‘Health care on wheels’: Fourth Street Clinic unveils mobile clinic to serve Utah’s dispersed homeless population

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Fourth Street Clinic's new mobile health clinic will serve Salt Lake City's homeless population at three new resource centers and in conjunction with other organizations that provide homeless services. An open house for the mobile clinic was held on Thursday, May 9, 2019.

It’s easy enough for someone staying at the 1,100-bed Road Home shelter to make the short walk to the Fourth Street Clinic, which provides health care and support services to people experiencing homelessness.

That journey would take more than an hour and a half from the furthest of the three homeless resource centers planned to replace The Road Home once it closes this fall as part of a broader shift in homeless services.

So how do you treat a dispersed Salt Lake County homeless population? A bus, but not just any kind of bus.

The Fourth Street Clinic unveiled a first-of-its-kind mobile clinic Thursday that will provide “health care on wheels."

“We wanted to provide services at the resource centers as well as other homeless community service providers to meet them where they’re at — meet our clients where they’re at," said Michele Goldberg, a medical doctor at the clinic, "as opposed to having everyone having to come to our main hub,”

The state awarded nearly $1 million last July to build the mobile clinic, while a mix of state funding, donations and grants will keep it on the road.

The 45-foot bus will travel to each of the new homeless resource centers once they open in July, as well as to other nonprofit agencies, on a weekly basis, with the ability to service up to 25 people a day. The vehicle was custom designed in Ohio and includes three exam rooms, a bathroom and refrigerators and freezers for vaccines.

Nurses will be able to take care of vitals, blood pressure and immunizations in the resource centers, while doctors or nurse practitioners on the bus would take care of preventative care, chronic disease management and wound care, among other things.

The Fourth Street Clinic’s building on 400 West and 400 South will continue to offer more extensive services than those available on the bus, such as dental care and a full-service pharmacy. Patients will also be able to receive outside referrals for care like gastroenterology or gynecology.

Jeff Williams, a formerly homeless patient at the Fourth Street Clinic, said he thinks the mobile clinic has been a “long time coming” and will help provide care to those who may not otherwise receive it.

“A lot of people won’t come down here,” he said of the brick and mortar. “You know, if they’ve got two shopping carts, they won’t come down here, or if they’ve had a bad experience.”

Small wounds or health problems that are a simple fix for someone with the money and resources can be life-altering for a person on the streets. And while there are other mobile clinics in the state, this is the first that will primarily service people experiencing homelessness, according to Laura Michalski, CEO of the Fourth Street Clinic.

“Health care is essential for this population,” she said. “Preventing infection is really important, but also just making sure that you can manage your chronic diseases — whether it’s diabetes, hypertension — and kind of remove that from your life issues at that particular moment.”

That can help people gain the stability needed to “escape homelessness,” Michalski said. And with a greater frequency of care, the clinic may also help reduce the number of uninsured emergency room visits, which could save taxpayer dollars.

The mobile clinic will begin servicing patients with nonprofits like the First Step House and the YWCA of Utah in June, providing an opportunity to work out the kinks before the first two resource centers open in July.