After months of waiting, Encompass receives approval on Johnston facility

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Despite protests from hospital officials around the state, Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott has approved the Encompass Health’s application to build a 50-bed inpatient rehab facility in Johnston.

In news first reported by The Public’s Radio, Alexander-Scott’s decision paves the way for the controversial project, which received criticism during several Health Services Council meetings in February and March. The HSC sent the he application has remained on Alexander-Scott’s desk for five months as the state grappled with the coronavirus pandemic.

President of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island Teresa Paiva-Weed and Rehabilitation Hospital of RI CEO Michael J. Souza were among the chorus of voices who strongly objected to the facility, citing sufficient capacity across the state and the potential to “harm health care” in Rhode Island.

““The only possible interpretation is this will increase the cost of health care in our state,” Paiva-Weed said at a February meeting. “The impact of viability, what to us is the single-most important provision in this report … A decline in patient volume across existing providers may threaten the viability of these providers.”

The approval represents an enormous win for Johnston and Mayor Joseph Polisena, who has championed the project from its early stages. Polisena told the Sun Rise in a phone call on Thursday morning that he was “very excited,” adding that he got word of the news in a text message from his son.

“I think it’s great for the town, but as I said before, I’m speaking not only as a mayor but as a registered nurse,” Polisena said. “I think it’s great for the state, it’s a very good company. I know other hospitals have some issues with it but I think it’ll all work out and I know nobody likes competition but it’s going to be fine.”

Polisena said the center is projected to create about 100 jobs. Birmingham-based Encompass Health Corp. has 130 inpatient rehab facilities across 32 states and Puerto Rico.

“I think it’s a great day for Johnston, and a great day for the state,” Polisena said. “I think it’ll add to a lot of the good things we have. It will kind of put us on the map.”

A request for comment put out to Department of Health Public Information Officer Joseph Wendelken was not returned before press time. More coverage of the decision will appear in next week’s Sun Rise.

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