Universal Health Services has been awarded more than $143,000 in federal funding to offer telehealth services to rural Utah. The company received the grant despite allegations of widespread abuse at Provo Canyon School, one of several youth treatment facilities it owns in the state.
The money comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Distance Learning and Telemedicine” program, which is intended to help Americans overcome the unique challenges the COVID-19 pandemic poses in rural areas.
In a news release, the department announced Thursday that it is awarding $42.3 million to 86 projects nationwide. That includes the one proposed by Universal Health Services of Provo Canyon, Inc.
The company will use the money to expand telehealth services to clinics in Millard, Duchesne, Piute and Sanpete counties.
Provo Canyon Behavioral Hospital — which is one of seven Universal Health Services subsidiaries currently operating in Utah — is the sole recipient of the grant and will be the only UHS-location in Utah to provide the telehealth services, said hospital managing director Jeremy Cottle.
“Rural areas in particular have difficulty accessing experts in the fields of behavioral/mental health and opioid education and treatment services, especially given the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
Universal Health Services runs Provo Canyon School along with several youth treatment facilities in Utah.
The school became the focus of abuse allegations this fall when Paris Hilton and other former residents began speaking out about the mistreatment they say they experienced there. That led to an October rally in Provo and nearly 200,000 people signing a petition calling for the facility’s closure.
The Salt Lake Tribune and KUER recently reported on the facility’s use of chemical restraints — a practice outlawed in other states — to sedate minors. That included one instance in which staff injected a 14-year-old girl from Oregon with the drug Haldol 17 times over a roughly three-month period ending in early 2019.The rate was so alarming that Oregon officials flew in to retrieve the girl.
Utah lawmakers have repeatedly referenced the case this Legislative session as an example of why the state must pass S.B. 127 — the first bill in 15 years to increase oversight of the state’s teen treatment industry.
But the USDA did not take that information into account when evaluating UHS’s application.
According to an agency spokesperson, all project proposals were sent to the department’s national office, where they were judged against four criteria.
Those included rurality, economic need, need for services and special consideration, which gave extra attention to projects seeking to address opioid addiction or substance abuse disorders.
Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune and KUER are collaborating on a reporting project about Utah’s youth residential treatment centers.