Our History

The Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals has a long and storied history, beginning in 1828. Read about some of the highlights below.

BHDDH Timeline 1828 until Present

1828: The Dexter Asylum in Providence opened to care for the sick and feeble.

1847: Butler Hospital opened one of the most progressive institutions in the nation for treatment of the mentally ill.

1864: The General Assembly appointed a committee to inquire into the expediency of erecting a State asylum.

1869: The General Assembly established a Board of State Charities and Corrections. At the same time, the legislature commissioned the purchase of the William A. Howard farm in Cranston for the establishment of a State Asylum for the Insane and Poor, a State Workhouse and a House of Corrections.

November 1870: 118 mentally ill patients were admitted to the 18 wood-framed buildings that were built in the same year.

1878: The Adult Correction Institute, State Prison and Providence County Jail were completed.

1885: The General Assembly adopted a resolution that the State Asylum for the Incurable Insane should serve as a receiving hospital for both chronic and acute cases; thus merging the two.

1888: The General Assembly appropriated funds for a new almshouse to replace the frame building originally built for the insane.

1894: The Prison and Jail contained roughly 150 more inmates than it was intended to house.

1896: Two new buildings were constructed, each containing 20 beds for tuberculosis patients.

1905: The Rhode Island State Sanatorium (later the Dr. U. E. Zambarano Hospital), located on Wallum Lake in Burrillville, opened its doors to serve persons with tuberculosis.

1916: The State assigned social workers to the State Hospital.

1924: The Prison and Jail held twice its capacity, resulting in the addition of a new wing on the building.

1935: The Old Age Assistance Act provided support for persons over 65, helping to keep them out of the "poor house."

1935: The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 and subsequent Emergency Relief Appropriation Act in 1935 provided Rhode Island with $12,000,000.00 to put people back to work. A major share of the funding went to the creation of 14 new, brick buildings and additional renovations to facilities at the State Institutions at Howard. Separate funds also added buildings and facilities at the State Sanitarium at Wallum Lake and the Exeter School in South County.

1936: Barry Hall and Simpson Hall were constructed in 1936 as part of the nation's Works Progress Administration (WPA) program. Built in a uniform, red brick, Georgian revival style, both buildings were used as dormitories for employees of the State Hospital for Mental Diseases.

1936: There were still 15 poor farms operating in Rhode Island in addition to the State facilities at Howard.

1950: Since tuberculosis no longer was the threat that it had been for many decades, the mission of the Zambarano Hospital in Burrillville began to evolve into what it is used for today.

1951: The Parents Council for Retarded Children was formed and, for the next several decades, Council members worked to increase opportunities for their children with developmental disabilities.

1952: The Parents Council for Retarded Children voted to become affiliated with the National Association for Retarded Children.

1960: Governor John Notte formulated a plan to place the General Hospital and State Hospital for Mental Disease under one Superintendent, creating a "Medical Center."

1962: The General Hospital and State Hospital for Mental Disease merged to become the Rhode Island Medical Center. Both facilities were accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) in 1963.

1963: Barry Hall was rededicated.

1967: The Medical Center was divided into The Center General Hospital and Institute of Mental Health. Both hospitals were administered by a new State department; Department of Mental Health, Retardation, and Hospitals (MHRH).

1970: Through deinstitutionalization, many hospital residents from the General Hospital and Zambarano (as well as patients at the Institute of Mental Health) were discharged and placed in "community settings."

1970: Deinstitutionalization of the Ladd Center was in progress. Overwhelmingly, bond issues passed for the State to purchase and renovate homes in the community for developmentally disabled citizens

1977: The Institute for Mental Health was divided into nine units to deal with specific regions, and categories of patients.

1980: In addition to treatment and counseling, community services for persons with mental illness expanded to include residential services, employment programs and other services.

1986: On July 30, Governor Edward DiPrete announces his intention to close the Joseph H. Ladd School.

1994: The last five residents of the Ladd Center moved into group homes, and the institution closed.

1994: The Institute of Mental Health, the Center General Hospital and the Zambarano Memorial Hospital united to become the Eleanor Slater Hospital. Hospital psychiatric services were provided at the Adult Psychiatric Services Unit, as well as the Psychogeriatric Unit of the hospital. Admissions were streamlined to include individuals in need of long term, hospital-level care.

2000: The Division of Substance Abuse was transferred to MHRH from the RI Department of Health. Mental health services and substance abuse services merged to form the Division of Behavioral Healthcare.

2000: Rhode Island became the first state in the country to adopt integrated behavioral health licensing standards and develop a recovery-oriented system of care.

2000: Director Kathryn Power and Craig Stenning created the Department's behavioral disaster team. The 450-person team of volunteers provided treatment within the community following September 11, 2001, the Station Nightclub fire and the floods of 2010.

