Bravery Hides in Amazing Places

by Kathleen Heren, Rhode Island State Long Term Care Ombudsman
Kathleen Heren

A fire broke out at the Respiratory and Rehabilitation Center of Rhode Island in Coventry on February 3rd, which could have ended in a tragedy but was quickly managed by a group of individuals at the facility and in the community. The facility houses an elderly and disabled population and specializes in treating residents who are ventilator-dependent and rely on the vents to live.

Back in 2011, Rhode Island had Tropical Storm Irene and then Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Both were category 3 major hurricanes. After these two storms, our then Lt. Governor, Elizabeth Roberts, toured the State to see people with disabilities and long-term care residents who were evacuated due to flooding. Most long-term care facilities in Rhode Island did not have an emergency disaster plan in place. The Lt. Governor realized the suffering and loss of life that had occurred.

Superstorm Sandy floods Providence

Through her efforts, Rhode Island went into partnership with Russell Phillips & Associates. This agency specializes in disaster training. The focus was on long-term care and individuals with disabilities. Rhode Island Department of Health would also be included in this partnership. That was the birth of The Center for Emergency Management at the Rhode Island Department of Health. The goal was to train long-term care facilities in disaster planning. Disasters are not just flooding; they could be fire, snow, or any incident which threatens the life and safety of our frail elders and people with disabilities.

"Disasters are not just flooding; they could be fire, snow, or any incident which threatens the life and safety of our frail elders and people with disabilities." --- Kathleen Heren

Over the next three years, training began. I will not try to explain the entire system but when any type of disaster is imminent, all the facilities call into one number to determine who has available beds that can take residents who either require long-term care, short term/skilled care, or have complex needs. On February 3rd when the fire started, all long-term care facilities across the State immediately responded.

Emergency services at the Rehab fire

I would be remiss if I did not praise first the Coventry Fire and Police and other departments around the State that went right to Coventry to help. The East Providence Fire Chief, Captain John H. Potvin lives in Coventry yet went right over to help. The staff at the nursing home were instrumental in performing all the things needed to keep their residents safe. In the room where the fire started, the firefighters found a nurse who was attempting to put out the fire. She is being called a hero. By 2:00 am on February 4th, they had sent everyone who had to be evacuated to other facilities.

Elizabeth Roberts

In closing, I would like to acknowledge the following people: Alysia Mihalakos, Rhode Island Department of Health, Trevor Kinney, CEO of Genesis Health Care, Adam Simoneau, Administrator of Respiratory and Rehabilitation Center (his first week there, what a way to start!) and, of course, Elizabeth Roberts.

Rhode Island was one of the first states to establish this type of program. If you look at places like Florida, you soon realize what a well-oiled machine we are in Rhode Island in handling disasters. Families should rest a little better knowing their loved ones will be kept safe if a disaster occurs. Our State does not always get things right, but this is not one of them.

My office is available to help you with any concerns you may have. Our number is (401) 785-3340, Toll-free (888) 351-0808. I can also be reached by e-mail:


Ms. Heren provides a monthly guest blog to Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. in which she discusses issues and topics that come across her desk as the Rhode Island State Long Term Care Ombudsman. The opinions expressed in our guest blogs are those of the author(s) only. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Connelly Law Offices, Ltd, or its employees.

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