No escape from danger: LGBT refugees fled to Kakuma Camp for their lives, only to be greeted with hostility



Homophobia is pervasive in Kenya, and some LGBT refugees at Kakuma Camp say they have faced discrimination from fellow refugees and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) workers that has exacerbated living conditions in the overcrowded facility.

Mbazira Moses, a gay refugee currently living at the Kakuma Camp, said in an email interview, “I have been exposed to persecution and hostility ever since the time I arrived in Kakuma.”

Moses was assaulted and stabbed by a fellow refugee on Oct. 11, 2017. After reporting the incident to the police, Moses said nothing was done.

He claims he has been assaulted several times, but said police have never investigated. Instead of receiving help, Moses was jailed along with 18 other LGBT refugees who had peacefully protested their unfair treatment at UNHCR headquarters in Nairobi.

LGBT refugees peacefully protest at the UNHCR Headquarters in Nairobi.

After speaking with a lawyer, Moses was told to accept whatever charges were filed against him, as this was the only way he could expect assistance from UNHCR.

Established in 1992, Kakuma Camp is located in the northwestern region of Kenya. Ethiopian, Sudanese and Somali refugees fled their war-torn countries and came to Kakuma refugee camp, which is divided into four zones.

With an influx of new arrivals in 2014, Kakuma surpassed its capacity by over 58,000 individuals. The camp has expanded and currently holds 77,092 refugees, according to the UNHCR Kakuma informational pamphlet.

Moses said many of the staff at Kakuma Camp are homophobic and view the LGBT community as cursed. Individuals are not given the same opportunities as other refugees. They are not employable because of their sexual orientation and are not given proper medical treatment. Many medical centers refuse to serve them at all, he said, and if they are treated, they are often refused medication and treatment for HIV.

Moses Mbazira holds the LGBT flag in his tent at Kakuma Camp.

According to Moses and many other LGBT refugees living at Kakuma Camp, they face eviction due to homophobic neighbors, leaving them homeless in the camp. UNHCR has placed the LGBT community in a housing section next to the river, where they face flooding and mosquitoes. Many of the refugees have malaria and are not given the treatment they need. The homes themselves are just tents, not properly covered to protect from the rain.

Thirteen UNHCR employees stationed at Kakuma Camp were contacted about Moses’ allegations of mistreatment toward LGBT refugees in the camp. Only four responded, and they said they could not comment.

“Agony has brought action,” Moses said. “Many of the LGBT members who have been granted asylum and refugee status under UNHCR within Kenya, receive consistent persecutions and grief by the host community and other members living within the camp. We (LGBT Community) have articulated our concerns to UNHCR but have been overlooked. This has caused a need to call on UNHCR to permit us a convention letter that will grant us a fair free movement to seek asylum in a country where we reserve the same rights as other refugees regardless of our sexual orientation.”

Barnabas Wobilaya, 36, is a gay Ugandan refugee and HIV/AIDS activist who was resettled in Salt Lake City. He fled Uganda and arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2015. Wobilaya became an HIV/AIDS activist in Uganda because he had two siblings who lost their lives to HIV. Because of his activism, he was exposed as a gay man in the newspapers, lost his job, and had to move around a lot for his own safety.

“When you get to Kakuma, there is no housing. You arrive at the camp, and they give you land. You build your own house. They give you poles and a tent to put up yourself, some people use iron sheets for their roof,” Wobilaya said.

“The LGBT people are always the last people to get the services they need, always,” he said.

“Their cases are not being worked on. They have been there for years. Three years, five years. Cases of LGBT refugees are supposed to be fast because their need is so immediate. We suffer. I know people that have been in Kakuma since I arrived in Kenya that have still never seen their files. They don’t know what’s going on. Nothing happens.”

The resettlement process is in the hands of the Government of Kenya. Because Kenya still maintains largely homophobic outlooks  and policies, many LGBT folk are treated as criminals rather than asylum seekers and refugees.

