PAWTUCKET – Mayor Donald R. Grebien said city and state officials will join together this week to inspect Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island as a prospective “quarantine center” to potentially be used by the state as an option were the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in Rhode Island to escalate.
While the state and city officials will tour the facility this week as part of the routine quarterly inspections of the hospital – which has been closed since late 2017 – it will ultimately be the determination of the Rhode Island Department of Health as to whether the shuttered hospital reopens in any capacity.
“What we’ve been told is they’re looking at all options,” Grebien said in an interview with The Times on Monday. “Hotels, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Memorial Hospital, there are options out there. What would happen is, as I’m learning this, is the Army Corps of Engineers will look at all structures for what is the quickest, fastest, safest way if we need to get to that point. Memorial Hospital itself is on that list to be inspected.”
“We’ll be in there one day this week, city officials with state officials to do our quarterly inspection,” the mayor added, noting that these quarterly inspections consist of zoning, code enforcement, and fire officials performing a variety of tests to ensure compliance and that the building is not a hazard.
The 294-bed community hospital on Brewster Street has been closed since late-2017 following the Rhode Island Department of Health’s approval of Care New England’s request to eliminate the emergency department, effective Jan. 1, 2018, and to eliminate primary care services under the Memorial Hospital license 24 days later.
Care New England still owns the property.
The city posted a statement to its official Twitter account on Sunday night in which it said that officials have been in “regular contact” with Rhode Island Department of Health officials about the prospects of reopening the former Memorial Hospital site.
“Since the closure of Memorial Hospital December of 2017, the city has continued to advocate for emergency medical services in Pawtucket and the Blackstone Valley. Unfortunately, the city has no role to regulate hospitals, but it is our role to fight for the quality health services that our residents need and deserve,” the statement reads.
“The city understands that they are currently considering a wide range of options when it comes to responding to the potential need for expanded access to care,” the statement reads. “The state needs to do what is best for this community.”
“If the state makes the decision to reopen the Memorial Hospital site for COVID-19, the council and administration are ready to help in any way that we can to get this done,” the statement concludes. “We are here ready to support the Governor and the Rhode Island Department of Health as well as to advocate for the needs of our community.”
“We’ve asked the state whoever’s going to be looking at it from a state perspective, let’s look at it together…” Grebien said on Monday. “It could lead into other things, it could lead into the need of the hospital. I don’t want to make believe that I know. They may choose to use a different hospital for operations. I think that’s what the inspection is.”
At Memorial’s last quarterly inspection, on Dec. 4, 2019, all of the building’s fire alarms, sprinklers, and fire extinguishers were up-to-date, and emergency locks and door magnets were as well. The building’s temperature was kept at no less than 65 degrees, drains and sewers were in working order, and backup systems, generators, and lighting was all operational.
Grebien said that, particularly in the aftermath of the devastating fire that gutted nearly a million square feet of mill buildings on the Pawtucket and Central Falls line two weeks ago, it was imperative to “protect the neighborhood.”
But while Grebien sees no reason why Memorial couldn’t be an operational building, the next question is medical need and how quickly it could be transformed, saying “everything else has been cleaned out.”
Ultimately, whether the state opts to utilize Memorial Hospital as a COVID-19 quarantine center, and after the coronavirus pandemic fades away, Grebien still wants to see vital emergency services return to Pawtucket, citing a recently-released report from the Boston-based public health research and consulting firm John Snow Inc., which said closing Memorial could have “long-term impacts” on residents of Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Cumberland, removing a “nucleus” of health care services for communities with high healthcare needs.
“We are now focusing in on those services that are needed by our community. I don’t want people to think they will ever have a 200-room hospital, but we’re focused in on emergency services with beds that are needed for operation, whether it’s a mini hospital, but the numbers and data are needed…” the mayor said. “If you look at the JSI report, it only reinforces what everyone’s talking about.”
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette