Zambarano Hospital

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Zambarano Hospital
Established 1901
Opened 1905
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Pascoag, RI
Alternate Names
  • Rhode Island State Sanatorium
  • Zambarano Unit of the Eleanor Slater Hospital


Experience in other parts of the nation showed the advantages of open-air treatment for the early stages of the disease. Separating these patients from the rest of the population would minimize the spread of tuberculosis. The state then considered the feasibility of building and maintaining a state sanatorium. A sanatorium was built in the northwest corner of the state, on 250 acres of land, at Wallum Lake. The superintendent was Dr. Harry Lee Barnes. Under his direction the sanatorium gave patients access to fresh air along with a regular schedule, good food and medical attention.

Initially the sanatorium was overwhelmed with prospective patients. In 1909, Barnes refused admission for 181 patients because their disease was too far advanced. Over 200 patients needed hospital care. Still, Barnes was criticized for admitting too many patients and for not always allowing the examining physician to have the final decision concerning the admittance of potential patients. Barnes is also noted for refusing to allow men and women patients to mingle. The care offered by the sanatorium was likely one of the factors that led to a decrease in Rhode Island’s death rate from tuberculosis. It fell from 198.5 in 1907 to 131.3 in 1920.

A hospital to treat advanced cases of tuberculosis was established on the WallumLake property in 1917. In the 1930’s they added a nurses home, two other buildings for staff and also the Wallum Lake House, which included a kitchen, bakery, auditorium, chapel and pharmacy. Until 1936 the sanatorium also had a vegetable garden, hennery and piggery. These were constructed by patients and employees. By 1940 the original buildings were destroyed, mainly because they were considered a fire hazard.

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 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.

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. Approximately 120 patients are treated at the Zambarano Unit. Others (approximately 240 patients) are served at the Hospital's Cranston site, located at the John O. Pastore Center.


Main Image Gallery: Zambarano Hospital Image Gallery