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University of Utah shouldering growing costs of SafeUT app as use proliferates

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah is shouldering the growing costs of the proliferating use of SafeUT app, which provides real-time crisis intervention to youths, according to a legislative report.

For the 2018 fiscal year, the Utah Legislature appropriated $550,000 in ongoing education funds to support the app, which connects users, largely public school students, to licensed crisis workers at University Neuropsychiatric Institute.

"To date, the university has expended $785,900 due to the need for additional staff required for the support and rollout of the app. The university has absorbed the difference in funding to continue this initiative," the report states.

As of May 15, the U. spent $235,900 above the funding appropriated by the Utah Legislature, according to a report heard by the Utah Legislature's Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday.

Legislative fiscal manager Spencer Pratt recommended that the committee determine a "correct funding level" for the initiative.

"We just recommend that the Legislature either determine that $800,000 is the correct amount or tell the University of Utah that $550,000 is all you're going to get and if you want to spend more, that's fine," he said.

Kathy Wilets, spokeswoman for University of Utah Health, said the university's IT department is budgeted to cover some costs associated with the app "but everything else, we're covering and not necessarily budgeted for, particularly at the level that's been required because of the success and high use of this app."

The need for services is ongoing and growing "so the ultimate goal is to have funding so we can staff and plan for this app," she said.

The university is working toward a sustainable funding source for SafeUT "and we're working with our partners at the local level and the federal level to achieve that goal," Wilets said.

The U.'s written response to the committee states, "It is hard to put a price on the value of preventing youth suicide and planned school attacks. The social, emotional and financial losses which ensue from youth suicide or active shooter scenarios is such that if we are able to prevent one of these devastating events from occurring by funding SafeUT, these dollars are well spent."

The SafeUT staff has received 356 tips dealing with 207 unique potential school threats, Wilets said.

According to the legislative staff report, SafeUT crisis workers average two active rescues per week among students experiencing crises.

The SafeUT Crisis Text and Tip Line provides 24/7 crisis intervention to youth through texting and a confidential tip program via smartphone. The cellphone app can be downloaded free from Apple's App Store or Google Play.

Numbers of chats and tips reported via the SafeUT app grew from 994 in 2016 to 26,175, according to figures released during a press conference in April.