Utah hospital hit with ‘one of the strictest sanctions’ by state licensers now plans to close

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

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Highland Ridge Hospital in Midvale, on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. The psychiatric hospital is planning to close in May, after state licensers have been documenting serious issues at the facility for nearly three years.

For nearly three years, state licensers have been documenting serious issues at Highland Ridge Hospital. They’ve threatened to shut down the psychiatric hospital three times if changes weren’t made.

But in the end, it was the hospital’s parent company Acadia Healthcare that chose to shutter the 83-bed psychiatric facility — not the state. Administrators with Highland Ridge Hospital confirmed Monday that the facility will close on May 7.

The closure announcement comes less than a year after Utah’s Disability Law Center released a report that accused Utah’s state licensing agency of “ineffectively” protecting vulnerable residents in long-term care facilities. The report cited repeated instances of neglect and described state regulators as “reluctant” to shut down facilities offering inadequate care.

Utah’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a response a day after the June report was released, saying the report “paints a picture of government partners unable to protect people from abuse. This is a harsh criticism. But we will own the challenge before us.”

Highland Ridge Hospital has been licensed in Utah since 1984, according to state records. According to its website, Acadia owns six other medical facilities in Utah: Five methadone clinics throughout the state and a youth residential treatment center in Draper called Youth Care.

The psychiatric hospital’s closure comes three months after DHHS put the psychiatric hospital on a conditional license, requiring hospital administrators to hire a qualified medical professional who could serve as an independent monitor.

That person was initially required to be at Highland Ridge Hospital 10 hours a week to oversee whether staff were in compliance with state safety rules. But that was bumped up to 40 hours a week in March after licensers continued to find that the hospital had violated safety rules.

DHHS spokesperson Katie England said last month that this was “one of the strictest sanctions” licensers could take against the facility short of shutting it down.

The latest disciplinary action came after licensers found problems at Highland Ridge, such as staff failing to report allegations of sexual abuse, not having enough nurses to change wound dressings and reports of patients being chemically restrained, put into seclusion or discharged from the hospital without their medications. 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.”

Administrators with Highland Ridge Hospital said in a Monday statement that they have been evaluating the best path forward for the hospital “for some time,” including “whether and what services are provided there.”

“Following a careful consideration of all options we made the decision to close Highland Ridge,” the statement reads. “Prior to the closure, Highland Ridge will work with state and local agencies to ensure an orderly transition for patients to appropriate services as determined by their clinical treatment team. Highland Ridge has always been committed to supporting patients throughout their course of behavioral health treatment. We want to thank our staff for their dedication and care, and for ensuring a smooth transition for our patients.”

In a statement, DHHS officials promised to continue monitoring Highland Ridge Hospital over the next few weeks, including reviewing its documentation on patient discharges and medical record storage. The required independent monitor will stay in the place, they said, and will continue to submit weekly reports to the state.

“DHHS has instructed the independent monitor to include in the weekly report the current patient census and notify DHHS immediately of any rule noncompliance, including but not limited to improper discharge of a patient or failure to maintain appropriate staff-to-patient ratios,” the statement reads. “DHHS will investigate any reported concerns and take appropriate action on any substantiated noncompliance with state rules.”

Prior to announcing its closure, Highland Ridge had operated under a conditional license three times due to noncompliance issues. The first was for four months in 2021, the second was for six months in 2022, and its current license, which would have run from July 2023 to January 2025.

In response to news of Highland Ridge Hospital closing, the Disability Law Center released a statement urging state leaders to “take a hard look at our system and make any necessary reforms to protect the health and safety of Utahns with disabilities in facilities.” The organization also urged state officials to hold facilities accountable when they don’t keep patients safe — before more “needless tragedies” occur.

“The State and Highland Ridge must also ensure that current patients continue to receive appropriate services in safe and healthy conditions,” the statement continued. “Further, we strongly encourage policymakers in Utah to invest in a robust community-based mental health system to prevent the unnecessary institutionalization of Utahns with disabilities moving forward.”