“When I was in Kenya, I could not find a job,” Wobilaya said. “Kenyans know that many refugees from Uganda are gay. They are very homophobic. You go to the store to buy something, and they say ‘Uganda?’ and then they kick you out. You cannot buy things, if you can’t speak Swahili they will not give you service. They then say ‘these are gays’ in Swahili and you know to leave or else you will be beaten.”

LGBT refugees attempt to drain the water from the river that flooded their tent in Kakuma Camp.

Wobilaya was evicted from homes three times because his landlords discovered his sexual orientation. Many LGBT people are forced to live in Kakuma because landlords refuse to rent to them in Nairobi.

The UNHCR used to give refugees a stipend of 6,000 Kenyan shillings, which is about $60 U.S. per month. With that, they were supposed to pay their rent, medical bills, transportation cost and phone bill.

“Today they give them $45, but you have to pass an assessment that your living conditions are horrible, many people have to live in one room, a lot end up on the streets as sex workers so they can afford to live,” Wobilaya said.

“Now that I am in the States it is difficult to find ways to help. They tell me ‘we are dying’ and I can’t do much. After I pay my rent and bills I send my leftover money to my LGBT friends in Kenya. So I ask, let us help these people. Let’s fundraise. Help them to buy food,” Wobilaya said.

At Kakuma camp, World Food Program ( WFP) in partnership with UNHCR provides food distribution (maize, peas, flour, cooking oil, soap, salt, porridge) and some essential items like soap and toothpaste to every refugee within the camp.

However, the food supply has been continually decreasing, Wobilaya said, leaving LGBT refugees at a disadvantage since they are unable to find work and buy their own food. UNHCR has not created a system to notify LGBT members about their case progress levels, and they feel they cannot turn anywhere for support.

Wobilaya encourages the  LGBTQ community in Utah to help. “We in the LGBT community are one big family, so advocate for your brothers and sisters; that’s the only thing I ask.”

You can contact Tayyar Sukru Cansizoglu, the UNHCR head of sub-office in Kakuma, at and you can donate to the LGBT Kakuma refugee community through a fundraiser established by a Salt Lake City LGBT activist.






Refugees in Utah face poor nutrition; doctors and farmers prescribe collaborative response

Story and photo by DANNY O’MALLEY

A national program that provides fresh produce to refugee patients in need of nutrition has arrived in Salt Lake City. VeggieRx, also known as the Fruits and Vegetables Prescription project (FVRx), empowers doctors to prescribe wholesome nutrition in the form of fresh farmers market produce to refugees at risk of malnutrition or other health concerns like diabetes.

At St. Mark’s Family Medicine, in the Millcreek area of Salt Lake City, patients receive prescriptions for $10 toward fresh produce. They take the prescriptions just down the street to the Sunnyvale Farmers Market, to be used up to four times. The market also accepts SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which can double the amount of vegetables carried home by refugee patients. The Sunnyvale Farmers Market, an endeavor of the International Rescue Committee through its New Roots farming initiative, is open on Saturday afternoons from July to October every year.

Refugees who are newly resettled face a myriad of challenges, but nutrition and diet are often the most pressing.

Ze Min Xiao, director of the mayor’s Office of New Americans in Salt Lake County, said even the idea of a supermarket can be a challenge to newcomers. Often when a refugee arrives, “suddenly they’re buying processed food, and it’s more expensive and not as good for you. Obesity and lack of vitamins are a problem,” she said.

The transition to the American diet and food culture can be jarring for some. Many refugees struggle to find food they recognize. Familiar ingredients may grow plentifully in other regions around the world, but varieties here in Utah may be nonexistent or prohibitively expensive.

For example, according to cost of living data collected by, fruit and vegetable prices are anywhere between two and 10 times greater in the United States than in Syria and Somalia. And that’s just for ubiquitous produce like apples, oranges and potatoes — anything remotely exotic is exponentially less likely to be carried by local grocers.

