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17 people recovering after carbon monoxide poisoning at central Utah clinic

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EPHRAIM — A mental health clinic will reopen on Thursday after a carbon monoxide leak sent at least 17 people to the hospital.

The Central Utah Counseling Center in Ephraim was evacuated a week ago after a problem with an old furnace was discovered. People started feeling sick with a variety of symptoms like headaches.

At least 10 staffers and seven clients were checked out or treated in hospitals, according to Nathan Strait, the center's CEO.

Two employees were in such bad shape that they were rushed to a local hospital and then to Utah Valley Hospital, where many of the staff have since received hyperbaric chamber treatments. One worker received six treatments, and some have lingering effects.

"There's still a few with headaches, a little bit of dizziness," Strait said. "A lot of that are actually results of the hyperbaric treatment that they had to go through."

No one was hospitalized overnight, and all staff are now feeling well enough to return to work, he said.

Britany Havens and her four kids had been noticing headaches after therapy appointments for a couple of months now, with more serious symptoms in the past two weeks.

"My oldest son told me that when he was leaving therapy, he was seeing 'floaters' floating in front of him," Havens said, "and he was really dizzy and nauseous. He had to brace himself as he was walking out."

Havens wonders how long the carbon monoxide has been leaking.

Britany Havens and her children noticed headaches after appointments at Central Utah Counseling Center in Ephraim. It was evacuated a week ago after a problem with an old furnace was discovered.
Britany Havens and her children noticed headaches after appointments at Central Utah Counseling Center in Ephraim. It was evacuated a week ago after a problem with an old furnace was discovered. (Photo: Mark Less, KSL-TV)

Strait told KSL-TV that's unclear. He said a maintenance worker doing a routine check on Jan. 18 spotted the issue with the natural gas furnace emitting high levels of carbon monoxide. The building was quickly evacuated.

"It really could've been quite tragic because they weren't correlating their symptoms with the carbon monoxide that was filling their rooms," Strait said.

"For some of the staff, it's been very difficult," he added. "They've had to take time off work, be away from family, have to be transported up to Utah Valley Hospital. It's been challenging. There's some that are quite nervous about being at work."

The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is conducting an investigation, including interviews with all of the employees who were sickened, Strait said.

The building, which was constructed in 1998, has four furnaces. One was replaced last year, while the other three were original, Strait said.

A company is replacing all three of the old furnaces before the building reopens.

Strait said a heating and air conditioning company did a visual inspection in November and reported no issues with the furnaces.

Central Utah Counseling Center has added three carbon monoxide detectors to the building, Strait said. The maintenance worker has also added the detectors to seven other facilities managed by the organization in the region.

Havens is calling for a change to state regulations that would require public and commercial buildings to have working carbon monoxide detectors.

"I really would like to see a change in Utah's policies that offices should have to have it," Havens said. "Not just medical offices, but all commercial buildings should have to have it because people shouldn't have to go through this."

Double-check detectors

Strait hopes Utahns use this as an opportunity to double-check that their homes and workplaces have the detectors, which can prevent emergencies like this.

"It's something pretty serious," Strait said, "and I had no idea until I saw the results on my staff and the results on the clients. It's not a pretty picture. It's pretty scary considering what could've happened."

Central Utah Counseling Center is a publicly funded organization that serves mostly lower-income individuals struggling with mental illness and substance abuse issues. The offices – eight locations spread across six central Utah counties – take Medicaid patients and have contracts with the counties, the state and the federal government.


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