Delivery of Care

Changes is attitude, changes in latitude, changes in management

What exactly happened to Ray Lavoie, long-time executive director a Blackstone Valley Community Health Care community health center?

Photo by Richard Asinof/file photo

Ray Lavoie, long-time executive director at Blackstone Valley Community Health Care community health center, has been replaced by interim CEO Sandra Pardus.

Photo courtesy of Shri Yoga

Shri’s Alison Bologna cuts the ribbon cutting at 390 Pine St. in Pawtucket, surrounded by a crowd of celebrants.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 9/4/23
Another sign of the ongoing disruption of the health care delivery system in Rhode Island is the unexplained departure of Ray Lavoie, the former executive director of Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, the community health center serving Pawtucket and Central Falls.
What is the status of the plans by the state to issue a new contract for the Medicaid Managed Care Organizations in Rhode Island? How will the final report and recommendations issued on Friday, Sept. 1, by OHIC, for the Social and Human Service Programs Review change the equation for raising Medicaid rates for providers? What do the changes in leadership at major Rhode Island health care institutions – from hospitals to community health centers – portend? When will Attorney General Peter Neronha publicly release his proposed solutions to the health care crisis in Rhode Island?
On Thursday, Sept. 14, the RI Business Group on Health will host its annual health care summit, titled “Primary Care in Rhode Island: What is happening?” The discussion will feature a bunch of top-echelon speakers: Dr. Edward McGookin, President of Coastal Medical; Dr. Farah Shafi, the new chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of RI, Cory King, Acting OHIC Commissioner, Dr. Jeffrey Borkan, Brown University; Christine Zottoli, partner, Mercer; and Carmilla Tan, head of benefits at CVS Health.
Any discussion about the ongoing crisis in primary care is clearly welcome, but there appear to be several major omissions from the speaker’s panel. Why not add someone from the RI Attorney General’s office, such as Julia Harvey, who is leading the RI Attorney General’s health care team? Or perhaps a doctor on the front lines of providing care, from the perspective of the state’s community health centers, such as Dr. Andrew Saal, the former Chief Medical Officer at Providence Community Health Centers.
Or, a news reporter covering the delivery of primary care– such as Moe Tkacik or Hannah Levintova or Martha Bebinger, or ConvergenceRI?

PAWTUCKET – Oodles and oodles of political dignitaries gathered late Monday morning, Aug. 28, for the ribbon cutting ceremony at 390 Pine St., an affordable housing development championed by TV news anchor Alison Bologna of Shri Yoga. The former brick mill complex now features apartments for adults with intellectual disabilities, commercial space, a yoga studio, and a café to open this fall, all in walking distance to the new MBTA rail station at the Central Falls-Pawtucket city line, in what is known in housing speak as transit-oriented development.[See second image.]

On hand were Mayor Don Grebien of Pawtucket and Mayor Maria Rivera of Central Falls, U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed, Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor and RI Housing Executive Director Carol Ventura, Carrie Zaslow, executive director of the Providence Revolving Fund, Linda Weisinger of PCF Development, and Kevin Farrell of Coastal One Credit Union, along with a supporting cast of more than a hundred onlookers and reporters, including retired Judge Frank Caprio.

The hour-long, talking-at ceremony was filled with effusive praise, hugs, congratulations, and thank yous – and even marked by an inaugural poem, celebrating the perseverance of Bologna in seeing the project through to its completion, overcoming major obstacles such as brownfield remediation, a massive fire and a pandemic. After she cut the ribbon, Bologna urged the sound engineer to crank up the music, which blasted out the 1980s classic from Kool & The Gang, “Celebrate good times…”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks, the ongoing turmoil at Blackstone Valley Community Health Center regarding the departure of its long-time executive director continues to play out, mostly unreported and unnoticed, except perhaps in the level of diminishing of services being offered at the federally-qualified community health center locations. [The pharmacy at the 1000 Broad St. facility in Central Falls, for instance, is now closed.]

The question is: Why did Ray Lavoie, long-time executive director of the Blackstone Valley Community Health Center, depart, without any kind of news release?

Earlier this summer, staff at Blackstone Valley Community Health Center had allegedly written a letter to the health center’s board of directors, expressing “no confidence” in Lavoie’s leadership, according to one source, who told ConvergenceRI that they had seen a copy of the letter.

The health center’s board of directors then acted, replacing Lavoie with Sandra Pardus as the interim CEO. Pardus works for Facktor, a Los Angeles-based consulting group, where she serves as a Senior Advisor for the Strategy, Leadership and Development Group and Interim CFO

In the last decade, Lavoie had overseen the construction of three new health care facilities at 1000 Broad St. in Central Falls, 39 East Avenue in Pawtucket, and 1149 Main St. in Pawtucket. Lavoie has also been a pioneer in developing data systems to track population health of the patients served by Blackstone Valley Community Health Center.