Because of programs like VeggieRx, farming initiatives like New Roots and medical outreach through St. Marks, the avenues to help alleviate issues of nutrition and unfamiliar culture are opening wider. The innovative practice of prescribing access to vegetables packed with nutrients is a direct result of addressing the needs of the refugee community, Xiao said. “We can identify some answers they bring as New Americans,” she added.

Similar programs are already coming to fruition all over the country. VeggieRx was started by Wholesome Wave, an organization centered on increasing accessibility to nutrition and health resources. First piloted in Maine and Massachusetts in 2010, the success on the East Coast has allowed Wholesome Wave to partner with organizations in 48 states as of this writing, as well as Washington, D.C., and the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area.

Fiona McBride, senior communications associate for Wholesome Wave, has been with the organization since 2014. “We’re really proud of our growth and impact,” she said in a phone interview. “In 2015, we helped about 150,000 people. In 2016, we reached over 550,000.” She expects that growth trend to continue.

The benefit doesn’t stop at the limit of the prescription value either. Refugees and other low-income families are more likely to buy lots of veggies once they get a little, giving an economic boost to the farmers at the market. “We’ve seen that for every $5 in vouchers, they spend an additional $15 on fresh produce,” McBride said. “Our case workers have said that the families can’t believe what they’re getting.”

Patients in greatest need of nutrition are often children. “It’s really powerful to tackle and prevent problems with diet and health starting young,” McBride said.

St. Mark’s Family Medicine is a program with the Utah Healthcare Institute. Diane Chapman, a nurse practitioner involved with the program, said the link between diet and chronic disease can’t be emphasized enough. The majority of patients she sees are refugees. “It’s my primary professional focus and passion,” she said in a phone interview. Often, she said, clinicians have “little context” for a diet that refugee patients might be familiar with. “Dietary change can be difficult for anyone.”

The VeggieRx pilot provided the opportunity for refugee families to align their diet with food similar to that of their countries of origin, at little to no cost. The pilot ran from September to October 2017, through the end of the farmers market season. Chapman said the program goal was to enroll at least 50 patients, which was met, and now the data can be assessed by the Utah Department of Health.

According to a report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, healthcare costs related to diet are over $950 billion a year. This is especially dangerous for low-income families including refugees.

Fiona McBride said that’s what the VeggieRx program is all about — spending less on healthcare by treating preventable diseases through nutrition. “We’re really trying to show the power of produce to improve personal and environmental health. The money we save in avoiding extremely expensive health problems could transform the country,” she said.

Utah’s pilot of the program is in its infancy, so the exact impact is yet to be seen at the local level. But it has a huge pool of organizers invested in seeing it thrive. The International Rescue Committee, the Utah Department of Health, Salt Lake County and St. Mark’s Family Medicine have made good headway together. Thanks to everyone involved, refugees can eat healthy and avoid burdensome long-term healthcare costs.

Keep your eyes peeled for updates from the Utah Department of Health in early 2018.

Roy City gets “facelift” in hope of growth

Story and slideshow by BRITTNI STRICKLAND

Visit the city of Roy and meet some local business owners.

Roy City, populated with 37,733 individuals, is commonly known for its strong community and hometown feel, which can be especially found in local businesses in the area. However, popular chain businesses like CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens and WinCo Foods have begun to take the focus off of local businesses and in a different direction.

At the recent city council meetings at the Roy City Office courtroom and in speaking with city council member John Cordova, it is apparent that the council would like larger corporations moving into the town of Roy.

“You never want to chase away the small guys because the small guys are huge,” Cordova said. “They’re local and they’re loyal. But on the other hand any homeowner in Roy, if we don’t continue to bring in big businesses, then supporting the city ends up on the resident’s back and that’s not good.”

