Why Utah brought ‘one of the strictest sanctions’ possible against this hospital

Licensers cited serious issues at the psychiatric hospital since 2021 when putting its license on “conditional” status in January.

Failure to report allegations of sexual abuse. Not enough nurses to change wound dressings. Patients chemically restrained, put into seclusion or discharged from the hospital without their medications.

After nearly three years of documenting serious issues at Highland Ridge Hospital, Utah licensing officials recently took what they say is “one of the strictest sanctions” it can against the 83-bed psychiatric hospital — short of closing the Midvale facility down.

Licensers in January took the rare step of requiring Highland Ridge Hospital administrators to hire a qualified medical professional who could serve as an independent monitor. That person was required to come to the facility 10 hours a week and oversee whether staff were in compliance with state safety rules.

Yet, not even a month passed with the independent monitor in place before licensers again found Highland Ridge Hospital had violated safety rules.

During a February inspection, licensers found that staff had “failed to provide sufficient supervision to ensure a safe and secure living environment” for two residents. They also failed to coordinate with another agency who was able to meet a patient’s needs when they were discharged, and did not complete three investigations according to facility policy.

Inspectors noted these were “low” risk violations. State licensers responded by upping the hours that the independent monitor must spend at the facility — now requiring that person to be at Highland Ridge for 40 hours a week.

The increased monitoring is expected to last a year, and comes in response to a number of problems that licensers have found since April 2021. Katie England, a spokesperson for Utah’s Department of Health and Human Services, said requiring an independent monitor has “been used in the distant past, however, it is not an action that is used often.”

Licensers wrote that the sanctions were necessary due to “repeated failures” to comply with state rules and significant deficiencies discovered that were “adverse to the public health, morals, welfare and safety of the people of the state.”

England said licensers required the increase in monitoring to “make sure Highland Ridge Hospital is complying with rules and regulations designed to keep its patients safe and healthy.” The extra monitoring also helps licensers more quickly identify noncompliance, she said, noting that the independent monitor has access to all facility records and can hold confidential interviews with staff and patients. That person also provides weekly written reports to the state.

Highland Ridge Hospital pays all costs associated with the independent monitor, England said, and that person is also approved by DHHS.

Messages left with Highland Ridge Hospital and Acadia Healthcare, the national company which runs the psychiatric hospital, were unreturned as of Tuesday.

If the hospital doesn’t improve, licensing officials say, they may impose further sanctions — including possible revocation of Highland Ridge Hospital’s license.

This is the third time that Highland Ridge has been operating under a conditional license. The first was for four months in 2021, the second was for six months in 2022, and its current license, which runs from July 2023 to January 2025.