How the record Huntsman mental health donation will be spent

Nov 22, 2019, 7:45 AM
University Neuropsychiatric Institute, or UNI, in Research Park in Salt Lake City is pictured on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. Photo: Steve Griffin, KSL

This is part two of a two-part report. You can find part one here

A $150 million donation from the Huntsman family will start going toward mental health initiatives at the University of Utah right away and in the coming years.

Applause greeted the announcement from the Huntsman family earlier this month.

“This is a very transformational gift for University of Utah, and we hope for the state of Utah,” said U. President Ruth Watkins.

What happens to the Huntsman mental health gift

The gift will be spread over 15 years at least, but Watkins told the KSL Editorial board there are several million dollars in funds in the first year they can invest right away.

“It’s quite significant,” she said.

One of their first priorities is to find a new chair of the department of psychiatry, who will then help guide the next steps.

The interim chair is Dr. James Ashworth, who also serves as the medical director at UNI, the University Neuropsychiatric Institute — which eventually is expected to change its name to the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

“We believe the resources will allow us to focus on what we want to do,” said Ashworth.

That includes improving the access to care and quality of care for college students and rural Utahns.

Next steps

Much of the funds will be invested in people, in programs, and in care delivery.

“Integrating care into primary care is definitely the future. We are thinking of better ways to do that,” he said.

Ashworth says telehealth is very promising, and they are working on new ways to use those resources. The U. also plans to start a call-up service in January, where primary care doctors can get help from the psychiatry department. And a transition clinic bridges the wait between in-patient care, and the next appointment.

They plan to partner with others like Intermountain Healthcare to reach more people around the state.

And Ashworth says money brings money. He believes more donations will come, and more people will want to enter the field in the years to come.

“It’s just the beginning. I hope people with resources to donate will think, ‘they are doing it, I can do that.’ And people will say, ‘oh wow, I’m trying to decide what to go into, there seems like there’s a future there.’ It’s long overdue,” he said.

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How the record Huntsman mental health donation will be spent