The possibility of privatizing the Utah State Hospital has resurfaced, with the Senate Health and Human Services Committee voting 3-2 Friday to advance a bill that would request proposals from interested companies or county governments.
"This issue has been studied," said bill sponsor Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton. "Now is the time to move this forward."
Adams wants ideas from private firms or public entities that could save money for the state, including the possibility of rebuilding or selling the 359-bed psychiatric hospital, allowing a business to renovate it, or hiring one to manage or decentralize operations all under state supervision.
The bill, SB253, was sent to the Senate floor for discussion.
Opponents questioned the proposal, which comes as lawmakers in another committee put a $25 million renovation of the hospital's 72-bed pediatric wing as first on their list of priorities. That plan been sent to Statehouse leaders for separate consideration.
Ginger Phillips, a former state hospital patient from Salt Lake City, expressed her concerns about privatization. "I'm worried about reducing the quality of care," she testified.
Social service advocates pointed out the Provo facility has been called a model hospital and meets national standards set by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.
But the father of kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart believes his daughter's abductor, Brian David Mitchell, was misdiagnosed at the hospital, prompting Ed Smart to support Adams' legislation. "It's an idea worth looking at," Ed Smart said.
A taxpayers group supported the bill, and an employee group opposed it. "There's high emotion on this," said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, committee chairman.
Lawmakers have previously debated ideas for privatizing the hospital and the pediatric renovation. In August, a Boston-based consulting company recommended against privatizing portions of the state hospital and the state center for the disabled, saying money could be saved but the quality of patient care may suffer.
Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, said he normally supports exploring ways to outsource government operations, but added, "In this case, I think government can actually do the job better."
Christensen believes it possible the legislation could allow a contract to be awarded. But Adams says the bill would release a request for proposals in August and would require a report on those proposals to be given to an interim legislative committee.