Elenor Slater Hospital, Zambarano Unit - Burrillville, R.I.
Posted by: dremoto
N 41° 59.736 W 071° 45.508
19T E 271524 N 4652969
Quick Description: A hospital built on the shore of Wallum Lake in 1905, once used for Tuberculosis patients. Now used for long term care patients.
Location: Rhode Island, United States
Date Posted: 11/10/2008 6:14:46 PM
Waymark Code: WM54TQ
A hospital on the shore of Wallum Lake once used for Tuberculosis patients. Now used for long term care patients. What follows is an article from the Providence Journal Bulletin detailing the history of the hospital.
BY G. WAYNE MILLER
Journal Staff Writer
BURRILLVILLE -- One hundred years ago today, a man named George Barrows stepped off a train at a small platform in the woods of northwest Rhode Island. A horse-drawn wagon awaited. Barrows got on, and the driver took him down a rutted road to a cluster of new buildings near the shore of Wallum Lake.
The Rhode Island State Sanatorium, established by the General Assembly, had accepted its first patient.
Barrows suffered from tuberculosis, the nation's leading cause of death in 1905. Antibiotics did not exist, and for many who survived, recovery came only after spending months or years in a convalescent hospital, a sanatorium.
"Barrows was a model patient, quiet, cheerful, kindly, cooperative, a perfect gentleman," wrote Dr. Harry L. Barnes, the founding superintendent, and himself a tuberculosis survivor.
By the end of 1905, 48 men and women had been admitted to the hospital in the woods -- the first of untold thousands of patients who have lived at what is now called the Zambarano Unit of Eleanor Slater Hospital.
Today, the mission has changed, but as it begins its centennial year, the hospital remains a central player in Rhode Island's public health system -- and a major employer. "It's a very warm, pleasant place to be because of the patients and the staff," says state Rep. Edwin R. Pachecho, a regular visitor. "It just goes to show it's not only about giving the medications."
Barnes wrote of the urgent need to treat -- and isolate -- Rhode Islanders with severe cases of tuberculosis. Caused by a bacteria, the disease primarily affects the lungs, but can also attack the brain, spine and kidneys. "Consumptives," as tuberculosis victims were called, were highly contagious. In 1905, TB evoked the same kind of fear that bird flu does today.
"There are great numbers of these [bacteria] in the sputum of advanced consumptives," Barnes said, "and it is this sputum, scattered about by careless spitting or sprayed by coughing, which is the chief danger to others."
Some Wallum Lake patients underwent surgery in hopes of a cure. One operation was pneumothorax, in which an affected lung was collapsed using needles plunged between the ribs. "In nervous patients," a surgical text advised, "1/8 or 1/6 grain of morphia may well be given previous to the operation."
Other patients received compression therapy, in which bags of bird shot -- sometimes weighing a total of 25 pounds -- were placed on their chests as they lay in bed. Still others experienced phrenectomy, in which a surgeon cut a neck nerve, paralyzing the diaphragm. These treatments immobilized a lung, giving the organ a chance to recover. Or so the theory went.
But until the mid-century introduction of antibiotics, the primary treatment for tuberculosis was a hearty diet, plentiful rest, and year-round exposure to sunlight and fresh air. Photographs from the 1920s at Zambarano show children in underwear playing in the snow. Patients slept on open porches, wrapped like mummies in Klondike blankets when winter came. The dinner menu for a Monday in June 1926 included Mulligatawny soup, meat pie, boiled potatoes, string beans, cucumbers, tea and apricot charlotte with custard for dessert.
As survivors and their relatives can attest, the therapy worked for many. But not for all. Some patients nearing death were discharged to die elsewhere: among them was Barrows, who left Wallum Lake on May 20, 1907, and died two weeks later. Others died at Wallum Lake: in 1917, for example, 20 died from an average daily population of 201. Deaths rose to 248 in 1918 -- but the predominant cause was influenza, which had reached pandemic status.
Sanatorium life unfolded slowly.
Patients read, played cards, listened to the radio, watched movies, made baskets, and, on cloudy days, lay on stretchers under sunlamps. They took boat rides and fished. They walked Zambarano's 250 acres. They tended gardens and greenhouses. Some patients who recovered stayed on as staff. Some patients fell in love. Some married.
"It is a community abounding in happiness, heartbreak, idle-tongued gossip, healthy discussion, neighborly sympathy, over-the-fence chats and practically everything else that goes on in small-town America," staff member Bill Worcester wrote in the 1940s. "It is, like thousands of other communities in every corner of our land, a way of life."
BY THE beginning of the second World War, Wallum Lake's average daily census was 556, served by 330 employees. Several more buildings had been constructed and what began as an outpost had its own store, slaughterhouse, hennery, barbershop, chapel, school, fire department, post office -- even its own postcards, printed at Wallum Lake.
