A generous grant from the Utah Legislature and a very successful Primary Promise funding campaign have sped up plans to construct Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital Behavioral Health Center in Taylorsville.

Plans for the $96 million, 90,000-square-foot family-focused facility include a walk-in crisis center, the state’s first planned space specifically for youths with autism and neurodiverse needs, 50% more space for in-patient treatment and greater ability to meet day treatment, outpatient treatment and group therapy needs, among other services. The facility will also house the Stabilization and Mobile Response program team, which will go directly to the home of a child in crisis when needed.

Intermountain Health executives and community leaders Monday unveiled a rendering of the facility, which is slated to open in late 2025. It’s already under construction on the site of Primary’s Wasatch Canyons Behavioral Health Campus, where many of the services are already available. But that campus as it exists cannot keep up with the needs.

A youthful epidemic

National figures quoted by Katy Welkie, Intermountain vice president and CEO of Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, show 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 have a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder.

The mental health crisis among the nation’s youth has been well-documented and is a major concern of the nation’s top doctor. Two years ago, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said the country is experiencing a mental health crisis among its young people and he has made calling attention to it and urging action one of his priorities.

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The need is significant in Utah, as well, according to those addressing the issue at the press conference. Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said that in the past 12 months, according to preliminary numbers, 38 Utah youths ages 10-17 took their own lives, as did 71 young adults ages 18 to 24.

Suicide, said Eliason, is the leading cause of death for Utah’s young people.

Gail Miller, Utah philanthropist and co-chair of the Primary Promise executive campaign cabinet, wiped away a tear as she addressed the group. “I am known for crying. With those kinds of statistics, it’s hard not to cry,” she said.

She said that the money raised by the Primary Promise fundraising campaign “directly contributes to life-saving and life-changing advancements.” Working together, she said, we can help even more children to grow up strong and healthy.

Katy Welkie, vice president of Intermountain and CEO of Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital, speaks about the plans for the new first-of-its-kind $96 million pediatric behavioral health center and campus for Utah children at a press conference in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 17, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation contributed $50 million to Primary Promise in 2020, which was the foundation’s largest single investment.

During the press conference, Rob Allen, president and CEO of Intermountain Health, said the facility is possible “thanks to all Utahns who care deeply about doing the right things for our children. Everyone in the state can feel ownership in this life-changing investment in the health and well-being of our youth with these vital services.” He added that “we are better together in helping our young people.”

Meeting mental health needs

Calling the upcoming center’s ability to provide “state of the art and family-centered care” to youths a “milestone development,” Welkie said that the $25 million from the state and a match from Intermountain Health means expanded critical behavioral health services will be possible.

“Every day we delay is a missed opportunity to help a child thrive. With stakes this high, we cannot hesitate,” she added in background material.

Intermountain Health reported in the press release that “expanding access to pediatric behavioral health services is part of Intermountain Health’s Primary Promise to build the nation’s model health system for children. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in the future of our children’s health has attracted $600 million in a powerful partnership between philanthropic members of the community and Intermountain Health.”

The gathering included a video featuring Liz, a teen who talked about her own challenges with mental health, starting in junior high when she began to skip school because of “full-blown panic.” Her family got help from Primary’s pediatric behavioral health experts, who also prioritize teaching parents how to cope when a child has mental health issues. Liz graduated on time and sees a real future now. Said her mom in the video, the services have been “a lifeline for us. They saved my kid. That’s something I can never repay.”

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Amanda Choudhary, senior director of Pediatric Behavioral Health at Primary, offered more detail about some of the services to be offered, including continuation of existing mental health services, but with more capacity. Additionally, the new facility is being designed so parents can play a bigger part in their children’s mental health treatment, including being able to stay overnight if needed.

The walk-in crisis center will remove the need for local emergency departments to be the entry point to mental health services when a child is in deep distress. The facility will instead be a streamlined access point. And the stabilization and mobile response teams will be housed there as they continue to go to homes where children are in severe crisis, Choudhary said.

The next teen epidemic

“We want all of our children to want to live, to thrive, to be happy,” Welkie said.

The facility is located at 5770 S. 1500 West in Taylorsville. More information is available online at PrimaryChildrens.org/behavioralhealth. Welkie also reminded parents and youths that for immediate crisis, help can be reached by texting 988. The mobile response team can be reached at 1-833-SAFE-FAM (1-833-723-3326). The free Intermountain Primary Children’s statewide assessment, referral and consultation service line can be reached at 801-313-7711. It will help connect young children and teens to local services.

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