Study: Privatizing state hospital not worth it

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 17 2010 6:58 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Sure, you could save $1.7 million in reducing staff compensation at the Utah State Hospital's forensic unit.

But reducing total pay for employees would increase turnover and could ruin patient care.

It's the same story at the Utah State Developmental Center: Privatizing its semisecure units with a cheaper staff could save Utah $117,000. But quality of care could diminish.

So you might not want to go there.

That was the message Tuesday from a consulting group to the Utah Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee.

The Legislature began looking at ways to save money at the two state-run institutions in 2009. Boston-based consulting firm PCG won the contract to examine if privatizing portions of the two institutions could save Utah some money.

The result, said PCG's Kevin Coyle, is that it would be financially possible to privatize portions of the state hospital and the developmental center and get some cost savings.

But quality care at a psychiatric hospital is contingent on highly skilled, qualified and consistent staff, the report states, especially in the forensic unit, which is for maximum-security, inpatient housing for up to 100 patients at the Utah State Hospital.

And other states have had mixed results with privatizing their state hospitals.

Louisiana is working on such a plan right now. Florida has successfully privatized one civil and two forensic mental health facilities.

And Georgia, in 2009, and Pennsylvania, in 2007, retracted their plans to privatize the forensic operations at state hospitals.

Based on the report, Coyle said, privatization "is not in the best interest of this state."

The feasibility study is located on the Executive Appropriation Committee's website at le.utah.gov.

e-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com Twitter: dnewspolitics

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