The war ended, the 1950s dawned, and the commercial introduction of antibiotic treatment began to improve outcomes for tuberculosis patients. Once the leading cause of death in America, TB had dropped to 10th place in 1953. Fewer than 20,000 people died of the disease that year, compared with nearly 120,000 in 1918, the height of the epidemic.
The end of the sanatorium was in sight. But not the end of Wallum Lake: too much had been invested to simply board up the place.
And so the state began to recast its mission.
The first patients with lung disorders not caused by tuberculosis were admitted in 1955, at about the time the hospital's name was changed, to honor former superintendent Dr. Ubaldo E. Zambarano. Thirty children with developmental disabilities were admitted in 1958, and in 1961, Zambarano began to accept "general medical care" patients. The state closed the last TB ward in 1982, and the final such patient was discharged six years later.
Zambarano remains a close community.
Cindy Lussier can confirm this as well as anyone. The hospital's infection-control nurse, Lussier was born in the 1950s to a man and woman who met while they were TB patients at the hospital, and later married and worked there.
"I made my First Communion here," Lussier says. "Our families were here, our friends were here. There were plays and the kids were in the plays, and there were movies on Friday night. There were things to do. It was very much a family-centered operation. You could be here forever and not have to go anywhere else. That has changed, but the feeling has not."
THE RAILROAD that delivered George Barrows to Wallum Lake is long gone, and so to reach Zambarano today you must travel by car or RIPTA bus from the village of Pascoag several miles on Route 100. Houses line some of the highway, but the wilderness remains. Deer and wild turkeys abound. Native brook trout still populate the Clear River, which flows from Wallum Lake.
The landscape thins and you are on hospital grounds. A sign warns of wheelchairs in the road and a 15-mph speed limit is posted. The drive leads to the main campus, a 1930s red-brick complex with two patient wings, each four stories tall, attached to a central administrative building distinctive for the cupola and weathervane on its roof. The lawns are neatly kept, and during the growing season, flowers bloom. On a mid-autumn day, traces of color remain in the woods surrounding Wallum Lake.
Don't look for Superintendent Barnes' buildings: they have been razed, with only a circular driveway marking where they stood. The post office is gone, too; the doctors' quarters and other structures have been adandoned; and a few former sanatorium buildings are now used by other agencies. TB is a scourge no more.
Rhode Island's deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970s and '80s further reduced Zambarano's population, but the hospital survived calls to close it and the census today is 115 patients, the oldest of whom is a 95-year-old woman, and the youngest of whom is 19.
Although a few patients pass through Zambarano, which is run by the state Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, the majority require long-term care. Some are bedridden. Some are comatose. Some require respirators to breathe. Some, in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's and other dementias, live on locked wards. Some have lost cognition to strokes or head trauma.
Others have diseases afflicting the body, not the mind, and with their wheelchairs, have the roam of the place. One, Frank Beazley, is not only the president of the advocacy group Patients For Progress, but also an artist and poet. "There's everything here for you," says Beazley, 76. "There's so much going on that the day is done before you know it."
Zambarano care does not come cheap: the hospital's annual operating budget is $30.5 million, much of it for 364 employees. The hospital (and the Eleanor Slater campus in Cranston) last month earned continued accreditation after a survey by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, the nonprofit organization that sets national standards.
The commission described the quality of care at Slater as "excellent," according to an internal memo signed by acting MHRH director Kathleen M. Spangler and four other officials. The public report will not be available for several weeks, according to a JCAHO spokesman.
ON TUESDAY, patients, staff and administrators gathered in Zambarano's medical library for the first of several events over the next year to celebrate the hospital's centennial. Although the first patient wasn't admitted until Nov. 6, 1905, the hospital officially opened on Nov. 1.
The Postal Service had prepared a commemorative cancellation postmarked Pascoag that read "State Sanatorium for Consumptives, November 1, 1905-2005, Dr. U.E. Zambarano Memorial Hospital," and a postal clerk used it on Zambarano envelopes containing a brief history of the institution. A cake with a likeness of the original sanatorium graced a table. A banner that will hang at Zambarano's entrance was displayed.
James P. Benedict, chief operating officer of Eleanor Slater and Zambarano's chief administrator from 1976 to 1988, was the main speaker. Benedict recalled that when he arrived, the hospital put more emphasis on "custodial care" than rehabilitation. That has changed. The hospital today offers numerous recreational and educational programs and employs three dozen activities therapists, compared with one when Benedict arrived.
"You should all be very proud of being a part of this facility's legacy," he said. "It's a very, very special place."
2090 Wallum Lake Rd
Pascoag, R.I. U.S.A
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