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The Utah State Hospital began as the Territorial Insane Asylum in 1885 at Provo, Utah, with the purpose of housing and treating those considered to be mentally ill and attempting to return them to normal levels of functioning. However, due to limited knowledge about treatment of mental health at the time, the hospital became little more than a place for the mentally ill to live. The site chosen in Provo was eight blocks from the nearest residence and was separated from the city by swampland and the city dump.
In 1903 the Asylum was renamed the Utah State Mental Hospital, and in 1927 it adopted its current name in an effort to eliminate the negative stigma associated with the word “mental.” Long-term patients at the hospital engaged in work therapy, which gave them something to do and also made USH self-sustaining. The hospital originally sat on 600 acres of land, and housed a dairy, a hay barn, and a piggery, as well as chickens, rabbits, and pigeons. Residents took care of the animals and also harvested fruits and vegetables from the orchards and gardens on campus.
As more and more patients began their indefinite incarceration at the hospital, problems of overcrowding arose. In the 1940s USH had 700 beds, but the hospital was housing over 1,100 patients. It was not uncommon to see mattresses lining the hallways, and the large surplus of patients made it difficult for staff members to focus their attention on individuals. Dr. Owen P. Heninger became the superintendent of USH in 1942. He recognized the need for change at the hospital, and as a result, he pioneered a new treatment philosophy. His new treatments included adopting smaller treatment units, involving patients in the implementation of their own treatment plans, and encouraging more humane treatment.
Another influential figure in USH's history is Lucy Beth Rampton, Utah’s first lady in the 60s and 70s. She was a well-respected member of the community who happened to struggle with depression. Her open discussion of her illness helped quell some of the stigma surrounding mental illness, and her advocacy for treatment of mental illness helped raise awareness about mental health in Utah.
In 1969, USH’s role changed. Care for the mentally ill shifted from institutional care to community-based care. Treatment was offered closer to home. USH eventually adopted the practice that it still follows today: only those with severe mental illness are admitted for ongoing treatment. Today the Utah State Hospital provides 324 beds for Utah's mentally ill persons who require treatment in a more structured setting and are assessed to be unable to receive adequate treatment at regional centers. Those patients include children, youth, and adults. USH now provides numerous therapy options, as well as a forensics unit to rehabilitate patients who have committed criminal acts. Our patients stay at USH for an average of six months. The hospital has developed specialized programs for children, youth, and adults. USH offers a wide variety of treatments to accommodate patients’ needs. Some treatments involve physical and occupational therapy, while others, such as pediatric playgroups, community cooking, and outdoor youth activities, contribute to overall mental and emotional well-being.
Internal Structure of Utah State Hospital
Brief Overview: The governor of Utah is in charge of UHS, but day-to-day operations fall under the direction of the hospital's superintendent. The superintendent works primarily with Utah's Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH).
DSAMH has created a governing body to oversee the operations of USH. This body includes the superintendent, the director of DSAMH, the clinical director and the medical-staff president of USH, representatives of the Department of Human Services, patients, and patients’ families. The governing body authorizes the hospital executive staff to manage the hospital’s daily operations.
The superintendent reports all major matters concerning hospital operations to the governing body during regular meetings. The clinical director reports to the governing body regarding the operations of the hospital medical staff, professional discipline directors, and other clinical and administrative services.
Internal Structure: The superintendent is appointed by the director of the Department of Human Services (DHS) with the joint approval of the DSAMH director. The superintendent is responsible for USH’s buildings, grounds, and property. The superintendent also recommend staffing needs to the director of DSAMH and to the director of DHS.
Right now, USH has 753 employees. The state of Utah and the U.S. government provide operational policies and procedures governing personnel matters, fiscal accounting, purchasing records, and life safety. USH’s on-call procedure provides 24-hour physician and administrator services.