Joel Hunt came from a family that stressed the importance of caring for those in need, and he grew up helping his parents host humanitarian and missionary workers. From a young age, he knew he wanted to follow in these footsteps, and he decided to join the United States Army. There, he came across resources and seminars about serving in public health and decided to return to civilian life and to apply for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program to care for those in need.
When the NHSC first placed Joel at the Fourth Street Clinic, he treated members of the community who came in with all types of conditions. However, Joel quickly noticed that many of the city’s homeless residents were reticent to get treatment when they were sick or hurt.
This observation inspired Joel to embark on a career in Street Medicine, which took him to the streets of Salt Lake City to care for the city’s homeless community. The clinic initially gave him a day each week to drive to the mountains, search under bridges and overpasses, and visit parks and rivers to find homeless camps and engage those in need of health resources. The Fourth Street Clinic, an NHSC site that has served the city for over two decades, gives Joel the credibility to approach those he perceives as sick or hurt.
“I will never leave this community. I cannot see another place for me to serve in the unusual way that I do with the autonomy and control I am given to manage my own career. The NHSC has given me the tools to take my passion for reaching those who are most vulnerable and turn it into my job,” Joel said.
“The overarching mission goes beyond bringing primary care to the streets, it is about delivering the resources people need to change their lives and give them the boost to reenter mainstream society,” Joel explained.
Joel and his colleagues at the Forth Street Clinic empower those without a home to seek help and work with a provider to chart a course for recovery. One of the most rewarding experiences for Joel is seeing someone he has previously approached come to the clinic and make an appointment for a follow-up visit.
Joel once approached a man panhandling on a bus stop bench who appeared to have infections on his legs. Upon speaking to him, this man recognized Joel, asking Joel whether or not he remembered him. As it turned out, Joel had cared for this man before, but sustained heroin use made the man nearly unrecognizable now. While the man was not ready to treat his substance abuse, he did agree to go to the hospital to care for his legs. Unfortunately, while under the care of the hospital, he went through severe withdrawal and ran away.
Weeks later, Joel re-engaged this man so that they could determine together whether he was ready to treat his heroin addiction. Working in close concert with the hospital, the man received the care he needed and was able to thrive in recovery, even securing a spot on the clinic’s advisory board for patient outreach. While this patient’s story was ultimately bittersweet after he lost his life to an infection, Joel felt that his life ended positively. “It was incredibly sad to see him pass away,” Joel observed, “but it was nice to know he died under his own roof and that we were able to a help a man in need change his life for the better.”