Clinic provides free care at Salina shelter

Salina (ap) — Kimberly Williams hasn’t had a primary physician for 10 years.

The Salina woman has struggled for some time with mental health issues and substance abuse, the Salina Journal reported.

But since being referred by Saline County District Court to Salina’s Ashby House about a month ago, Williams, 33, has taken advantage of the onsite Homeless Health Initiative Free Clinic, which provides dental, medical and mental health services to residents.

She has had a wisdom tooth removed by a dentist, and she now meets three times a week with a mental health intern and Salina Family Healthcare Center therapist.

Williams said she is finally “on the right mental health medication.”

The Homeless Health Initiative is a partnership between Salina Family Healthcare Center, the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Salina and Ashby House.

It’s funded by a Salina Area United Way grant and offers education and health care to people living in Ashby House’s seven properties.

Since the program began in February 2016, 302 adults and 44 children have received services; 92 percent of clinic participants have reported immediate medical needs were met within 30 days of arriving at Ashby House.

“I was seeing a therapist within my first week of being here,” Williams said, smiling. “When I was making an appointment with Salina Family Healthcare, they ripped my teeth out the same day I called. Without the program I wouldn’t have been able to get the mental health treatment I need.

“I see a counselor for three hours a week. This is the only homeless shelter I’ve been to where I’m getting the treatment I need to get my life back together. The therapy sessions have helped me change my thinking. I’ve been able to identify my negative feelings and why I feel a certain way. The program has changed my life.”

Cheryl Calhoun, director of development at Ashby House and an addiction counselor, applied for the grant through the United Way after one of her clients died from heart failure, partly as a result of the poor condition of her teeth.

“It broke my heart to lose a former client who had gotten her life back together all because she was afraid of the dentist and ashamed of the condition of her teeth,” Calhoun said. “That’s when we started doing research on our clients and starting seeing a lot of barriers that prevented them from getting the proper mental and medical health care they needed.

“Those sort of services were seen as a luxury throughout our population. Some of them feared the dentist and were ashamed to admit they had a problem. We wanted to do something about that.”

Jennifer Prentiss, director of the free clinic, reaches out to old and new Ashby House clients to tell them about the clinic, which offers monthly dental and medical assistance, twice-weekly counseling sessions, therapy sessions and education on preventive medical and mental health measures.

Prentiss said clients undergo a full evaluation to prioritize needs, then appointments are made to address those needs.

“If someone has an immediate need, we work with Salina Family Healthcare to get them an appointment as soon as possible,” Prentiss said. “If they need to see a specialist, Salina Family works to refer them to someone.”

Helen Dickerson, 39, of McPherson, who has been at Ashby House for about three weeks, said she had a full evaluation and medical appointment within four days of arrival. She now sees a counselor two days a week, is scheduled to have her teeth cleaned and has been referred for an appointment with an optometrist.

“The program is great. I’ve gotten the kind of treatment in two weeks here that I’ve been trying to get for the past few years,” she said. “Everyone here is so supportive and really wants us to succeed. They try to set us up with doctors and people who we can work with even after we leave the Ashby House.”

Students enrolled in the KU School of Medicine assist physicians at Salina Family Healthcare with treatment and provide therapy sessions for Ashby House clients.

Shelly Bushnell, who teaches dental hygiene to Ashby House clients and works as a dental hygienist with Salina Family Healthcare, said most of the Ashby House clients have needed dentures, teeth cleaning and treatment for large cavities that cause pain or infections.

“We really prioritize who has the most urgent needs and get them in as soon as possible. We also let them know what to expect when they get to the clinic,” Bushnell said. “There are so many of them who are scared of the clinic and don’t know what to expect. Ashby House really cares about their clients and this program shows that.”

Calhoun said that before the program was started, Ashby House clients had to wait longer for medical, dental and mental health appointments.

“Now we get more same-day and next-day visits than we ever have thanks to Salina Family Healthcare,” she said.

Calhoun said she is reapplying for the United Way grant, which expires at the end of the year. She hopes to receive a grant for $112,000 over two years.

The new grant would allow her to expand the program to include additional mental health and vision resources.

“I’ve seen this program make a big difference in terms of quality of life and putting people back to the point where they are self-sufficient,” she said. “The program also gives our clients a lot of hope. With the help of the SAUW, we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to continue the program and provide more services. We also want everyone to know that we’re willing and looking to partner with mental health and vision providers in Salina to continue to meet the needs of our population.”