Governor, dignitaries kick off construction of facility to bridge mental health gap in Southern Utah

HURRICANE — Dignitaries — from local leaders of law enforcement and government to the governor of Utah — gathered on a patch of dirt in Hurricane on Friday to launch the building that is hoped to be a landmark facility.

The goal is for the Washington County Receiving Center to clean up the revolving door of people with mental health and intoxication issues who are picked up by police, temporarily put in jail and released back to the public without help.

A rendering unveiled of the Washington County Receiving Center during its groundbreaking, Hurricane, Utah, March 18, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Ground officially was broken for the Washington County Receiving Center on the grounds of Washington County Legacy Park northeast of the Fairgrounds and Purgatory Correctional Facility on Friday. The ceremony included Gov. Spencer Cox, local members of the Utah Legislature, the entire Washington County Commission and just about every chief of law enforcement in Washington County.

“Any day we get to be in the dirt is a good day,” Cox told the dozens gathered for the ceremony. “It means we’re either farming or we’re building something.”

When completed in about a year, the facility just off state Route 9 will become a new option for both law enforcement dealing with mental health and intoxication calls as well as a place where people with such issues can just go to find help.

Right now, if police receive a call about someone with mental issues or a drug/alcohol abuser who is intoxicated, they may be taken either to jail or a local hospital, processed and released without any kind of help or treatment. Much of the time, it may be just days or even hours later and police are called to pick them up again.

“They are repeat customers,” Washington County Sheriff Nate Brooksby said. 

Washington County Sheriff Nate Brooksby at the groundbreaking of the Washington County Receiving Center, Hurricane, Utah, March 18, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

But when the center opens, such people usually will be transported there, rather than to jail or St. George Regional Hospital. Southwest Behavior Health Center staff will be on hand to monitor and help individuals get past their immediate crisis, then develop a long-term solution. People also will be able to walk into the 24-hour center on their own to seek help.

During the ceremony, Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson called the facility “a building that will offer hope.”

Speaking to St. George News after the groundbreaking, Cox said the center will fill a missing piece toward dealing with mental health and substance abuse in Southern Utah. 

It’s a gap that we’ve had for far too long.,” Cox said. “We have a place where we can take people who were in crisis who don’t need long-term care but need more than five minutes, maybe 24 hours, to get back to a place where they can be safe for themselves and safe for their families.

“It’s going to save taxpayer dollars because we’re not filling up our jails with people who shouldn’t be in jail and we’re not filling up our hospitals or emergency rooms with people who shouldn’t be there.”

As lieutenant governor, Cox played an active role in the process with Utah House Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, to champion several bills to help reform mental health and suicide prevention in the state between 2018 and 2020. 

That included Crisis Service Amendments HB 32, passed during the 2020 State Legislature that provided an initial $13.5 million and around $8 million annually toward the construction of receiving centers throughout the state. 

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Washington County Receiving Center, Hurricane, Utah, March 18, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

On top of those funds, the parent of St. George Regional Hospital, Intermountain Healthcare, is providing $50,000 toward the construction of the Washington County center and the county itself is providing the land at Legacy Park in Hurricane.

I’m so excited that we’re able to get one of these in Southern Utah,” the governor said. “It’s a rapidly growing population but also a very rural population still where we see those deaths of despair that are higher from addiction, from suicide, domestic violence.

“Having a treatment facility like this is huge. Far too often, we’re sending out cops or EMTs who don’t have the professional training to deescalate these types of situations. So knowing now that we have a place to take them will really change lives.”

For Washington County Commissioner Adam Snow, the need for the center is personal. He said the son of his friend was “going through some things” and could have used a facility like the Receiving Center.

“They called the police department and the St. George police came out and took him to the hospital and the hospital did their evaluation, and in two hours he was turned loose,” Snow said. “A facility like this really hits home for me.”

Those in law enforcement see the new center as a place that will free them up to deal with other crimes and enforcement. 

Equipment at the groundbreaking of the Washington County Receiving Center, Hurricane, Utah, March 18, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“We can give you help rather than taking you to the county jail,” said  Brooksby, adding that his department is also in the process of expanding the medical facilities at Purgatory. “Right now, booking is kind of bursting at the seams where those medical cells are. So a combination between the receiving center and the medical expansion will help relieve a lot of those special needs for some of the citizens dealing with detoxing and mental health.”

Often following a mass shooting, public outrcy focuses on the need to improve mental health. But Cox said such an incident isn’t the only gun-related type of crime a center like the one being built in Hurricane can help prevent. 

“We talk about shootings a lot, but, but the two biggest sources of death in our state from firearms come from suicide and domestic violence,” Cox said. “And they’re usually involving some sort of mental health episode.”

House Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George – also attending the ceremony – told St. George News it’s not only lives that are going to be saved. It’s also tax dollars. 

“We have professionals that say, ‘Look, if we can treat them a little better, we actually saved money down the long run,’” Brooks said. “We’re actually listening to the people who are on the ground and putting resources to where we can actually get better results for less money down the road.”

Photo Gallery

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!