of the facility that he will oversee as BHDDH director.” Charest started consulting for the hospital last August and has been paid $53,250 for that work, according to a state spokesperson.
“We have an opportunity to make meaningful change to a critical state department that is decades overdue,” Charest said in a statement.
R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha is currently investigating both patient care and financial affairs at the hospital, and state legislative oversight committees are leading inquiries into various issues there.
After long receiving a steady stream of federal funding, Eleanor Slater hasn’t billed the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for hospital services since 2019, a decision that’s cost Rhode Island upward of $100 million in state money. The state stopped billing the federal government out of concerns it might be violating the law — a problem that remains unsolved 18 months later.
Charest — like the governor — has roots in the Blackstone Valley. He started working at Landmark as a teenager and made his way up through the ranks to eventually become its top executive in 2007. He also helped usher the hospital through receivership before retiring in 2016.
For the past year, Charest has been serving as president of a consulting company called 180 Degree Solutions LLC, according to his LinkedIn page. He received his MBA in health care administration from Bryant University — then Bryant College — and his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Northeastern University.
Charest formerly served as a chair of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island board. The hospital trade group is currently conducting a clinical and operational review of Eleanor Slater along with one of its members, Care New England.
“I look forward to supporting the McKee administration’s efforts to evaluate and improve BHDDH in the best interest of the Rhode Islanders this department serves,” Charest said. “This is important work and I look forward to collaborating with stakeholders to deliver the and results that patients and families need.”