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Survey shows workplace safety improvements at Eleanor Slater

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Survey shows workplace safety improvements at Eleanor Slater

Dec 11, 2023 | 5:01 am ET
By Christopher Shea
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Survey shows workplace safety improvements at Eleanor Slater
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The Eleanor Slater Hospital in Burrillville. (Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals)

Morale and safety appear to be improving at the two campuses of the state-run Eleanor Slater Hospital, according to a newly-released employee survey.

The biannual survey conducted by the federal government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows an uptick in quality of care — most notably in the areas of communication, supervisor support for safety, and overall safety. The survey was completed by 185 employees and released Monday, Dec. 4, by the state’s Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), which oversees Eleanor Slater.

Those same benchmarks were all well below the national average in the 2021 survey.

That year, staff gave Eleanor Slater a score of 38 for management support for safety — 31 points below the national average. In 2023, the score improved to 69 — two points higher than the national benchmark.

Overall safety in 2021 had a score of 48 (which was 18 points lower than the benchmark) and communication scored a 45 (22 points below).

The survey’s release shows much has changed since Eleanor Slater was at risk of losing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for deficiencies in patient supervision and safety cited by federal regulators in 2022. Since then Eleanor Slater has worked to improve workplace safety and patient satisfaction by establishing an anonymous employee tip line, making routine policy updates, and appointing a new patient safety officer to oversee care, officials said.

“The responses from our staff are another confirmation that Eleanor Slater Hospital is moving in the right direction,” interim BHDDH Director Louis Cerbo said in a statement. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our patients and staff, and that’s why it is critical to have an environment where employees are encouraged to share concerns and make suggestions.”

Accusations of a toxic work environment led to Eleanor Slater getting its accreditation temporarily denied from The Joint Commission — a national nonprofit health care accreditation organization — in June 2021. In its report, the commission wrote that conditions posed an “immediate threat to health or safety for patients or the public.” Accreditation was fully reinstated in December 2021 and is secured through 2024.

Joint Commission spokesperson Maureen Lyons declined to say what the status of re-accreditation is for Eleanor Slater, but the organization’s website notes that a decision on reaccreditation will be made after a follow-up survey.

“In the midst of a leadership change and a global pandemic, morale in 2021 at Eleanor Slater Hospital left room for improvement,” BHDDH spokesperson Randal Edgar said.

Edgar said in an email Friday that future plans include installing a new electronic medical records system, an automated delivery for supplies and medications, and enhanced nurse leadership and supervisor training.

United Nurses & Allied Professionals Local 5019 President Karen Raposa, whose union includes staff at Eleanor Slater, said BHDDH’s changes “helped create positivity and inclusion in the workplace.”

But Raposa said there is one important change still needed: more staff doctors, registered nurses, and certified nursing assistants.

“In order to provide consistent and timely continuity of care for our patients, there must be a greater focus on recruitment and retention of healthcare workers,” Raposa said. “While steps have been taken in the right direction, there is still a long way to go.”

A representative National Association of Government Employees Local 79, whose members also include Eleanor Slater staff, could not be reached for comment on the employee surveys.

The survey also comes after recent violent incidents against health care workers in Providence hospitals, including one that left a Rhode Island Hospital nurse seriously injured. Lifespan launched a new awareness campaign with a pledge initiative to keep health care workers safe.

Gov. Dan McKee’s office praised the results of the 2023 survey.

“The McKee Administration has worked diligently not only to improve patient care at Eleanor Slater Hospital, but also to ensure staff feel supported and have the resources they need,” spokesperson Olivia DaRocha said in a statement Friday. “While there is more work to do, we’re pleased that our turnaround efforts are giving the hospital momentum and we look forward to building on this progress.”

Eleanor Slater has two campuses, one in Burrillville and another in Cranston, with both facilities totaling 178 beds. As of May 1, 2023, 42.5% of Eleanor Slater patients were hospitalized for psychiatric care. The percentage must be below 51% in order for the state to seek to collect federal  reimbursement.

This story was corrected Dec. 13 to note that Eleanor Slater’s accreditation was given a preliminary denial from the Joint Commission. It was not taken away.