While sitting at the kitchen table in his Roy home, Roy City Mayor Willard Cragun said the city started a “facelift” in April 2015 on 1900 West in Roy to help take some of the pressure of supporting the city off of the residents’ shoulders.

“What I have planned for Roy City is re-establishing Roy City’s business community, so that we can provide local services to the residents of Roy. So, if you want to buy a pair of shoes, you can buy a pair of shoes in Roy City, or a dress, or pair of pants, you should have a shop you can go to in Roy,” he said.

Cragun noticed in 2000 that the majority of local businesses were moving out of town as developers moved in. “Over the years those ma and pa businesses have left Roy City. It’s been very, very hard to get them to re-establish in Roy,” he said. Once the developers established in Roy, the 25-year leases through the Redevelopment Agency expired and prices skyrocketed, making it hard for locals to afford rental rates. Another problem the town faces with bringing locals back, is the city does not have open ground for locals to build on. Consequently, they must purchase buildings from developers, tear them down and rebuild, all of which is an expensive process.

The city has no control over the developers and what type of businesses they choose to lease to. “The developers have all the rights and the city has no say,” Cragun said. Roy City only has control of business when the City Council approves business licenses.

Councilman Cordova said, “A lot of spots in our town need fixing, everyone sees it.” The council has approached merchants on 1900 West and heard outpouring support for a plan to clean up the downtown area in a mission to attract larger markets to Roy City.

Cordova and Councilman Brad Hilton are currently working on economic development of the city and plan to visit Las Vegas in May 2015 to meet with economic planners to get ideas for the facelift. Cordova mentioned the idea of the city approaching the local Harmons to get its help in spurring the development of the entire city. He mentioned how Harmons has helped spark growth at Farmington Station and in downtown Salt Lake City.

The council has been approached and has begun focusing on plans to have a movie theater come into town where Albertsons store was located on the corner of 5600 S. 1900 West in Roy. The building has been vacant for almost 13 years, Cragun said. Traffic from adjacent towns like West Point, Hooper, Clearfield and from the freeway would be brought into the city benefitting everyone. Cragun said the city needs something to draw people to Roy and hopes that a movie theater would do just that similarly like it did for the city of Ogden when Megaplex 13 was built.

The thought of having larger corporations come into the city of Roy has caused mixed reviews from local businesses including Jessie Jean’s Coffee Bean’s Homestyle Café, Sacco’s Produce and Roy Winegars pharmacy.

Lloyd Thomas is the owner of the pharmacy in Winegars that has been located at 3444 W. 4800 South in Roy for 20 years. He said that when CVS Pharmacy opened last year on 1900 West he was nervous about what that might do to his business. But, he has yet to see a change. “It’s just a way of the economy, there are chain stores everywhere,” Thomas said.

“I’ve always felt that Roy City has been really supportive of us,” Thomas said. The city supports the pharmacy at the annual Roy Days Parade and carnival as well as in the local newsletter.

Jessie Jean’s Coffee Beans Homestyle Café in Roy has experienced struggles keeping the business alive while in the city. Anna Whitnack, owner of Jessie Jean’s for 15 year, said “it’s been hell” while being in the city. Owning a business on 1900 West has been difficult due to a neglected main street and continuous problems with a nearby store, Whitnack said.

Whitnack is working hard to move her coffee shop to a new town in hopes of better business and more support from the city. “We went to talk to Ogden City and they had open arms,” Whitnack said. There is no confirmed date as to when Jessie Jean’s Coffee Bean’s Homestyle Café will move out of town.

Sacco’s Produce has been in the same spot in Roy since 1969. Dominic Sacco said Roy City has always been a local type of city, but he wouldn’t necessarily mind other business in town.

Sacco’s Produce, at 6050 S. 1900 West, has frequenters from Idaho and all over the state of Utah during the summer months. Locals patronize it during the winter months. But with larger markets coming into the town, he said the biggest struggle for Sacco’s Produce has been competing with those “box stores” like Winco and Wal Mart.

