State hospital's pediatric center is answer to a 20-year dream, superintendent says

Published: Thursday, June 12 2014 6:30 p.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, June 12 2014 6:42 p.m. MDT

Ginger Phillips, a certified peer specialist who advocates for people with mental illnesses, plays the instruments in the music therapy room of the Mountain Springs Pediatric Center at Utah State Hospital in Provo on Thursday, June 12, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

PROVO — A psychiatric hospital isn't a place a child wants to be or a place where parents want to send their children.

But it is a place where teams of professionals can treat children with severe and persistent mental illness in a comprehensive manner that allows them to successfully resume their lives in their communities with proper supports.

While the Utah State Hospital is considered a national leader in many of its therapeutic approaches, officials have long wanted modern facilities that support those practices and provide a comfortable, safe environment for patients.

On Thursday, those aspirations were realized with the opening of a pair of new facilities on the Provo campus, the 90,000-square foot Mountain Springs Pediatric Center as well as the Mark I. Payne Building, an ancillary facility named for the former superintendent and longtime hospital employee.

"We have been dreaming about this for 20 years," said Superintendent Dallas Earnshaw.

Joseph Ott, a mental health patient who was treated in the hospital's forensic unit for 3 ½ years as adult, spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the buildings Thursday morning.

"I hope other individuals with mental illness may be helped in these buildings as well as I was helped on my ward," said Ott, who is also a member of the hospital's governing body.

Ott said he was released from the hospital in 1984, after learning to managing his illness with medication and therapy.

"Sure, I still have my ups and downs but basically, I am able to function about as close to 'normal' as is possible, maybe as normal as you on my great days," he said.

Patients in the new pediatric facility each will have a private room, which should be a boon to their treatment and recovery, said Ginger Phillips, an advocate for people with mental illness.

Phillips, who was treated at the Utah State Hospital as a young adult for schizoaffective disorder, said sharing a dorm room compounds the stress of adolescence, let alone the challenges of undergoing intensive treatment for a mental illness. She, too, credits the compassionate care she received at the hospital for saving her life.

After touring the new pediatric building Thursday, Phillips described the facility as "amazing."

"I think the children deserve it after being in the oldest buildings on the campus for many years," she said.

Dignitaries and other guests also celebrated the opening of the Payne building, which will house physical health services for all patients at the Utah State Hospital. There are presently about 324 patients on campus, Earnshaw said.

Payne's widow, Connie Payne Williams, said her late husband began working at the campus when he was 18 years old, eventually earning a master's degree in social work. He worked at the state hospital for 30 years, including 12 years as superintendent. Payne had worked for the state of Utah for 35 years when he died suddenly in 2010.

Williams, who has since remarried, said the hospital was an integral part of the Payne family's life. The Payne children sometimes played with pediatric patients. Some longtime adult patients forged grandparent-like patients with their children. Williams volunteered at the facility for many years.

Payne often drove through the campus when he was not working, taking note of the buildings and grounds. It troubled him when buildings fell into disrepair due to funding constraints, Williams said.

He would have been honored by the new building because of his longtime passion for ensuring patients receive the best care possible, she said.

At heart, Payne was a social worker, but he moved into administration to help ensure patients received the care they deserved, she said. "He knew what they needed. They had a good advocate."

Still, Payne probably would not have wanted his name on a building, she said.

"'Payne' on a hospital building is not good," Williams joked.

"Actually, he would have been very honored."

Prior to Thursday's grand opening, Rex Harvey, consultant with the Utah Navajo Health System, conducted a traditional cleansing and blessing ceremony for the Payne building.

“The songs used in the ceremony will allow patients to feel comfortable. That is when they can really start to heal. That comfort will help bring balance and recovery," he said.

The Mark I. Payne building is 30,000 square feet and houses a wide array of medical, dental, optometry and pharmacy services. It also houses substance abuse treatment programs, medical records, central supply and the patient clothing center, among other uses.

The Mountain Springs Pediatric Center provides inpatient psychiatric treatment for 72 pediatric patients between ages 6 and 17. It includes a library, seven classrooms where the Provo School District provides education services for students from grades 1-12. The building also features a gymnasium, dining facilities, day rooms and 72 single bedrooms for boy, girls and younger children. The average length of stay at the facility is less than one year.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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