Study shows need for new 100-bed long-term acute care facility

Nationally, the length of stay for psychiatric inpatients is about 25 days. Insufficient community discharge planning means average at Eleanor Slater Hospital is 16 years.

By: - May 5, 2023 5:00 am

The Beasley building on the campus of the Zambarano unit of Eleanor Slater Hospital could be replaced with a new 100-bed facility in the coming years. (Photo by Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

BURRILLVILLE — A lack of available  hospital beds in Rhode Island leaves patients in need of long-term inpatient care in with two options: get transferred out-of-state or remain at an intensive or critical care unit that could be used for another patient.

What’s the cause of this crisis? Brett Johnson, the CEO of the state-run Eleanor Slater psychiatric hospital, said it’s because Rhode Island has no dedicated long-term acute care facility. It is a problem that creates backlogs across the state.

“That in turn affects emergency room waiting times,” he said.

In order to meet these needs, a study from the Barrington-based Faulkner Consulting group recommends the construction of a 100-bed facility on the Eleanor Slater Hospital’s Zambarano campus in Burrillville. The facility now has 78 total beds.

ESH Feasibility Study Final Deliverable_SENT


The study comes as Gov. Dan McKee’s administration plans to invest more than $100 million toward a new facility in Burrillville.

Findings from the Faulkner study were presented by officials from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals (BHDDH), which oversees the state’s psychiatric hospitals, at a Community Town Hall Thursday afternoon.

“This project is crucial for the state,” Johnson said.

No concepts were presented, as a review of architectural and engineering options is still being conducted by BHDDH.

This new facility would replace the campus’ Beasley building, which initially opened in 1905 as a sanatorium for patients suffering from tuberculosis. In recent years, the Burrillville hospital has served as the home to patients in need of care and rehabilitation before getting sent home or to an assisted living facility.

All patients and staff would be transitioned to the new facility should plans move forward, BHDDH notes.

Beth Lamarre, executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI) said in an email that she is “pleased to hear about the state’s forward motion in creating this system for those who need it.’

“NAMI Rhode Island is occasionally connected by families whose loved ones may need such level of care, and have a difficult time securing beds,” she said.  “It sounds like the new facility would help to meet those challenges.”

This project is crucial for the state.

– Brett Johnson CEO of Eleanor Slater Hospital

Another issue contributing to the backlog is a lack of community discharge planning, which Johnson said leads to a longer than average stay in any long-term inpatient care beds.

Nationally, the length of stay for this level of care is around 25 days.

“Currently at Eleanor Slater we’re averaging right around 16 years,” Johnson said.

To address this, Faulker’s study suggests BHDDH must work with community partners to develop discharge options to maintain Medicare Certification.

“The hospital would continue to provide care for those people who didn’t have a discharge alternative,” noted Carson Colomore, a senior consultant for Faulkner.

Several Burrillville residents and officials questioned potential impacts the new facility would bring to the town, along with how other space on the campus will be used.

Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz, who represents Burrillville, asked if the hospital plans to use the three unoccupied dormitory buildings on the campus for step-down level care in the foreseeable future. 

Barrett’s response was that BHDDH plans to use those buildings as Enhanced Mental Health Psychiatric Rehabilitative Residences, which serve adults who need 24-hour supervision and support but do not require hospital level of care, within the next few years.

Could three empty dormitories in Burrillville help solve the state’s emergency housing crisis?

The buildings would likely house patients from BHDDH’s Cranston campus. 

“That would not be for the medical patient population coming out of Zambarano,” he said.

Burrillville Town Council member Raymond Trinque said while he supports the idea of a new facility, he and fellow town officials would like to see more concrete plans from BHDDH.

“We’re not one of those not in our backyard folks,” he said. “We’ve supported these efforts before.”

If plans do move forward, Trinque said he would like to see a new facility sooner rather than later.

“We’re in a race against time,” he said. “There are people right now that need to come to this hospital that hopefully we build in the next two to three years, not the next 10 or 15.”

The study conducted by Faulkner, Johnson said, is simply the first step in the state’s process. Next, BHDDH will send the study to the Department of Administration’s Division of Capital Asset Management & Maintenance to conduct a construction feasibility study.

It is unknown how long that will take.

“That can take a while,” Johnson said.


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Christopher Shea
Christopher Shea

Christopher Shea covers politics, the criminal justice system and transportation for the Rhode Island Current.