“People think they’re going to get a better deal, which pricewise they may. But they may not get the quality. We’re more about selling local products grown here,” Sacco said.

Even with the struggles of keeping up with larger market stores, Sacco believes it’s a good idea to continue to move them into the city. “It’s good to have businesses around each other, it brings everybody to the same location,” Sacco said.

Mayor Cragun clarified that larger corporate markets would help the city of Roy. But, he still wants to keep that local hometown feel that Roy City is known best for. “I’m looking forward to more of the locally-owned businesses in Roy,” Cragun said. He added that he hopes that the beautification of downtown Roy on 1900 West will bring in larger markets as well as local shops while helping the city of Roy and the residents within the city.


Roy pharmacy prescribes customer care

Lloyd Thomas stands at his pharmacy in Roy Winegars.

Lloyd Thomas stands at his pharmacy in the Roy Winegars.

Story and photos by BRITTNI STRICKLAND

Lloyd Thomas, a University of Utah alumnus who owns the pharmacy inside Roy Winegars, recently reminisced about his 46 years as a pharmacist during a phone interview with Voices of Utah.

Thomas first realized he wanted to be in the pharmacy industry at a career day as a sophomore in high school. Thomas grew up in South Ogden, Utah, and recalled going into the local pharmacy thinking it had “really neat smells.” Thomas also watched his uncle own a pharmacy and said he knew it was an opportunity for him to help people. So, he had to take it.

“There aren’t a lot of people who know what they want to do so young, I was lucky,” Thomas said, chuckling.

He opened the Winegars pharmacy in 1995 at 3444 W. 4800 South, in Roy. Winegars is one of the oldest family-owned supermarkets in the state of Utah and values the name of a “Home Town Grocer,” according to the website. Winegars is a convenient grocery store near the center of the city.

Thomas is specifically known in the Roy community for his unique customer care.

Sheri Tanner said her mother has been coming to the Roy Winegars pharmacy for 20 years, since it opened. Tanner still comes to the same pharmacy to pick up her mother’s prescriptions simply because of the quality care. “When I come get her medicine they always say ‘how’s your mom doing?’ and it’s very personal,” Tanner said.

Julie Arthur, a resident of Roy, has shopped at the local pharmacy for 15 years because of the personal service. “Every time I go in I feel like they genuinely care about your health, they’re not just doing their job,” Arthur said. She said she trusts the Roy pharmacy because she feels that the pharmacy staff is very knowledgeable and willing to answer her questions regarding prescriptions.

Thomas said he believes treating customers well is key. “People don’t care how much you know, it’s how much you care,” he said.

Being the owner of his own pharmacy, Thomas said he’s in control of the prices, where products are bought and whom he hires and fires. His pharmacy is independent, so he can focus more on customer care rather than being told to focus on money. He also said it’s more fun that way: “When you’re not intent on making money, it just comes.” Thomas said he prefers to shop where people love what they do, so he makes sure that that is clear in his pharmacy.

Customers head to the west side of the store, where the pharmacy is located. Even from a distance it is easy to sense the passion and camaraderie. Taped to the counter of the pharmacy are quotes, comics and obituaries of loyal customers. Behind the gray counter, two or three employees stand with smiles on their faces and a hello to give.

Nick Lucas has worked as an employee for Thomas for 20 years. Lucas quickly brought up Thomas’ heart for the customers. “He looks at it as extended family for some of these people,” Lucas said. “It’s a tough standard to live up to, he’s a great man.” Lucas learned the art of caring for customers simply by spending time around Thomas and watching him work with people. “He’s a great boss, but a better person,” Lucas said.

Roy Winegars is the home of Lloyd Thomas' pharmacy

Roy Winegars is the home of Lloyd Thomas’ pharmacy.