As ConvergenceRI had reported in August of 2018: It has been nearly two years since ground was broken for the new Neighborhood Health Station in the smallest city in Rhode Island, with native daughter Viola Davis lending a shovel, offering a message of hope and perseverance to the residents of the city, one that seemed to reflect the dialogue from one of Davis’s memorable characters from “The Help” – you are smart, you are important, you are kind. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Investing in the bricks and mortar of better health care.”]

The story continued: Last week, Ray Lavoie, the executive director of Blackstone Valley Community Health Center, which is building the new 47,000-square-foot facility, gave ConvergenceRI a walk-through of the construction site, where a platoon of workers were busily putting the finishing touches on the three-story building.

Two days earlier, Gov. Gina Raimondo and Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien, accompanied by CommerceRI Secretary Stefan Pryor, had held a news conference at Slater Mill to talk about the commitment to invest in rebuilding Pawtucket, following the decision by the Pawtucket Red Sox to move to Worcester, Mass.

When ConvergenceRI started to ask about the economics of investing in community-based health care, framing the question in the context of the Governor’s news conference, Lavoie interrupted, quipping, with a smile: “We can’t move to Worcester, for the record.”

The last time ConvergenceRI had seen Lavoie in public was at a State House gathering on Tuesday, May 23, hosted by the Rhode Island Health Center Association, the nonprofit that supports the eight federally qualified community health centers operating in Rhode Island, serving approximately 180,000 Rhode Islanders – roughly one-fifth of the state’s population.

What happened?
ConvergenceRI reached out to Interim CEO Sandra Pardus with a number of questions.

Here are the questions and her responses:

ConvergenceRI: Are you in charge of decision making at Blackstone Valley? If you are not, who is?
PARDUS: I am currently the interim CEO.

ConvergenceRI: What is the status of Ray Lavoie? Is he on leave?

PARUS: Ray Lavoie is considering retirement package options as anticipated.

ConvergenceRI: Who is the current chief medical officer at Blackstone Valley?

PARDUS: Dr. Christine Pacheco is the interim CMO. [Editor’s Note: The long-time Chief Medical Officer at Providence Community Health Centers, Dr. Andrew Saal, has departed..

ConvergenceRI: I have heard that services have been curtailed at Blackstone Valley facility at 1000 Broad St. in Central Falls. Specifically, after talking with patients, I have heard that imaging services are no longer available, and that the pharmacy located at the facility has been closed. Can you please confirm whether such reports are accurate?

PARDUS: Like many providers of health care services, some of our tenants at 1000 Broad St. are experiencing staffing shortages. Patients are redirected, if needed, to other local services.

ConvergenceRI: I also have heard that there is a staffing problem at Blackstone Valley; is that accurate?

PARDUS: Staffing issues are a constant challenge in Pawtucket and Central Fall, as they are throughout the country.

ConvergenceRI: How is Blackstone Valley handling back to school requests from parents and students?
PARDUS: BVCHC staff has increased patient care time for well child needs, including some Saturdays.

ConvergenceRI: I have many more questions, and I would be happy to sit down in person to discuss further with you. Thanks.

PARDUS: The Board is working on a press release which will be sent to you upon completion.

Finally, rest assured, the BVCHC team continues to provide high quality, affordable health care to our patients, which has been our mission for the last 33 years.

The bigger picture
ConvergenceRI also reached out, by telephone and email, to the Rhode Island Health Center Association and its president and CEO, Elena Nicolella, for clarification of Ray Lavoie’s status. Lavoie is listed as Treasurer of the organization.

On the RIHCA website, Nicolella defines what she sees as the important role that community health centers play in Rhode Island’s health care delivery landscape: “Community health centers are the best models we have for citizen-driven health care. They were a radical concept when they were developed in the 1960s and continue to reflect the idea that everyone should be able to access the care and services they need. I work at RIHCA because I believe in this model and want to support Rhode Island’s health centers as they work to meet their missions.”

ConvergenceRI asked: “I was wondering if you could clarify the current leadership situation at Blackstone Valley Community Health Center. Is Ray Lavoie on leave? Is Sandra Pardus the acting executive director? Does the RI Health Center Association have any fiduciary responsibility in regard to the day-to-day operations of Blackstone Valley and the services offered at its facilities?

To date, no response to ConvergenceRI’s questions has been received from Nicolella. [Editor’s Note: Nicolella may have been attending the Community Health Institute organized by the National Association of Community Health Centers, which was held in San Diego from Aug. 25 through Aug. 29.]

Messaging to patients
On Thursday, Aug. 31, Blackstone Valley Community Health Care sent out an email in English and Spanish to its patients, offering: “Tips to help students stay safe and healthy this school year.”

The message also announced that all BVCHC locations would be closed on Monday, Sept. 4, for Labor Day.

And, the email encouraged patients to join the next Patient Advisory Group Meeting, to be held on Tuesday, Sept. 12, at 6 p.m., either in-person or by Zoom, with an opportunity to meet the Chief Operations Officer, Renee Bromley.

The email also notified patients that the Central Falls Express health walk-in, with no appointment required, would be open on Saturdays only, on a first-come, first-serve basis, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Finally, the email urged patients to give Blackstone Valley Community Health Care a review on Google and a recommendation on Facebook.

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