Fourth Street Clinic: Providing Vital Health Services to the Homeless

This entry was posted on Jul 29, 2015 by Charlotte Bell.
Fourth Street Clinic Gives the Gift of Good Health

In 1987, Dr. Allan Ainsworth was driving in Salt Lake City and saw a long line of people waiting for food and other social services. He thought to himself that no one should ever have to wait for basic life necessities. One year later Ainsworth founded Wasatch Homeless Health Care, Inc.,—now the Fourth Street Clinic—a place where homeless people could receive free primary health care services.

The clinic started out as a one-room triage clinic with Ainsworth and a part-time nurse running the show. Now it resides in a newly remodeled, full-service building that houses 65 full-time staff and utilizes 150 networked providers. They provide services to more than 100 people each day—4,700 souls in 2014 alone. While Medicaid and Medicare provide payment for some patients, there is no money exchanged at the clinic. Services are provided free to those who are not on Medicaid or Medicare.

The clinic is situated close to The Road Home, Salt Lake’s main shelter and Catholic Community Services, which provides meals to the homeless. Proximity is important, as the homeless population often doesn’t have access to transportation. According to Fourth Street Clinic’s development director, Laurel Ingham, health issues are the number one reason people end up on the street. Fourth Street Clinic’s services—including primary care, mental health screening and care, chronic disease management, addiction recovery services, lab tests, pharmacy services, dental care, acute care and wellness classes—are vital in helping people move back into jobs and homes.

Ingham also cites intergenerational poverty as a factor in whether people will experience homelessness in their lifetimes. “With intergenerational poverty, there’s usually a lack of education and a lack of resources. This causes a downward spiral that is very hard to escape,” she says. “Substance abuse is also a cocompounding factor.”

The clinic remodeled and expanded in 2014. In addition to many more exam rooms, one of the key features they added is a large group space for the purpose of providing lifestyle education. Fourth Street Clinic hosts AA and NA meetings, as well as smoking cessation classes, dietary education, anger management, exercise and yoga classes, and Zen meditation.

The clinic serves as a training ground for medical, dental, pharmacy, nursing and dermatology students as well. Ingham says that many of these students return to volunteer their time and skills even after they’ve graduated, because they find the work to be so important, and the population to be so appreciative.

Because the homeless population is not as mobile as the general population, Fourth Street Clinic sponsors mobile mammography. The clinic provides vouchers to women and finds transportation for them if needed. Ingham says they make the mobile mammograms a fun event. “We hand out swag bags, provide fruit from Harmon’s, and offer manicures and massages.”

The swag bags include things like shampoo, lotion, nail polish and blankets. “Those little niceties go a long way,” says Ingham. “This is a group that can be so appreciative of simple gifts that improve their quality of life.”

One of Ingham’s cherished experiences in her time working at Fourth Street Clinic is helping a deaf woman receive a $400 pair of hearing aids. “She’s been deaf since age 7 because of a bout with mumps,” she says. “She also had bipolar disorder and diabetes. When she came to the clinic, she was spending her days curled up, hiding out.

“When she got her hearing aids, she told me, ‘The best thing is that I feel safer now.’ She could go out and use public transportation. The hearing aids restored her sense of safety. Now she has a job, and has saved for an apartment. She’s so excited to be able to work and give back to the community.”

This is Ingham’s favorite part of her job. “If you can change somebody’s life for $400, that’s amazing. If you can wake up every day and say, ‘I made a difference,’ what could be better?”

Hugger Mugger is proud to partner with Fourth Street Clinic as our non-profit beneficiary. From now through September, your Hugger Mugger purchases will help support the clinic’s vital work in our community.

About Charlotte Bell
Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. Her third book is titled Hip-Healthy Asana: The Yoga Practitioner’s Guide to Protecting the Hips and Avoiding SI Joint Pain (Shambhala Publications). She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

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