PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A newly released report from 2019 shows consultants initially proposed shutting down the Zambarano unit of Eleanor Slater Hospital, which Republican lawmakers claim supports their argument that there’s been a “shadow” closure of the state-run medical facility.
In a report dated Oct. 31, 2019, the consulting group Alverez & Marsal created a plan commissioned by then-Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration to transform Eleanor Slater into a standalone psychiatric hospital in Cranston and to close the Zambarano unit in Burrillville.
Near the top of the report, consultants suggested the “closure of Zambarano,” including transitioning patients patients to nursing homes and “other levels of care.” GOP lawmakers have been quick to point to the report as the linchpin of their arguments that the state has been secretly trying to shut the facilities down for more than a year.
“An 18-month-old taxpayer-funded report confirms what we … believed all along and Gov. Raimondo denied,” Sen. Jessica de la Cruz, R-North Smithfield, wrote on Twitter. “The state has been actively closing Zam.”
Rep. David Place, R-Burrillville, likewise took to social media to highlight the report, which was first reported by The Providence Journal. “What [de la Cruz] and I have been saying since March is true,” he wrote. “[Raimondo] and her administration were conducting a shadow closure of Zam and the rest of [Eleanor Slater].”
Spokespeople for the state agencies overseeing Eleanor Slater Hospital did not immediately respond to questions about the report or the lawmakers’ claims. But state officials in the past have denied any “shadow” effort to close the hospital, and Rhode Island’s plan for Eleanor Slater has evolved multiple times over the past year and a half.
Not everyone agrees with the lawmakers’ characterization of the newly disclosed report.
“Everyone has known since last fall that the consultants put closing Zam on the list of options,” Stephen Erickson, a former District Court judge and outspoken advocate on mental health issues, wrote in response to Place’s tweet.
Indeed, the 2019 report — which consultants estimated would vastly reduce the state’s fixed costs tied to the hospital — appears to be a precursor to a second Alvarez & Marsal plan presented to state lawmakers roughly one year later, in October 2020.
The second report included three proposals, including one that similarly proposed a shutdown of Zambarano and a standalone psychiatric facility in Cranston. The 2020 report’s second proposal made nearly no changes to the status quo, and the third called for the creation of a new, skilled-nursing facility on the Zambarano campus — along with a standalone psychiatric facility in Cranston.
Gov. Dan McKee, who ascend to the state’s top job after Raimondo left to become U.S. commerce secretary in March, included the third proposal in his 2021-22 tax-and-spending plan. He called for $65 million to build a new nursing home in Burrillville, which would replace the existing facilities.
But McKee has since backed off that plan amid ongoing controversy surrounding the hospital, claiming in part that the Alvarez & Marsal report needs to be reviewed. He has tasked Health and Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones, who is also serving as interim director of and CEO of the hospital, to head the effort — even though she had responsibility for Eleanor Slater when both of the consultant’s reports were created.
“The plans outlined in the Alvarez & Marsal summary report will be put on hold so that we can have real and thoughtful dialogue and engagement with the community, stakeholders, and the General Assembly on what the best solutions are to provide high quality care that meets the needs of Rhode Islanders seeking these vital services,” McKee spokesperson Matt Sheaff said in a statement last month.
The state hasn’t committed to any specific deadline to conclude the review, but McKee last week said he wants to provide the General Assembly with an updated idea before the end of the current legislative session.
As of March 5, Rhode Island had paid Alvarez & Marsal $1.5 million for its consulting work at Eleanor Slater, according a state spokesperson.
Separate from the criticism surrounding the consultant’s reports, the state-run medical facility has also dominated headlines in recent months for a host of other problems, including financial issues, neglected facilities and an ongoing clash between union groups and hospital administrators.
Last month, R.I. Attorney General Peter Neoronha said he’s launched his own investigation into the hospital, and Target 12 has confirmed he’s examining both issues related to patient care and financial operations.
It was not immediately clear how the 2019 Alvarez & Marsal report might play a role in either the state’s review or Neronha’s investigation. But the proposal now appear to be long outdated, as the proposed start date for the shutdown of Zambarano and transition of patients was Dec. 1, 2019, with the process supposed to last six months.
“Emphasis of the timeline is to focus on planning appropriately for the Zambarano closure as well as capacity building for alternative placements for patients currently in [Cranston],” the consultants wrote at the time.