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Funding cuts threaten Utah community health clinics, including some that help the homeless

SALT LAKE CITY -- Community health care clinics across Utah are bracing for funding cuts, if a federal grant is not renewed.

"This is one of those issues where you're staring at the cliff and wondering if you're going to go off the cliff? Are you going to go off the cliff with a parachute? Are you going to go off the cliff with a bungee cord?" said Alan Pruhs, the executive director of the Association for Utah Community Health.

Federally qualified health centers face as much as 70 percent in grant cuts by the end of this month, unless Congress renews it. One of those clinics is the Fourth Street Clinic in downtown Salt Lake City, which helps the homeless.

The Fourth Street Clinic could lose roughly $2.5 million, said development director Laurel Ingham.

"That really equates to 15,000 visits that we would not be able to see here," she said Monday.

Ingham said people might be laid off and as many as 2,500 patients would not be able to get care for them. Because they serve a homeless population, many of those people would wind up in emergency rooms -- increasing health care costs.

"Operation Rio Grande," the crackdown on crime in the troubled neighborhood surrounding the shelters, has pushed more people to treatment options. Fourth Street Clinic offers some treatment (but not beds).

"It would create a huge crisis for us, but we're not the only health center," Ingham said.

There are clinics in Ogden and Provo that also help people experiencing homelessness. The Association for Utah Community Health said there are other clinics in rural Utah that would be impacted -- hurting those people.

"The closest primary care clinic may be 50 to 100 miles in one direction," said Pruhs.

The group has been working with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to ensure the funding isn't cut. It's also urging people to contact their congressional representatives to keep the funding going.

"We estimate anywhere between 30 and 50 percent of the clinics without this funding would be forced to close down or restrict its services," Pruhs said. "Up to 60,000 Utahns would lose access to primary, preventive health care."