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Utah State Hospital property, considered ‘prime’ Provo real estate, won’t be sold

A Utah lawmaker who originally proposed selling the property has changed course.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah State Hospital campus, located on “prime real estate,” as expressed by a Utah lawmaker, is pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, next to the Wasatch mountains in Provo.

The Utah State Hospital is staying put at its historic home in the Provo foothills after a lawmaker amended his proposal that would have allowed the coveted property’s sale to help fund new hospitals and mental health services throughout the state.

The substitute bill, HB299, approved unanimously by legislators at a House Judiciary Committee hearing early Tuesday, cuts all mention of the state hospital’s proposed sale, as well as a study of Utah’s mental health systems and shortfalls.

Instead, the substitute includes a new provision requiring the Utah Substance Utah and Mental Health Advisory Council to study issues with civil commitment, the process by which someone with severe mental illness is court-ordered to treatment.

Rep. Tyler Clancy, R-Provo, said during the Tuesday committee hearing that this substitute “gets to the core function” of the problem his interim working group was trying to solve: Giving first responders, mental health professionals and patients “the best tools possible for the 21st century.”

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Tyler Clancy, R-Provo, who is sponsoring HB 299, speaks on the House floor at the Capitol, Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

Clancy’s initial proposal came after years of public officials decrying a shortage of staff and space for patients at the Provo facility, and after a failed attempt last year to pass a bill that would have commissioned a study on the feasibility of moving the hospital.

Rep. Jon Hawkins, R-Pleasant Grove, was behind the 2023 proposal to study such a move. At the time, he conceded that the hospital’s property was “prime real estate” and that “there is an economic development opportunity here,” though he noted that was “not why I’m running this bill.”

During this year’s legislative session, Clancy previously acknowledged that the economic development opportunity presented by the state hospital site was a factor in his proposal. Adequately funding mental health resources in the state would take a lot of money — perhaps a billion dollars — and a lucrative deal could help provide that, he said.

Clancy’s new substitute bill kept proposals that would clarify the civil commitment statute, increase the maximum time someone can be held on a temporary civil commitment from 24 to 72 hours, and change the discharge process for patients who are civilly committed.

Those discharge changes would include notifying the patient’s primary care provider and the law enforcement officer who committed them, documenting why the person was admitted and is now being discharged, and giving them a safety plan and available resources to use moving forward.

Clancy said in an earlier interview that the discharge element of the bill came from discussions with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah and the Disability Law Center, and learning that “we discharge a lot of people from the state hospital into homelessness.”

“It’s giving them a packet, kind of a one-stop-shop packet,” Clancy said at the time, “that can help them make the transition back to self-sufficiency, whatever that looks like for them.”