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Guest Blog - The Ombudsman's Report

A Man with a Plan - Meet Brett Johnson, CEO of Eleanor Slater Hospital

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

RJ Connelly III, CELA

"To call the last couple of years at Eleanor Slater Hospital, and the Zambarano Unit in Burrillville, Rhode Island in particular, tumultuous, would be an understatement," said certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "There were multiple administration changes, allegations of financial improprieties, needed repairs not being addressed, and threats to close the unit entirely were just a few of the issues that made headlines in Rhode Island media and beyond."


"Thankfully, things appear to be changing in a big way," Attorney Connelly continued. "And the change has started at the top. In this month's Ombudsman Report, Kathleen Heren, Rhode Island's Long-Term Care Ombudsman, introduces us to the new CEO of Eleanor Slater Hospital, Mr. Brett Johnson."


Meet Brett Johnson

Kathleen Heren

Happy fall everyone. I want to introduce my readers to Brett Johnson. Brett Johnson is the CEO of Eleanor Slater Hospital, a state-run facility that provides acute and post-acute care to patients with complex medical and psychiatric needs.


When I first spoke with Brett, I asked him if he would like to be a guest writer who would tell our readers what his vision is for the hospital. There are always articles in the newspapers on all the negative things that happen at the hospital. It’s important to let the citizens of Rhode Island know as well as the residents’ families that there is someone who has a vision for the hospital. So, let's please welcome Brett Johnson. In this interview, he discusses his interest in Eleanor Slater Hospital and his priorities and goals for the hospital.


Tell us about yourself

Brett Johnson, CEO

I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Care Administration from the University of Wisconsin, a Master of Business Administration from the University of Findlay, and a post-graduate certificate in Elder Law from the University of Toledo.

My career spans more than two decades in healthcare, during which I have gained experience with hospital leadership, care delivery, budgeting, short- and long-range planning, and day-to-day management. I enjoy the challenge of building high-functioning teams, and I especially enjoy turning challenged healthcare facilities into high-reliability organizations.

"I especially enjoy turning challenged healthcare facilities into high-reliability organizations." --- Brett Johnson

Establishing a High-Reliability Organization means committing to zero harm and achieving purposeful work in healthcare. This does not require huge campaigns or major resource investment. It begins with leaders at all levels thinking about how the care they deliver could be safer and then committing to systems that support safer care.

What attracted you to the ESH position?

The opening for a CEO at Eleanor Slater Hospital presented an opportunity to care for patients in a challenging environment. Each of my past moves has been motivated by opportunities to help healthcare organizations and hospitals care for people, and I saw the opening at Eleanor Slater as a new opportunity to contribute and make a difference. I enjoy working with the staff to address challenges that may arise as we care for our patients. My job is to continue to steer the hospital in the right direction and make sure we are providing the best care while also making sure our staff has everything they need to succeed.

"My job is to continue to steer the hospital in the right direction and make sure we are providing the best care while also making sure our staff has everything they need to succeed." --- Brett Johnson

What are some of your key priorities for ESH?

The hospital saw a great deal of change during the year prior to my arrival and has seen more since I arrived. Many of those changes were rewarded in August when CMS visited and found the hospital to be in substantial compliance with the Medicare Conditions of Participation. That was a huge accomplishment, but we cannot stand still. Like other hospitals, we are still dealing with a national healthcare staffing shortage, and with winter coming we know there will be an increased risk from COVID and other viruses. We need to continue to make sure the hospital is providing the best treatment and care for our patients. That is our priority – patient care, along with patient safety and staff safety.


What are your goals for ESH?

Beyond our top priorities of patient care and patient and staff safety, my goals are to:

  • Oversee a smooth transition to separately license the Rhode Island State Psychiatric Hospital at the Roosevelt Benton facility.

  • Oversee steps that must be taken so that planned renovations can move forward on both the Cranston and Burrillville campuses of Eleanor Slater Hospital.

  • Help with the preliminary studies that must take place for the state to build a new facility on the Zambarano campus.

  • Help with the procurement of Eleanor Slater Hospital’s first Electronic Medical Records System, which was approved in the state’s FY23 budget.

  • Continue to ensure Eleanor Slater Hospital is meeting or exceeding all the requirements for Joint Commission accreditation and CMS participation.

Thank you very much, Brett.


Kathleen Heren

Rhode Island State Long-Term Care Ombudsman

Office of the RI State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program

Alliance for Better Long-Term Care Inc

422 Post Road Suite 204

Warwick, RI 02888

401-785-3340