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Originally known as the Curative Centre of Rhode Island, the center was created by legislation enacted in 1943 by then Governor J. Howard McGrath. Located on Blackstone Boulevard on the East Side of Providence, the original building, purchased in October 1943, was a three-story 35-room home.2 The Curative Centre was to have opened for business in February of 1945, but the first patient was not seen until April 21, 1945 because of difficulties in obtaining the necessary equipment during World War II.3

The Curative Centre was the first-of-its-kind industrial rehabilitation facility working in conjunction with a state’s Workers’ Compensation agency.7 The Curative Centre was founded based on the firm belief of the State Department of Labor that the full resources of modern medicine should be available to those injured in industry.7 The purpose of the Centre remains the same: to provide rehabilitative services to individuals who have filed a workers’ compensation claim—that is, those who have developed an illness or suffered an injury in the course of employment. Governor McGrath pushed for establishment of the Curative Centre in his 1943 inaugural address. He stated, “I hope that this year may see progress made in the establishment of a Curative Centre for assistance to workers suffering from occupational injuries…our departmental studies have amply demonstrated that such a program can tremendously shorten periods of disability.” 1 One of the expressed reasons for the creation of a center was to rehabilitate workers quickly to assist in the war effort.

Dr. John E. Donley Center, circa 1945
Curative Centre of Rhode Island
circa 1945


Dr. John E. Donley, the center‘s first medical director, stated that the Curative Centre‘s unofficial motto was, “You can coax nature back to work but you cannot coerce her.” 4 Dr. Donley led a staff of twelve that included an assistant director/orthopedic specialist, two physical therapists, two occupational therapists, a medical secretary, two general secretaries, and two field investigators (as well as a maintenance crew). The center originally provided three types of treatment: physical, occupational, and recreational therapy. In 1960, the rehabilitation program was expanded to include―counseling and guidance, work evaluation, conditioning for work, and vocational training.5 Following Dr. Donley‘s death in 1960, the Curative Centre was renamed in his honor. By 1969, the staff had grown to 22.

Whirlpool bath for treatment of injured extremities
Whirlpool bath for treatment of injured extremities

Bicycle for exericse of injured back and hip
Bicycle for exercise of injured back and hip

Working with a Physical Therapist
Working with a Physical Therapist

Another expansion of services occurred in 1983 with the addition of vocational counseling, psychological services, and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. A physical expansion also took place that year with the construction of a new wing, which included among other things a therapeutic warm-water pool. By 1994, five types of therapy and services were offered and a satellite center—since closed—had been opened at the University of Rhode Island.

In July 2017, the Donley Center was renamed: The Chief Judge Robert F. Arrigan Rehabilitation Center, in honor of the first Chief Judge of the Rhode Island Workers’ Compensation Court. During his tenure, Chief Judge Arrigan worked tirelessly to transform a dysfunctional workers’ compensation system into an internationally recognized model of efficiency. He was passionate about his work and put the good of the system ahead of personal gain. He was also a staunch advocate for the rehabilitation of injured workers and the Donley Center.

The Arrigan Rehabilitation Center’s mission is to restore every Rhode Island injured worker to health, social independence, and optimal working capacity by providing a multidisciplinary level of care that is comprehensive in nature and administered by highly qualified, licensed, and compassionate staff. The center takes a holistic approach to rehabilitation based on a belief that an injured worker needs more than just physical/ occupational therapy to return to work. Currently, the center provides physical, aquatic, and occupational therapy, work hardening, comprehensive pain management, psychological counseling, support groups, educational workshops, vocational services, job placement assistance, and re-training programs through the RI Department of Labor and Training Workforce Development.

1 The Providence Journal, January 6, 1943, p. 14.
2 The Providence Journal, November 11, 1944, p. 14
3 The Evening Bulletin. July 31, 1945, p. 15. Therefore, despite its purpose in aiding the war effort, the Curative Centre did not open until World War II was nearly over.
4 The Evening Bulletin, July 31, 1945, p. 15
5 The Evening Bulletin. April 7, 1960, p. 6
6 The Evening Bulletin. April 1, 1969, p.1
7 The Rhode Island Curative Centre, A Division of the R.I. Department of Labor, 1950 An Analysis of the Dr. John E. Donley Rehabilitation Center, R.I. Department of Labor and Training, 2011 by Matthew M. Bodah, Ph.D. of the Schmidt Labor Research Center at the University of Rhode Island.

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5/21/19 MDF