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Fewer donations forces cutbacks at clinic for homeless

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The 4th Street Clinic says it's being forced to cut health care programs for the homeless in the Salt Lake Valley. Now those who run the clinic are scrambling to catch patients before they fall through the cracks.

The reason for the cuts is not a surprise: fewer donations due to the bad economy. What is surprising is how many people benefited from the programs.

When Lee McCall lost that job, it started a downward spiral. He and his girlfriend then lost their house, started camping, and she became depressed. So, together they started "Talk Therapy" at the 4th Street Clinic.

"You get interested in the other people, which takes you away from yourself. You realize: ‘I'm not the only one with these types of feelings,'" McCall said.

The news that the program is one of two being cut is tough. "It devastated both of us. There were tears," McCall said.

Clinic administrators cut Talk Therapy along with the Recuperative Care program, which places people recovering from surgery or serious illness in nursing homes.

"Often, their illnesses will relapse and they'll go back into the ER, costing the community thousands of dollars," said Jennifer Hyvonen, communications director for the 4th Street Clinic.

Executive Director Allan Ainsworth says donations are simply down, and a major grant the clinic gets every year is expected to be cut by a third this year. Cutting Talk Therapy will save $50,000, and cutting Recuperative Care will save $80,000.

"This is really going in the opposite direction, at a time where we're seeing more patients and the cost of health care is going up," Hyvonen said.

The clinic also just laid off its only licensed clinical social worker. Ainsworth says she was working with the staff psychiatrist and others to treat some 200 patients. He says the clinic didn't have any choice. In fact, he doesn't see any immediate end to the situation.

Ainsworth says about 80 percent of the patients treated at the clinic are uninsured, and Valley Mental Health doesn't take uninsured patients. As a result, he says, many of the homeless have nowhere else to turn for mental health services.

In addition to the cutbacks, Ainsworth is encouraging his staff to keep the lights off in their offices where possible. The clinic has even cut out its $20,000 annual custodial budget; staff members now clean, dust and vacuum their own offices.

The clinic says when the economy turns around, they'll reinstate the Talk Therapy and Recuperative programs. That can't come soon enough for McCall.

"I think this program is about building your faith and building your hopes. If you don't have any hope, you're going to spiral down very quickly," he said.

The clinic is welcoming long-term volunteers as well as donations. They say $150 covers an office visit; $10 pays for a prescription.


Story compiled with contributions from Sarah Dallof and Marc Giauque.

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