Primary Children's is expanding behavioral health care with new $96M Taylorsville campus

Katy Welkie, Intermountain Children’s Health CEO, and Gail Miller, Utah philanthropist, lift the covering off the rendering image as leaders unveil plans for the new first-of-its-kind $96-million pediatric behavioral health center, in Salt Lake City on Monday.

Katy Welkie, Intermountain Children’s Health CEO, and Gail Miller, Utah philanthropist, lift the covering off the rendering image as leaders unveil plans for the new first-of-its-kind $96-million pediatric behavioral health center, in Salt Lake City on Monday. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)


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TAYLORSVILLE — Primary Children's Hospital is expanding its care for behavioral health by building a new flagship campus at the Primary Children's Wasatch Canyons Behavioral Health Campus in Taylorsville.

The new facility will have 50% more inpatient beds, with a total of 36, Utah's first in-patient unit for autism and developmental needs, a walk-in crisis center providing an alternative to the emergency room and resources that invite family into the treatment including the ability for parents to stay overnight, according to Amanda Choudhary, senior director of Primary Children's pediatric behavioral health.

"There's often nothing more important to healing than the presence of loved ones," she said.

The new health center was announced at a press conference at Primary Children's Hospital on Monday where a rendering of the future building was unveiled. It is already under construction on what was previously green space at the current behavioral health campus, Choudhary said. It will be open in late 2025.

In addition to serving patients, the facility will house Primary Children's consultation service, ARCS, which helps connect children to mental health services near their home and has teams that respond to homes in a crisis.

Katy Welkie, vice president of children's health for Intermountain Healthcare and CEO at Primary Children's Hospital, said a key part of the "Primary promise" to build a model health care system is addressing mental and behavioral health.

"Expanding vital resources for child and adolescent behavioral health is our shared vision. To children and families facing mental illness and those grieving and navigating loss — we're with you. This is personal," she said.

One in five children between 3 and 17 years old in the U.S., Welkie said, is facing a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder — and Utah's statistics are similar.

The new center will be the flagship for all of Intermountain's children's behavioral health locations along the Wasatch Front, and will expand capacity.

Welkie said the family centered care that will be available in the new facility is "so important." She said in addition to allowing parents to sleep in the rooms with their children, the family will be engaged in a child's treatment.

Utah's donation

A $25-million donation from Utah's government helped the new center begin construction earlier than planned, and helped the Primary Promise philanthropic initiative reach its minimum target of $600 million.

"Though exciting, this milestone does not signal that our mission is accomplished. Thousands of children, including those with autism, developmental disorders, rare genetic disorders or day to day instability in their ability to thrive still require our support. They need our help to live their healthiest lives possible," Welkie said. She said the current facility has helped thousands of children over the years, but is insufficient.

"Our children deserve better," she said.

The new facilities will be designed specifically for children's behavioral health and will be beautiful — to create an atmosphere that will reduce stress, Welkie said, adding there are waitlists for every type of behavioral health service. She said the new behavioral health facility at Primary Children's Lehi campus has been filled since a few days after it opened.

Rob Allen, president of Intermountain Health, expressed appreciation to state leaders, for many individual donors and for all Utahns.

"We're working to make sure that top-quality pediatric health care will be more accessible to more children and their families all across the Intermountain West. ... Behavioral health is the baseline, it's the bedrock on which they will be facilitated, and enabled to grow and develop, and to dream and then reach all of the many possibilities that lie ahead of them," he said.

'Life is worth living'

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said he was reminded Monday of his daughter's emergency life-saving surgery one year ago. As he was telling a friend and Primary Children's child psychiatrist about his daughter's diagnosis, the friend asked, "Is she happy?"

When Eliason answered that she was, the friend encouraged him to keep her illness in perspective, noting he works daily with children who did not want to live.

"This facility will help fulfill that mission of reminding children that life is worth living," he said.

One in six children have a treatable mental health disorder and, on average, it is 10 years until a child first gets treatment, Eliason said, adding that about half of Utah's youth who are struggling with mental illness never get treatment.

Over the last year, 38 children in Utah have been lost to suicide — now the leading cause of death of Utah's children, he said.

Gail Miller said it is hard not to cry when faced with those statistics, and she expressed empathy for families and children currently going through mental health challenges.

"Please know that you're not alone. There are resources available, including our big hearted community members who rally behind you with their remarkable generosity," she said. She invited community members to partner with her, and others, in building up behavioral health care for children — and saving children's lives.

"Working together, we can help even more children grow up stronger and healthier. If you haven't already, please join this truly historic, heroic effort," she said.

Miller said she can't wait to see whose name will end up on the Behavioral Health Campus, saying she was honored to have her family's name on the Lehi campus of Primary Children's Hospital dedicated earlier this year.

"Any gift of any size will help," she said. "Now is the time."

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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