2001: With a grant from the RI legislature, treatment services for problem gamblers were provided through the Division of Behavioral Healthcare Services.

2001: The State established the Governor's Council on Behavioral Health to advise the governor and members of the general assembly regarding the policies and goals of the behavioral health programs.

2001: A revitalization of the discharge process from Eleanor Slater Hospital facilitated the appropriate movement of patients, who no longer required hospital level care, to community settings.

June 2001: While Kathryn Power was Director, RI was one of seven states to pass a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse parity law.

January 2002: MHRH received an award of appreciation from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for its response to the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The award funds were used to build an infrastructure and train behavioral health professionals to respond to the emotional and psychological needs of those affected by disaster.

2002: A three-year, $9 million federal grant was awarded to the Division of Behavioral Healthcare to develop a comprehensive state-wide prevention plan to reduce the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs by youth and to fund science-based prevention programs.

2003: Rhode Island's first "Rally4 Recovery" took place on the grounds of the Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals.

2003: A. Kathryn Power transitions from State government as the Director of the Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals to federal government, becoming the Director of the Center for Mental Health Services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, (SAMHSA), in Washington, D.C.

2003: Governor Donald Carcieri named Jane Hayward interim director of the Rhode Island Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals.

January 2003: Due to recent inclement weather, Governor Carcieri's office requests MHRH officials to prepare Harrington Hall as an emergency shelter for homeless individuals.

February 2003: At the Crowne Plaza in Warwick, RI, MHRH Behavioral Healthcare staff members provide support to victims immediately following the Station Fire. The Division of Behavioral Healthcare set up an emergency operations center in Barry Hall to coordinate the placement of mental health workers throughout the State, who assisted survivors as well as families and friends of victims of the fire.

March 2004: Governor Donald Carcieri and Interim MHRH Director Jane Hayward announced the creation of the "Stations of Support" initiative to address long term behavioral health needs of family members, survivors and friends who lost loved ones during the Station Fire.

March 2004: Interim MHRH Director Jane Hayward was named managing director of the newly created Office of Health and Human Services.

2004: Interim Director Jane Hayward was named managing director of the newly created Office of Health and Human Services.

May 2004: Governor Donald Carcieri named Kathleen Spangler Acting Director of the Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals.

2004: MHRH State Employees Charity Appeal (SECA) Steering Committee presented the traditional silver bowls to three MHRH agencies for outstanding results in the 2003 SECA drive.

March 2005: The Zambarano Unit of Eleanor Slater Hospital received the "Outstanding Operations Award" at Atlantic States Rural Water and Wastewater Association's Statewide Technical Conference and Exhibition.

2006: The Rhode Island Senate confirmed Dr. Ellen Nelson as Director of the Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals.

2007: For the first time, contracts for State-funded inpatient psychiatric care and substance abuse detoxification were combined.

2008: Governor Donald Carcieri named Craig Stenning Acting Director of MHRH.

March 2009: March 3, 2009 was declared "Spread the Word to End the Word Day.” Governor Carcieri and Craig Stenning then began the process of renaming MHRH, removing the "R-word" from the Department's name.

March 2009: Craig Stenning confirmed as Director of the Department of Mental Health, Retardation, and Hospitals (MHRH) after serving as Interim Director for nine months.

July 2010: The Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals became the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.

February 2012: The Rhode Island Rally4 Recovery was named the National Hub Event for 2013.

September 2012: The Rally4 Recovery celebrated its tenth anniversary. More than 6,000 people attended the event.

2014: The State of RI enters into a landmark settlement agreement with the United States Department of Justice. Enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ensures that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have greater access and opportunity. The State pledges a sustained commitment to transform its service system over 10 years, providing integrated employment and day services to approximately 3,250 individuals.

January 2015: Governor Gina Raimondo announces her appointment of Maria Montanaro as Director of BHDDH.

April 2015: BHDDH contracts with Applied Management Systems (AMS), an independent consulting firm, for a full review of the hospital which outlined a number of significant challenges with the hospital’s management.

June 2015: BHDDH hosts the first Governor's Mental Health Summit at the Radisson Hotel to a capacity crowd of 250 participants.

August 2015: Governor Gina M. Raimondo issues an Executive Order creating the Governor’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force, naming the Directors of BHDDH and Health as Co-Chairs. Strategic Plan developed and presented to the Governor in November 2015.

October 2015: International addiction expert, Elinore McCance-Katz, MD, PhD accepts position of Chief Medical Officer of BHDDH/Medical Director of Eleanor Slater Hospital and joins the faculty of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. She also begins creating partnerships with Brown, URI and the Community College of Rhode Island to bring residents and other health professionals in training into the ESH hospital setting.