Location and loyal customers are what keeps the pharmacy up and running to this day. “It’s the only reason we have a job is because of them,” Thomas said. Having the pharmacy inside Winegars has been an ideal location because it is one of the more popular grocery stores in town where people can shop and pick up their prescription in a timely manner.

Thomas joked about how interesting it is that it is now a popular occurrence to have a pharmacy in a grocery store, compared to when he first began as a pharmacist. There wasn’t a single grocery store in the area that had a pharmacy. He said pharmacies are now more popular because people are living a lot longer and there is a lot of new medicine available.

Now that people are living longer, Thomas said convenience has become an issue in our society. “Everyone’s time is valuable,” Thomas said.

Customers such as Julie Arthur appreciate that consideration. “At other pharmacies I’ve noticed a longer wait time, and when you’re sick you don’t want to just stand around,” she said. The Roy Winegars pharmacy promises to have prescriptions out as quickly as possible, usually with a wait time no longer than five minutes.

Timely service is one thing Thomas has learned during his two decades as a pharmacist. With his years of experience also come numerous memories. “There are so many great memories, that I couldn’t come up with one,” he said. However, Thomas remembered winning the “Bowl of Hygeia” award in 2013. According to the website, the prestigious honor “recognized pharmacists who possess outstanding records of civic leadership in their community.” He said it truly was an honor to win that award.

Thomas made clear that the customers are why he stays in the pharmacy industry by saying, “I love people, I love to help people.”

Local man travels to Salt Lake City locations and does hair for older adults

Story and photos by STACEY WORSTER

A career that started at J.C. Penney Salon in 1969 has transitioned into a personal hair business focusing on older adults.

Gary Cunningham, owner of Hair Care by House Call, offers perms, tints and manicures. He spends most of his visits performing a haircut and style, for which he charges $18.

“I cater to my customers’ budget plan,” Cunningham said while he was putting a client’s hair in rollers. “I can afford doing this because my clients that have the money to pay full price for my services always pay me extra,” he said, as he pointed to his client.” It all works out.”

After spending 24 years at J.C. Penney, it was a scary transition to start his unique hair business. Without clients a hair business is not possible, Cunningham said.

“I took half of my Salt Lake City clients that I had at Penney’s and started working by call,” he said. “They were good enough to let me come into their homes.”

He is listed in a booklet compiled by Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services that helps older adults locate services and providers.

“There are so many options in that book,” Cunningham said. “Everything a person could need at home so they don’t have to leave.”

“I attract most clients by referrals from other clients,” he said. “The 55-plus book that the Salt Lake City Aging Services has provided also has helped shape my business into what it has become.”

Hair Care by House Call is listed at the top of the hairdressing section on Page 21 in the 55+ Senior Resource Directory.

“If there were complaints, we wouldn’t be in that book for long,” Cunningham said. “I am at the top of the list because I have been doing hair appointments by house call the longest.”

Because Cunningham focuses on providing hair-care services to older adults, he loses clients to sicknesses and death.

“A lot of people just die,” he said. “I am working with them while they are in their last decade or two so I do lose a lot of clients. There is always somebody that moves into an assisted living home or nursing home and wants to try out a new hairdresser. I am a good option for them,” Cunningham added.

Because he volunteers his time for little to no cost, the amount of money he spends on gas is usually covered by the client he services.

Mission at Hillside Rehabilitation Center offers "medical and nursing care and skilled care services in a relationship-rich environment."

Mission at Hillside Rehabilitation Center offers “medical and nursing care and skilled care services in a relationship-rich environment.”

Every Friday at 9 a.m., Cunningham travels to Mission at Hillside Rehabilitation Center located at 1216 E. and 1300 South in Salt Lake City to see Rebecca Helmes.

Helmes, 84, said, “He makes a big difference in my life, and his efforts go a long ways. He always is trying to please clients.”

She had to leave her lifelong hairdresser about six years ago, found Cunningham and has been happy ever since.

“Gary has followed me everywhere this past year,” she said, “every hospital and home I have been in.”

