Salt Lake County Commissioner-elect Randy Horiuchi says he'll resign from the board of Wasatch Canyons Hospital Wednesday to avoid a possible conflict of interest and devote fulltime to his new job.

But he'll continue as an advocate for mental health services - especially those offered by Salt Lake County."A Richard Speck incident used to happen once in decade," Horiuchi said. (Speck strangled and stabbed eight student nurses July 13, 1966 in Chicago.)

"Now it seems like bizarre incidents by people who have lost control are happening daily. Yet government and insurance companies haven't stroked the resources into mental health services to serve a populace facing increased pressures. I have been ashamed how society looks at mental health problems."

As board chairman of the 64-bed psychiatric hospital since the mid-80s, Horiuchi has witnessed the highs and lows of the state's mental health facilities.

Their ranks soared in the '80s. In fact, from 1984 to 1986, the number of psychiatric beds per 1,000 people in Utah more than doubled.

Then came the casualties.

Citing financial difficulties, Parkside Recovery Center of Salt Lake City, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation treatment center, followed the route of Riverwood Hospital in Provo. It closed its doors in March of 1989.

Others have stayed open - despite dwindling insurance reimbursements. Nine psychiatric and two substance abuse hospitals are currently licensed with the state, for a total of about 950 beds.

But Horiuchi said even Wasatch Canyons, owned and operated by Intermountain Health Care - a large multi-hospital system - has suffered financial woes.

"We (Wasatch Canyons) have always prided ourselves that we were often the provider of last resort," he said. "In so many cases it seemed like people went to other psychiatric hospitals - used up their insurance - and then came to Wasatch Canyons Hospital. We always well exceeded the charitable care allocations we budgeted for."

In the spring, Horiuchi, as Salt Lake County commissioner, will be responsible for determining whether hospitals within the county qualify for tax-exempt status as charitable institutions.

"Because we will be judging the exempt status of Wasatch Canyons, it obviously wouldn't be proper for me to serve on the board," Horiuchi said.

But he emphasizes his No. 1 reason for resigning is not conflict of interest. It's time.

"I think it's important to put all my attention to being a good county commissioner and pouring whatever effort and resources are necessary into that," he said. "Any other extra activity would deter from that."

Horiuchi has also closed his lobbying business.

"It goes with the policy that I am going to do nothing but work my tail off to be the best county commissioner I can be. I want no diversions."

He has begun to outline his priorities. One will be expanding the mental health services offered by the county.

"I admittedly am stepping into a proud record of Salt Lake County for proving good resources for good mental health services," Horiuchi said. "What I hope to do is be even keener and lend what little expertise I have gained as an advocate for mental health services."