Fourth Street Clinic hires its first staff dentist thanks to 'birthday gift'

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 18 2013 5:10 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — If you're homeless and you have bad teeth, it's yet another impediment to finding work or interacting in public.

"There's a stigma attached to people walking around with bad teeth," said Russell Flowers, who serves on Fourth Street Clinic's consumer advisory board. "When we do get our teeth fixed, it adds to our confidence. It helps us look a lot better."

Thanks to a financial gift from Alsco Inc., an international linen and uniform rental company based in Salt Lake City, homeless Utahns will have enhanced access to dental care at Fourth Street Clinic.

The $625,000 pledge is being used to hire the clinic's first staff dentist and to pay operating costs of the clinic's state-of-the-art dental clinic. The clinic is scheduled to open in January.

Kristy Chambers, Fourth Street Clinic's executive director, said establishing a dental clinic and hiring a staff dentist "is quite profound for us. There is significant pent-up demand. We hope we can meet it."

The clinic will be staffed by Dr. Ronald Kehl, who for the past 12 years has led a public dental clinic at the Tri-County Health Department in Vernal. He is a 1998 graduate of the University of Oklahoma School of Dentistry.

Not only will the clinic help meet unaddressed dental needs of homeless Utahns, it will be an important training venue for students at the University of Utah School of Dentistry and Roseman University College of Dental Medicine.

While dental schools teach students about health care, how to perform procedures and manage pain, providing care for underserved populations instills compassion in student dentists, Kehl said.

"Some of the people that come in, it truly breaks your heart," he said.

Kehl said he recently treated a 14-year-old girl who would cover her mouth when she spoke and she rarely smiled. She was often teased at school because of her appearance.

"In one appointment, we fixed her front teeth. She was smiling. It's such an external thing. It's an immediate result," he said.

Bob Steiner, co-CEO of Alsco Inc., said the gift was made in observance of Alsco's 125th anniversary. It was fitting to mark the company's birthday by giving to "people who really make a contribution to Salt Lake City," he said

Alsco, which serves customers in more than 145 locations in 14 countries, supplies linen and uniform rental to industries including food service, health care as well as processing, repair and manufacturing facilities. The company also will donate garments and linen services to the clinic, a separate contribution valued at about $10,000 a year.

On Wednesday, Steiner and his brother Kevin Steiner, Alsco co-CEO, delivered the first of five $125,000 checks to fund and operate the clinic.

The dental clinic, which includes three patient chairs, was funded by a $2.9 million Affordable Care Act capital development grant that has enabled Fourth Street Clinic to expand and improve its facilities.

The new facilities also include an area designated for enhanced substance abuse treatment and a waiting room for its pharmacy. Funds also were used for seismic upgrades and mechanical improvements to the facility.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said most people "don't look forward to going to the dentist. In this case, it's truly a gift."

As Becker travels across the country, Salt Lake City is often held up as a model for the nation in addressing the needs of homeless people.

"Fourth Street Clinic is a key piece in that," Becker said.

Fourth Street Clinic's staff of 50 employees and 150 volunteers provide 25,000 primary care, mental health, substance abuse and speciality care visits a year.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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