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Fourth Street Clinic Opens Mobile Health Unit Bound For Homeless Utahns

Photo of Gwen White.
Rebecca Ellis / KUER
Gwen White, who serves on an advisory board for the downtown clinic. Its board is made up of current and former patients.

For years, homeless Utahns residing at the Road Home, Salt Lake City’s main downtown homeless shelter, didn’t have to walk far to find a doctor. Fourth Street Clinic, a nonprofit that provides healthcare for the area’s homeless, was just one block away.

That easy access is coming to an end, as the Road Home downtown shelter is shutting its doors. It will be replaced by three new shelters opening this summer across the Salt Lake Valley.

But Fourth Street Clinic has a plan to reach homeless Utahns across the county. On Thursday, Fourth Street unveiled its new mobile clinic, a 45-foot RV outfitted with three exam rooms.

“We anticipated the need for medical care at the new resource center sites, but lacked the bandwidth for a clinic at each one,” clinic CEO Laura Michalski said in a statement. “Mobile healthcare lets us deliver a clinic right to the people who need it most.”

The van will make regular stops at a handful of nonprofit agencies and the three new homeless shelters.

“We want to maximize the patients we can see,” explained Michele Goldberg, the clinic’s medical director. Fourth Street Clinic provides care for an estimated 5,000 homeless Utahns each year.

Shelter the Homeless announced the decision to close the Road Home downtown shelter in 2016. The area also drew the attention of law enforcement, which launched Operation Rio Grande in August 2017 as part of an effort to address homelessness and drug use in the downtown area. The shelter is expected to end operations this fall.

Goldberg said the patients she sees suffer disproportionately from skin infections, mental illness and chronic pain — all health issues which she said can be addressed on board. Goldberg said the van was customized to the clinic’s needs, with soft, muted colors and a wheelchair accessible entrance.

The van will start making the rounds in June.

CLARIFICATION: The Road Home is the name of the agency that operates the downtown homeless shelter commonly referred to as the Road Home. The downtown shelter, which is officially known as the Salt Lake Community Shelter, is closing. The Road Home agency is not. The story has been clarified to reflect this.

Rebecca Ellis is a Kroc Fellow with NPR. She grew up in New York City and graduated from Brown University in 2018 with a Bachelor's in Urban Studies. In college, Rebecca served as a managing editor at the student newspaper, the Brown Daily Herald, and freelanced for Rhode Island's primary paper, the Providence Journal. She has spent past summers as an investigator at the Bronx Defenders, a public defender's office in the Bronx, New York, and as a reporter at the Miami Herald, filing general assignment stories and learning to scuba dive.
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