With the opening of Primary Children's $2.05 million Residential Treatment Center, high on Salt Lake City's east bench, severely emotionally disturbed girls can now receive essential treatment not before available.

The center, located in the University of Utah Research Park, was officially dedicated Tuesday. It was described by officials as a significant step toward providing a place where growing numbers of troubled boys and girls can receive long-term help.Its doors opened none too soon.

Primary Children's original program was in a small, 1,500-square-foot frame house near the medical center. It operated at capacity for 20 years, serving eight boys, ages 6-12.

"The small house we've been in for the past 20 years was cramped," said James Anderson, center director and a clinical social worker. "We were unable to serve the number of children who needed this kind of care, and the physical constraints meant we couldn't treat young girls."

That changed with the opening of the new center Aug. 25. The center is housed in a 26,000-square-foot building with two co-educational cottages housing 10 children each. Generally, the long-term care facility serves children requiring live-in treatment. Typical length of stay is from six months to two years.

"There is a dramatically growing need for facilities of this type for pre-adolescents, and we're confident that our center is state of the art," said Dr. Richard C. Ferre, medical director and chairman of the Child Psychiatry Department at Primary.

Ferre said typically children who require long-term residential care suffer from a full range of emotional disorders, including psychological problems resulting from prolonged sexual and physical abuse, organically based psychological problems, cultural deprivation and combinations of these disorders.

Anderson said children needing such treatment cannot be adequately cared for in their homes or through short-term hospitalization. "They have to be removed from their environments and receive the intensive, round-the-clock care we offer," he said.

Intermountain Health Care, the not-for-profit owner of Primary Children's Medical Center, provided the bulk of funds to construct the new center. A contribution (plus interest) from the LDS Church Primary Association in the early 1970's was also used to build the unique facility.

The center is unique because it is "full service," Anderson said. It has parental training with overnight accommodations, a gymnasium and a year-round school, staffed by special education teachers who emphasize remedial work.

A high quality of education has been provided for these special students, Anderson said. "They often go up two grade levels in one year due to the program's intensity." Staff includes teacher aids and foster grandparents.

"One of our real strengths is a continuum of care offered throughout the Child Psychiatry Department as well as the medical services provided at Primary Children's," Ferre added.

This full range of psychiatric services includes crisis intervention, outpatient services, short-term hospitalization, long-term residential care and day-hospital services.

Fifty percent of the Residential Treatment Center's patients are from outside Utah, some from as far away as Florida.

The center's location allows for future growth, Ferre said. In the years to come, he foresees growth in the facility's day hospital, outpatient care and research functions. The site has space for two more cottages.