November 2015: Applied Management Systems (AMS) begins to provide interim management services while a national executive search is underway to identify permanent leadership for the state-run hospital, including a search for a new Chief Executive Officer

January 2016: Redesigned and launched Medicaid’s Statewide Integrated Health Home (IHH) program for people living with a serious mental illness as part of Reinventing Medicaid. Medicaid Managed Care plans are involved in the administration of services, for the first time in RI, and integrates behavioral health and medical outcome measures and goals.

June 2016: Maria Montanaro resigns as Director of BHDDH; Rebecca Boss named Acting Director

June 2016: Governor Raimondo unveiled an enhanced, statewide, multi-media public education campaign aimed at reducing the stigma of addiction and connecting Rhode Islanders to treatment and recovery services.

September 2016: BHDDH certifies CODAC Behavioral Healthcare as the first Center of Excellence for the treatment of opioid use disorders

February 2017: BHDDH creates Regional Prevention Task Forces, responsible for overseeing the planning and delivery of substance use prevention activities within the municipalities that comprise the region.

May 2017: Rebecca Boss is nominated as Director of BHDDH and unanimously approved by the State Senate.

June 2017: The last sheltered workshop closed for individuals with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island.

August 2016: Dr Elinore McCance-Katz resigns as CMO to serve as Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Mental Health and Substance Use.

July and November 2017: Director Boss testified twice before two Congressional Committees on Rhode Island’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic- once before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Energy & Commerce Committee and once before U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. The Director reported on the state’s efforts to combat the number of overdose deaths and shared there was an 4% decrease in overdose deaths between 2016 and 2017.

May 2018: Governor Raimondo signed a Mental Health Executive Order, which brought together our colleagues across state government in order to increase access to services, create true parity, address barriers to treatment and reduce the negative perception of mental illness.

August 2018: Brian Daly, MD begins serving as BHDDH's Chief Medical Officer

November 2018: BHDDH launched BH Link (LINK), a 24/7 triage facility serving individuals in crisis due to mental health, substance use conditions and co-occurring disorders. This became RI’s first statewide crisis center and is located in East Providence.

December 2018: The Regulatory Revision project successfully concluded 18 months of work with numerous partners participating in the process. BHDDH regulations were reduced by 54%, allowing a more streamlined and efficient workflow for BHDDH.

February 2019: BHDDH increased minority staffing levels to 31% of its’ Full Time Equivalent (FTE) workforce in 2018. BHDDH consistently ranked as the #1 Department in RI state government for minority workforce composition.

June 2019: The RI Legislature invested in the Director Support Professional workforce, with $9.5 million earmarked for a wage increase. Previous increases included $5 million in FY 2017 and, $6 million in FY 2018.

November 2019: Rebecca Boss resigns as Director of BHDDH; Governor Raimondo announces that former Director A. Kathryn Power will return to the Department she led for 10 years (1993 - 2003).

December 2019: Court Ordered Outpatient Clinic opened with a goal to increase the number of forensic evaluations done in the community. The clinic provides more supports and linkages to community services.

March 2020: Governor Gina Raimondo declared a state of emergency in Rhode Island to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and later orders a state lockdown. The BHDDH Emergency Disaster Team became available 24/7 with emergent issues.

April 2020: The Department was awarded a $2M dollar grant from SAMHSA to use primarily on direct service, assistance to our providers with telehealth, provide video-translation and interpretation services not covered by insurance, as well as outreach to refugee and immigrant communities on access to telehealth and tele-translation/interpretation.

August 2020: BHDDH and the RI Quality Institute created and launched a deidentified public database of "real-time" psychiatric and substance use treatment bed availability. The site includes information regarding inpatient psychiatric beds, detoxification beds, mental health crisis stabilization beds, substance use residential treatment programs, and substance use recovery housing. The site, ribhopenbeds.org, is available 24/7.

December 2020: The 2020 America’s Health Rankings were released from the United Health Foundation. There are measures for behavioral healthcare included in these rankings and Rhode Island remained in the #3 spot with the third lowest suicide rate in the country at 9.8 per 100,000 (the U.S. rate was 14.8). Rhode Island’s Teen Suicide rate remained the lowest in the nation for the 4th year in a row with the ranking at 5.0 per 100,000.

January 2021: BHDDH creates an Equity Advisory Committee made up of volunteer staff. BHDDH leadership and staff recognize that poverty, systemic and institutional racism and discrimination have all contributed to racial inequity and, health inequities. Their work to ensure that those historically marginalized individuals are accessing care which is delivered with respect and dignity.

April 2021: Director Kathryn Power submits her letter of resignation. Executive Office of Health and Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones is appointed Interim Director of BHDDH.

