Laura Michalski is passionate about healthcare—so much so that she has devoted a majority of her career working tirelessly to advocate for high-quality healthcare for the homeless. Michalski worked at the largest free health clinic in Chicago before moving to Salt Lake City a few months ago to take over the reins as CEO of the Fourth Street Clinic. The clinic serves 4,200 homeless men, women and children annually with a staff of 50 and more than 150 volunteers.
What drew you to Salt Lake City and the Fourth Street Clinic?
Healthcare reform was the primary motivator for me to accept this position. Illinois was fortunate to pass healthcare expansion so many patients there are now covered and I felt I needed to explore other opportunities. Seeing this opportunity in Utah, the No. 1 volunteer state in the nation, was an excellent option for me to marry some of my talents. This position will allow me to increase the volunteer pool at the Fourth Street Clinic and advocate for a population that is underserved and on the fringes of society. I feel people need an advocate for them within the healthcare system and I am proud to be one of those advocates. On a personal note, I really enjoy skiing, especially at Brighton, and the mountains are now my skyscrapers.
What services do you provide at the Fourth Street Clinic?
We provide comprehensive high-quality healthcare to the homeless. That includes medical, dental and pharmacy services. We also provide access to mental health providers and counseling services as well as substance abuse programs and diabetes education classes.
Now that you’ve been CEO for a few months, what are you plans for the clinic?
Our plan is to develop a five-year strategic plan this spring. This will include looking at our strategic partnerships with other organizations such as The Road Home, Catholic Community Services and the LDS Church to make sure our clients are well taken of. This will also include developing a financial plan to make sure we are well positioned depending on what happens with healthcare reform in Utah.
Is there anything that has surprised you in your tenure as CEO so far?
I continue to be amazed on a daily basis at how compassionate and dedicated our staff and volunteers are. They go out into the community and actually seek out the homeless and check in with them on a consistent basis. Their dedication and integrity never wavers and I am so proud to be a part of this amazing organization.
What can people across Utah do to help combat homelessness?
They can become active and understand what homelessness is in their community. Go out into your city or town and find out what services are available. The homeless want to be supported and no one chooses to be homeless. There is usually a trigger in someone’s life such as a divorce, bankruptcy or medical bills that forces someone to lose their home. It is about looking at the homeless person on the street and not judging them but instead acknowledging them as a person. You have the power to lift someone up by simply smiling at them. You can start doing that today and it won’t cost you a dime.