$2.8 million in ongoing funding from Utah Legislature opens doors to possibilities
By Bubba Brown
The Utah State Capitol in 2022. Lawmakers in 2022 and 2023 approved a total of $2.8 million in ongoing appropriations for RMCOEH. Credit: Utah Senate
To call it the beginning of a new era for RMCOEH might be underselling it.
This spring, the Utah Legislature approved nearly $800,000 in ongoing, annual appropriations for the center, a figure that alone is remarkable. But it comes on the heels of lawmakers in 2022 providing RMCOEH with an even larger sum, $2 million, in annual funding.
Together, the appropriations represent a sea change for RMCOEH unlike anything it’s experienced since its founding in 1977. The money is fueling a dramatic expansion of the center’s programs and scope — as well as its impact on workers and businesses in Utah and beyond.
RMCOEH Director Kurt Hegmann, MD, said this level of state funding is rare and possibly unique, among centers like RMCOEH in the U.S. in many years.
“We are incredibly grateful that the Utah Legislature recognizes the importance of our mission and sees value in what we do,” he said. “It’s hard to overstate the significance of this funding in terms of how it will allow the center to grow, and how it will push the limits of what we can achieve for workers and businesses.”
Hegmann also noted that the groundwork that led to lawmakers being willing to invest so heavily in RMCOEH was not laid overnight. The appropriations are the result of the tireless effort of many people who are committed to making workplaces safer and healthier. An incomplete list includes former Sen. Karen Mayne and her late husband, Sen. Eddie Mayne, who championed occupational and environmental safety and health in Utah for decades; RMCOEH Advisory Board Chair and former Executive Vice President of Counsel at WCF Insurance Dennis Lloyd; a series of visionary WCF Insurance CEOs, including Lane Summerhays, Ray Pickup, and Matt Lyon; a host of other state lawmakers, including Sen. Curtis Bramble (who is also an Advisory Board member), Senate President Stuart Adams, House Speaker Brad Wilson, Sen. Ann Millner, Sen. Luz Escamilla, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, Rep. Val Peterson, and Rep. Bradley Last; and all the faculty, staff, and trainees who have been involved with the center over the years.
RMCOEH’s decades-long history of serving workers and businesses was also crucial.
“The track record is a credit to the entire faculty and their vision of doing the right thing,” Hegmann said, noting the dedication faculty have displayed. “And now we finally have the staff to go much faster and much further. It’s a monumental difference, really, in what we can do.”
Lawmakers, he added, are confident taxpayers will see a return on investment in the form of safer and healthier workers, which in turn reduces cost burdens on businesses, increases worker satisfaction and productivity, and bolsters the economy.
“The work now is to make good on accomplishing what the Legislature has tasked us with,” he said. “That’s something that everyone at RMCOEH understands, and we’re not going to sit and wait a few years until we get around to it. Many of the efforts that will come from this funding are already well underway or even nearly complete. It’s made it a busy couple of years for a lot of people at the center. But it’s a good problem to have.”
Among the initiatives made possible through the funding are:
- Transformation of RMCOEH into Utah’s first multi-university partnership program, between the University of Utah and Weber State University.
- Creation of a bachelor’s degree in occupational and environmental health and safety through Weber State. The first cohort of students is expected to enroll for the fall 2023 semester.
- Creation of an Occupational Health Nursing program through Weber State. The first cohort of students is expected to enroll for the fall 2023 semester. Initially, the program will culminate in a graduate certificate, but RMCOEH plans to offer graduate degrees in the coming years.
- Creation of Occupational Health Psychology program through the University of Utah (with additional faculty at Weber State). RMCOEH began working on this with the 2023 appropriations and aims to launch the program as soon as possible.
- Creation of Mining Safety program through the University of Utah. RMCOEH began working on this with the 2023 appropriations and aims to launch the program as soon as possible.
- Creation of a pathways program through Weber State University designed to provide opportunities for students to begin their education in occupational and environmental health and safety as early as in high school. The aim is for many students to ultimately pursue both their bachelor’s and graduate training through RMCOEH. (2023 appropriations).
- Hiring of at least 10 additional faculty in eight different programs.
- Hiring of staff positions, including associate director of finance, graduate academic advisor, post-award officer, senior technical writer, IT system administrator, multimedia content specialist, and administrative assistant. Additional staff positions are also planned.
- Development of Spanish-language safety programs for Hispanic/Latino workers in high-risk jobs.
Paul Rogers, a former Republican state lawmaker and current lobbyist who promotes RMCOEH on Capitol Hill, said lawmakers were particularly excited about the expanded undergraduate training that will result from the funding.
Cumulatively, though, the programs will help the Legislature achieve a simple goal.
“More professionals in the field, as well as a robust continued certification program for the landscape of Utah employers that need it,” he said.