Most people don't easily make the leap that links lack of access to health care and homelessness.
But to Dr. Allan Ainsworth, founder of downtown Salt Lake City's Wasatch Homeless Health Care/Fourth Street Clinic, "housing is health care" — and lack of housing has a serious impact on access to any type of regular care, which can, in turn, deepen the problems that led to homelessness in the first place.
Ainsworth saw this link back in the 1980s as he watched Salt Lake City's downtown redevelopment displace many residents of razed low-income housing units. Once these people lost easy proximity to downtown jobs, many sank into homelessness, taxing social service agencies.
With a federal grant, Ainsworth opened a tiny clinic in a local community center's closet. Initially, a part-time nurse did "triage" — initial evaluation and diagnosis — and passed patients on, primarily to hospitals, for treatment.
In the more than 20 years since, Fourth Street Clinic has become a comprehensive health care facility offering coordinated primary care, behavioral health, specialty care and pharmacy services, all on site. Rather than spending weeks shuttling from one facility to the next, patients see nearly all of their health care needs, right down to check-ups, met in one place.
The clinic has other community benefits, as well. What initially started as a temporary housing facility to help homeless patients infected with tuberculosis finish the required one-year treatment regimen grew into the Gregson Apartments, a 16-unit temporary housing program that helps patients recover from serious illnesses — an inspiration for other local low-income housing.
In addition, the clinic serves as a valuable source of real-life, hands-on experience for medical students at the University of Utah, nearly all of whom treat their first real patients at Fourth Street Clinic.