Kim Raff Deseret Morning News
Fourth Street Clinic director Allan Ainsworth is the recipient of National Association of Community Health Centers' top annual award.

Two decades before the current political hubbub over health care started, Allan Ainsworth was getting government leaders to mend the cracks in the system and personally attending to the folks who kept falling through.

Passionate and tireless are terms most often used by those who know the Fourth Street Clinic executive director. They can add national award-winning to the list of adjectives: Ainsworth has been named recipient of the National Association of Community Health Centers' top annual award.

Ainsworth will say he's honored for the recognition, but adds that "taking part in our political process is vital to the health and longevity of our community health centers as well as to the patients we serve."

Other low-income advocates in the state offer a minor correction to Ainsworth's comment, noting that his efforts for the homeless — particularly to their medical and mental well-being — is "making that population part" of the community and, most importantly, part of the discussion of the health-care system overhaul process.

"His work is a national and noteworthy model of how to build collaboration and cooperation and focus it into actual services — often life-saving services — for those among us who would have nowhere else to turn," said homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson, herself a veteran of garnering community consciousness and consensus.

The award is given in hopes of inspiring similar efforts around the country for people who would otherwise go without medical care. The Elizabeth K. Cooke Advocacy MVP Award is also a recognition of effectiveness in ensuring support in Congress to establish and shore up advocacy efforts for the grass roots to Congress.

The latter was highlighted by the national group, noting the successful weeklong week-long conference/celebration this past August. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and a number of national and local government and business dignitaries attended. Called the National Health Center Week, it included a clinic tour and focused on the ways which community health centers work to make health care accessible to everyone.

Ainsworth has been an active member in both NACHC and the National Health Care for Homeless Council, lobbying for increased health center funding and expanded services such as mental health, dental and medical detoxification.

In a news release about the award, Tom Van Coverden, president and CEO of NACHC, said Ainsworth is a passionate advocate for the more than 6,000 health centers around the country.

"Our grass roots is the backbone of the health-center movement and we would not be here today in such full force without them," he said. "We deeply appreciate Allan's tireless work and dedication."

And it's not just helping the impoverished. According to the NACHC, clinics like Fourth Street are the health-care centers for 5,700 people in Utah and 17 million people nationwide — "the other health-care system" that saves the one most people access between $9.9 billion and $17.6 billion a year.

One way they do so is taking pressure off hospital emergency rooms that are geared for trauma but not a cost-effective or efficient way for most patients at Fourth Street to get the primary and preventative care that often intervene before a condition becomes an emergency.

A special task force assigned to spend the next seven months devising ways to improve quality and access to health care in Utah as part of a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is expected to seek input from Ainsworth and others at the clinic. They would have good reason to, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget which calls such clinics "highly effective."

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