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For decades, Michelle Flynn watched medically vulnerable Salt Lakers go straight from the hospital to The Road Home’s emergency shelters.
The emergency shelter system was the only option for “people who had been through incredible trauma or suffering from severe medical needs, those who are in wheelchairs, with oxygen tanks, arriving directly from the hospital,” said Flynn, executive director of The Road Home.
While the staff at The Road Home welcomed them, Flynn knew that people needed a healthier environment than what the congregate shelter could provide.
That option finally is available.
On Friday afternoon, as temperatures dipped below freezing, Flynn’s eyes welled with tears as she joined state and municipal leaders in Sandy City to cut the ribbon on a new shelter that will provide more hands-on care and privacy.
The Medically Vulnerable People Program Facility is housed in a former EconoLodge motel on 9000 South near Interstate 15. It is designed to serve 165 people requiring specialized care. Residents will either have their own rooms or share a room with one other person, depending on their condition.
Beds at the MVP will go first to those who are both seniors and medically vulnerable, Flynn said. The Road Home and the Fourth Street Clinic already have compiled a list of people who meet those criteria; Flynn said there is an 82-year-old currently staying at a homeless resource center.
Last year, 507 people 62 or older, and 1,586 people with chronic health conditions, requested homeless services in Salt Lake County.
“We need to do better with housing,” Wayne Niederhauser, the state’s homeless coordinator, said at Friday’s event.
Niederhauser said his long-term goal is to get people into housing, rather than shelters. “But in the meantime, we do need these facilities,” he said.
There are few resources for those facing serious medical conditions — such as a cancer diagnosis — and homelessness. The Inn Between, in Salt Lake City, provides hospice and medical care for unsheltered people, but there is usually a waiting list for admission.
A full-time behavioral health medical nurse will work in the facility, and at least once a week Fourth Street Clinic will bring in three or four providers for more specialized care. If patients need care beyond what the clinic offers in-house — such as cancer or cardiology treatment — the staff work to get them to their appointments.
“This program will stand as a beacon providing accessible, high quality, integrated care — and creating a healing space that ensures a more holistic and effective approach to improving health outcomes,” said Van Aston, Fourth Street Clinic’s medical director.
Officials said they hope to open the new facility before the end of December.
“There’s opportunities for all of us to serve in every community,” Sandy City Mayor Monica Zoltanski said, “and this, hopefully, will be a model that will be replicated throughout the state.”