Rebecca Helmes with Gary Cunningham after their 9 a.m. Friday appointment.

Helmes has been in six different facilities, not counting the few visits to the University Hospital, since she left her home in May 2013.

She is receiving therapy at Mission at Hillside for her tailbone injury. As soon as she is able to walk she will return home.

“Gary went to help me out of my bed this morning, and I let him know I could do it by myself,” she said. “I can’t wait to move back home.”

Helmes pays Cunningham $22 every time he comes to do her hair.

“He drives here, puts a rinse on my hair, and talks to me,” she said. “You go to a beauty shop and it is more expensive than that.”

Helmes, who grew up in New Mexico, said having good hair has always been important to her. “We sure could’ve used a good beautician out there, I tell ya.”

That is why she got so embarrassed after an assistant at Mission at Hillside accidentally got her hair wet. She said her hair became frizzy and she didn’t want to leave her room.

“I had people tell me how beautiful I looked,” she said. “I thought ‘yeah right.'”

Photo of the beauty parlor where Cunningham does Helmes' hair. It is located inside Mission at Hillside Rehabilitation Center in Salt Lake City.

Photo of the beauty parlor where Cunningham does Helmes’ hair. It is located inside Mission at Hillside Rehabilitation Center in Salt Lake City.

As Cunningham grabbed the container of Lemonheads, he said laughing, “Well they are all probably just as blind as you are.”

Beauty is important, too, even when one is gravely ill.

Terra Dennis, director of volunteers at Silverado Hospice in Salt Lake City, said in a phone interview that three or four licensed cosmetologists volunteer their services.

“The volunteers each have two patients who they visit once a month,” Dennis said. “It is usually a quick haircut and then a visit. All patients are pretty ill, so a good visit does wonders.”

Cunningham said his clients have become some of his closest friends.

Helmes echoed this sentiment. “Gary has grown to be one of my closest friends over the past five years. He does a great job and cares about me as a person.”

Canyon Rim Care Center is home to many older adults in Salt Lake City

Story and photo by MARISSA BODILY

If you were to walk into a care center on any afternoon, you might see several residents chatting in the hallways or walking around. Some residents know that the care center will likely be their home for the rest of their lives.

As people age, their families may no longer feel comfortable with them living at home alone where no one would know if they needed help. When a family member can’t take them in or they can’t live on their own anymore, they may move to a place where a qualified person will be able to care for them and give them everything they need.

Many different facilities in Utah accommodate people who need assistance with everyday life or simply don’t want to live alone anymore. Care centers provide around-the-clock nursing care, while assisted-living facilities simply provide meals and activities.

According to, Utah has 97 certified Medicare and Medicaid nursing homes. The overall average Medicare 5 Star Quality rating for Utah skilled nursing homes is 2.9.

Canyon Rim Care Center on 3300 South is home to many older adults.

Canyon Rim Care Center on 3300 South is home to many older adults.

One local Medicaid facility is Canyon Rim Care Center, which has a 1 Star Quality rating. Most of the residents are there because it is covered by Medicaid.

Many people are sitting near the entry of the center, located at 2730 E. 3300 South, talking with one another and their caretakers. Some residents are sleeping soundly in their wheelchairs.

Sarah has lived there for a year and a half. (This is a pseudonym; center staff would not allow residents’ real names to be used due to privacy concerns.) “The staff has always been really friendly and they take good care of me,” she said. “I love living here.” Most of the residents are really nice, but some of them are ornery all the time, she said.

The care center mainly houses aging aging adults. However, it occasionally takes in younger people who need constant care because of an accident. One young woman said she had good nurses and physical therapists who took care of her and helped her to recover and move back out on her own. But she also encountered problems while living there. “Many people have had things stolen by other residents, so you have to be careful. And the food is horrible,” she said of her experience. She said she made friends with many of the residents, but she was glad to be able to move out.

