Bill to create State Mental Health System Commission passes to Senate

Utah State Hospital has been located in Provo since its opening in 1885. HB177 suggests creating a State Mental Health Commission that will evaluate the state’s mental health system, including the Utah State Hospital. (Marissa Lundeen)

HB177, which proposes the creation of a State Mental Health System Commission, is currently in the Senate.

The original draft of HB177 involved creating a commission to investigate the possibility of moving the Utah State Hospital in Provo. However, after nearly three weeks in the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee and drawing concern from the community, the bill was modified to focus on the creation of an advisory State Mental Health System Commission.

While the commission’s main job would be to evaluate the state’s mental health system and model as a whole, it would also investigate whether the state hospital should be responsible for providing long-term mental health services or if another facility, setting or model would better help individuals in need of such services.

Representative Jon Hawkins is advocating for the bill in the House, with Senator Curtis Bramble sponsoring it on the Senate Floor. Hawkins spent nearly a year and a half gathering research and drafting the bill after a constituent came to him with concerns about the effectiveness of the Utah State Hospital at its current location. As Hawkins conducted research, he was taken aback by the overwhelming number of mental health cases in the community and state.

“HB177 started off as the State Hospital Relocation bill, but in evaluating it, I decided to change the purpose of the bill so it’s not necessarily geared towards moving the State Hospital but to evaluate whether the state’s mental health services are being delivered to the current needs of the state,” Hawkins said. “That is a big part of why I modified the bill from moving the state hospital to studying the mental health system in Utah.”

Concerns about the first iteration of HB177, formerly named the State Hospital Relocation Commission, arose from various members of the community, including the Utah State Hospital superintendent and one of the Utah Department of Health and Human Services deputy directors.

Rena Rogers, executive director of Mental Health America of Utah, said she was concerned when the bill was first shared that it did not recognize the role of the Utah State Hospital in a wider mental health system. Rogers also said she advocates for individuals with lived experience navigating mental health difficulties and the mental health system to be included on the commission, something the first version of the bill failed to include.

“It is important to note that the Utah State Hospital operates in a mental health system that offers a community continuum of care. The role of the Utah State Hospital is contingent upon the strength of the mental health system as a whole,” Rogers said. “In addition, we would advocate that any commission would include individuals with lived experience, their families and advocacy organizations.”

Utah State Hospital’s sign is located near the end of East Center Street in Provo. The State Hospital provides 324 beds for Utah’s mentally ill citizens. (Marissa Lundeen)

In its most recent sixth substitution, HB177 identifies that the State Mental Health System Commission would consist of members of the House and Senate, the executive director of the Department of Health and Human Services, the superintendent of the Utah State Hospital, an individual representing the Utah Behavioral Healthcare Committee, a citizen representative from the community with lived experience and several other representatives from various organizations.

Katie England, representing the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, expressed appreciation for the modifications to HB177.

“When this bill was first made public some people from our department shared some concerns about the original version of the bill. We’ve been really appreciative of Representative Hawkins taking the time to work with us on this bill and with the changes that have been made, we are now neutral on HB177,” England said.

HB177 passed its third reading in the House on the 16th and was introduced to the Senate on the Feb. 17. As of this article’s publication, HB177 is still in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

The 2023 Utah legislative session will conclude on Friday, March 3.

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