Senate confirms new state leader for behavioral health 

The R.I. Senate Thursday voted unanimously to approve the appointment of Richard Leclerc as the new director of the R.I. Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.  

Leclerc will head the state’s second largest department, with an operating budget for fiscal 2024 of $672 million and 1,100 employees.That includes workers in behavioral health and developmental disabilities, as well as two state hospitals: the Rhode Island State Psychiatric Hospital and Eleanor Slater Hospital. 

The department also manages or participates in a wide variety of state programs and task forces relating to mental health, substance abuse, harm reduction and developmental disabilities. Two examples are the Governor’s Overdose Prevention Task Force and prescription drug disposal sites. 

Gov. Daniel J. McKee picked Leclerc to replace interim director Louis Cerbo, who has filled the role since Richard Charest departed in May 2023 to become secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. McKee’s nomination was officially announced on Monday, March 4, but news that Leclerc’s nomination might hit the Senate floor first appeared on an agenda posted to the General Assembly website three days earlier.  

- Advertisement -

“I know that Richard’s decades spent in the healthcare field have prepared him to hit the ground running on day one,” McKee said in a statement. 

Leclerc is the retired president and CEO of Gateway Healthcare — only one entry in a résumé lengthy with experience in the health care industry, something Democratic Sen. Joshua Miller of Cranston pointed out when he motioned for a vote on Leclerc’s nomination. 

“Mr. Leclerc brings more than four decades of experience in the healthcare field at the local, state and federal levels over the course of his career,” Miller said. “He has devoted himself to removing barriers to care and recovery that exist in our state. He is committed to working with all stakeholders to provide care for Rhode Island’s most vulnerable individuals.” 

“Most recently, he served as a consultant for BHDDH, supporting development of certified community behavioral health clinics, which cannot open soon enough.” 

Leclerc has recently worked with BHDDH as a consultant. Prior to that, he spent 31 years at Gateway Healthcare before retiring in 2016. He’s also served as project director at Newport Mental Health, and has chaired the Governor’s Council on Behavioral Health; Rhode Island Council of Community Mental Health Organizations; and the Rhode Island Quality Institute. Leclerc’s master’s degree from Boston College is in social work. 

Sen. Alana DiMario, a Narragansett Democrat, seconded the consent for Leclerc’s nomination.  

“I can attest that in addition to his own experience, he places great emphasis on hearing directly from community providers and stakeholders about the areas of greatest need,” DiMario said. “Mr. Leclerc has received overwhelming support from his colleagues for this appointment…They also say there is nobody more knowledgeable and experienced to lead our state’s transformational work to implement the certified community behavioral health clinics model across Rhode Island.”  

The BHDDH director’s salary was set at $170,237 shortly before Charest departed in May 2023. McKee is proposing a raise for several cabinet-level salaries, including BHDDH director. Leclerc’s new salary would be $175,344.   

Following the vote, the Senate applauded for Leclerc, who was in the chamber with daughter Laura. 

 Alexander Castro is a staff writer for the Rhode Island Current.