May 2021: Governor Daniel McKee nominates Richard Charest, R.Ph., MBA, as Director of BHDDH/Acting CEO of Eleanor Slater Hospital and he is confirmed by the RI State Senate. Mr. Charest served as the former Chief Executive Officer/Chair of the Board of Landmark Medical Center.

July 2021: Dr. Brian Daly submits his letter of resignation as the agency's Chief Medical Officer. 

September 2021: Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz returns as Chief Medical Officer of BHDDH.

November 2021: Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court, the Honorable John J. McConnell, Jr, stated that Rhode Island has taken “historic and comprehensive” steps to comply with the Consent Decree which the state entered into in 2014 with the Department of Justice. The agreement guarantees a restructuring of the developmental disabilities system and raises the pays for those working in the industry.

June 2022: After a nationwide search, BHDDH welcomes Brett Johnson, MBA, as the new Chief Executive Officer at Eleanor Slater Hospital.

July 2022: The RI State Budget for Fiscal Year 2023 contained enabling legislation to create a psychiatric hospital, thereby separating psychiatric and medical care within the state hospital system.

September 2022: The 19th Annual Providence Rally4Recovery was held at Roger Williams Park with more than 3,500 attendees. There were 60 resource tables, distributions of Narcan and fentanyl test strips, and a first time Job Fair held on site. The Job Fair had more than 900 meaningful conversations, 68 jobs filled, and lasting connections made between employers and recovery houses. 

October 2022: The Rhode Island State Psychiatric Hospital (RISPH) opens. Located in the Roosevelt Benton facility, RISPH continues the mission that the Benton facility had as part of Eleanor Slater Hospital – to treat psychiatric and court-ordered forensic patients who have serious mental illnesses. Securing this new license improves patient care and better positions the State to seek federal reimbursements that help pay for patient care. 

January 2023: The RISPH leadership team was fully in place with CEO Irina Beyder, PhD, Chief Medical Officer Pedro Tactacan, MD, Chief Nursing Officer Matthew Wiley, RN, and Chief Quality Officer Jason Alexandre, MA, MS.

February 2023: 

  • Richard Charest was reconfirmed by the RI State Senate as the Director of BHDDH.
  • Director Charest announced plans to restore Eleanor Slater Hospital (ESH) to a Long-Tern Acute Care Hospital (LTACH) which will include a revitalization of the ESH Hospital in Burrillville, as well as renovations to the Regan Unit in Cranston.

April 2023: Dr. Katharine Woods was appointed Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of BHDDH and Eleanor Slater Hospital. Dr. Woods previously served as CMO of the Arizona State Hospital and Assistant Deputy Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

May 2023:  Director Richard Charest is nominated by Governor Daniel McKee to serve as the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and confirmed by the RI State Senate. Louis A. Cerbo, Ed.,D. was appointed by the Governor to serve as Interim Director of BHDDH.

July 2023: The 988 Lifeline in Rhode Island remains among the best performing lifeline in the nation. Since 988 launched 18 months ago, Rhode Island has been in the highest percentile (90%) in calls answered locally. BHDDH had the call infrastructure in place when 988 launched (through BH Link), making the switch to the national model virtually seamless.

October 2023: BHDDH held a kick-off for the state’s plan to move to an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and away from paper records. The EMR will allow for improved clinical tracking and patient care at both our hospitals.

December 2023: By December of 2023, Both hospitals had received successful accreditation reviews by The Joint Commission. Eleanor Slater Hospital and the Rhode Island State Psychiatric Hospital were fully accredited for the next three years. To receive accreditation for two hospitals within seven months of each other was a significant achievement.

January 2024:The RI Statewide Workforce Initiative held its semi-annual Summit. It included more than 100 DD stakeholders who are working to increase and stabilize the DD workforce as part of the Consent Decree mandate. The event was successful in turnout with enthusiastic participation; all acknowledge the significant project that the initiative is making toward achieving its goals.

March 2024: Richard Leclerc, Gov McKee’s nominee for BHDDH Director, was unanimously approved by the RI Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee. One week later, the full Senate (also unanimously) confirmed his appointment. Director Leclerc began his tenure on March 18th.



Side Notes:

60's: The "Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Act", written and championed by RI Congressman John Fogarty, was passed by Congress in 1963. This had a profound effect on mental health services in the State, providing funds for the development of eight community mental health centers located in catchment areas throughout Rhode Island.

90's: MHRH developed a CHOICES waiver, dealing mainly with acute care services, creating a single funding stream, and dramatically increasing the kinds of services available in the community support network. While MHRH withdrew the CHOICES waiver in 1997, many of its key concepts, such as increasing the individual's control over his or her service needs, remain in effect.