Hepatitis A and a hospital for Spanish Fork: Utah County’s top health stories of 2018

December 26, 2018

As Utah County’s population continues to grow, so do the health services offered within its limits.

2018 marked a year of growth in Utah County’s health sector, from expanded offerings from the county’s largest hospital, to a medical school taking its next steps toward becoming a reality.

Meanwhile, Utah Lake’s algal bloom, which shocked the county by appearing earlier and earlier over the last few year s, was accepted as routine, with the Utah County Health Department installing permanent signage along the lake’s popular points detailing what to look for.

2018 was also the year that Utah County’s largest health entities launched Use Only as Directed, an opioid prevention program that encourages people to speak up about addiction, opt out of being prescribed opioids and safely dispose of drugs when they’re no longer needed. The campaign also included educational materials being posted in local hospitals to encourage patients to ask their doctors about other pain-relieving methods.

The following are Utah County’s top five health stories of 2018.

5. Proposed medical school gets land

The proposed Noorda College of Osteopathic Medicine took steps in 2018 toward becoming a reality. In June, it announced that it had found a founding dean and chief academic officer in John Dougherty, who came to the college from the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Touro University Nevada.

A few months later, the medical school announced it will be building on 21 acres on the northwestern portion of the East Bay Golf Course after Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi signed a title transfer to the developer for Wasatch Educational, which will manage the college. The move came after initial community resistance to the possibility of building on the land.

The school’s developer will fund the relocation cost of three of the course’s holes to the northeastern portion of the course.

The proposed medical school is projected to open in 2021, pending accreditation. Construction on the school will begin after the relocation of the golf holes is complete.

4. Utah State Hospital honors patients who were resting in unmarked graves

After decades of resting in obscurity, the 485 Utah Territorial Insane Asylum patients buried in unmarked graves at the Provo City Cemetery got their names back.

An October ceremony unveiled a memorial honoring the patients who died while at the asylum — now the Utah State Hospital — who had died between 1890 to 1960. The patients had been admitted for mental and physical health needs including Down syndrome, epilepsy, substance abuse, developmental disabilities and for being “feeble-minded” during a time when potential treatment was dismal and mental illness was viewed as a patient’s fault or a sin.

The ceremony came after 16 years of work on the Forgotten Patients Cemetery Project, which included tracking down where the patients were buried and finding the correct spelling of every patient’s name.

3. Utah Valley Hospital continues to expand

Utah Valley Hospital took big steps in 2018 amidst its ongoing hospital replacement project.

The first, in early February, included the opening of the Provo hospital’s Sorenson Legacy Tower, which houses the Utah Valley Clinic. The nine-story tower includes an education center, a cancer center, an InstaCare clinic and a LiVe Well Center, among other services.

Then, in August, the hospital announced it had opened a pediatric intensive care unit. It is the second PICU to open in Utah County and the first at an Intermountain Healthcare hospital in Utah County. The announcement came two years after the hospital began a partnership with Primary Children’s Hospital.

2. Health options expand in southern Utah County

Not all of Intermountain Healthcare’s growth occurred in Provo. In August, the health care organization also broke ground on Spanish Fork Hospital, its first hospital located in southern Utah County. The $150 million hospital is being built on 45 acres at 765 E. Market Place Drive and will contain 30 beds with a focus on women’s and medical/surgical services. The hospital is projected to open in the fall of 2020.

Earlier this year, Wasatch Mental Health opened the Payson Family Clinic to extend mental health services to the county’s southern end. The building also includes offices for the Utah County Health Department, county substance abuse services and the Utah County Sheriff’s Office. The land includes space for a planned future expansion.

1. Hepatitis A outbreak

About 15,000 people were potentially exposed to hepatitis A in late December 2017 after two separate restaurant workers were diagnosed with the virus.

The discovery caused a panic in January for those who had eaten food or used the bathrooms at the Olive Garden or Sonic Drive-In in Spanish Fork, or who had consumed non-canned food donated by Olive Garden to the Tabitha’s Way Local Food Pantry in Spanish Fork. Those who were potentially exposed were encouraged to get vaccinated for hepatitis A to prevent symptoms and the spreading of the virus.

More than 6,600 people used an online assessment for the virus, 1,205 people called the Utah County Health Department’s phone bank and 1,712 received vaccinations at the Utah County Health Department in the three days following the announcement about potential exposures.

While Utah County typically sees two hepatitis A cases a year, 43 had been diagnosed with hepatitis A since an outbreak began in 2017. Most patients diagnosed with hepatitis A during the outbreak’s beginning were at the Utah County Jail in Spanish Fork.

More than half of those diagnosed were hospitalized. There were no deaths connected to the outbreak, and no hepatitis A cases were linked to the potential exposures.

Hepatitis A is spread through oral contact with food or drink that has been contaminated with infected feces. Symptoms include yellowing of the skin, abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea.

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