Some other facilities available to older adults are very nice and cost more money. The cost of assisted living in Utah ranges from $1,300 to $5,900 per month, making the monthly average $2,400. If families don’t have a lot of extra money, there isn’t as much choice and the quality of the care and especially the ratio of workers to residents goes down. Care centers can be very expensive and people just don’t have the money to give their loved one the best. Programs such as Medicaid help pay the costs.

Residents using Medicaid receive an allotted amount of spending money each month, said Peter Hebertson, head of outreach for Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services. Usually this is $45, which has to cover all of their needs such as haircuts, clothes, admission to activities and anything else they want or need. Some residents have family members who give them a little money, others are on their own. The amount of money an aging individual or their family member has greatly affects where they can live.

Many of the people at care centers know it will be their home for the rest of their lives. Some have family who come to visit. Others don’t have anyone nearby or any surviving family members. A few residents don’t have anyone outside the facility who cares about them anymore.

When people picture their future, they most likely don’t imagine living in a care center and needing constant assistance. But for some, this ends up being their reality. Sarah said she loves living at Canyon Rim Care Center with everyone because it is much better than the alternative of living at home alone.




Emeritus Salt Lake focuses on building relationships with residents

Story and photo by IAN SMITH

Emeritus Salt Lake offers care to its residents.

Emeritus Salt Lake offers care to its residents.

Picture yourself as an elder, and you know your time on this earth is decreasing. You know you can no longer take care of yourself. You need assistance. To everyone else, it may be time for a nursing home.

You pack up your stuff. Where did the time go, you keep asking yourself? How did life flash that fast and how has it come to this? You set off in the car that takes you to the home. As you pull up your first impression is that it could work for you. But you still have many questions and not that many answers.

“No one wants to go into a nursing home,” said Anne Palmer Peterson, executive director of the Utah Commission on Aging. The Utah Legislature created the commission in 2005 to address issues related to the fast-growing aging population in the state. Peterson said it is a young state, but it also is the “sixth-fastest aging state in the nation.” Among other things, the commission has studied housing options for older adults. The findings were published in New Trends in Housing for Utah’s Aging Population.

“We want people to be thinking proactively about their futures,” she said.

Even so, it can be difficult to leave all of your memories behind you.

The idea of a “nursing home” isn’t too appealing to many people, though.

Brian Culliton, the executive director at Emeritus Salt Lake at 76 South and 500 East, said people have very different opinions of nursing homes.

Every facility is different, whether it’s a nursing home or assisted living center. Some facilities, like Emeritus, offer help for certain issues residents might be dealing with. Dementia, for example, is taken very seriously at the assisted living facility.

“We provide a family orientation with a caretaker,” Culliton said in a phone interview. “We have a well rounded understanding of what that resident’s day looks like. We want to keep it routine. We have other care providers that will come and talk to give a better understanding of the disease.”

Culliton said the staff and volunteers who work at Emeritus Salt Lake are passionate about the work they do and want nothing more than to help the people they are caring for.

Emeritus Salt Lake is located at 76 South 500 East.

Emeritus Salt Lake is located at 76 South 500 East.

“I’m really passionate about attracting the right [residents],” he said. “It’s that feeling of leaving home if anyone has dementia, you’re leaving your familiar space. You’ve been there for 50-plus years and now you’re going to a new space. It goes back to that care.”

Culliton knows that some older adults are afraid to be alone. But, sometimes that fear prevents people from seeking help.

He said Emeritus Salt Lake aims to offer more than just the borderline help. Staff go above and beyond to help the new residents by developing a personal relationship with them as soon as they walk in the door. Residents are given an orientation and shown around the building.

“With assisted living, every department head goes and introduces themselves and gives them the care that they expect,” Culliton said. “We look at it as kind of like a marriage. Know each other right up front. If we look at the process at the point when somebody applies, we go to their house or hospital and get to know the family immediately and when they move in, we talk about what is best and how to care for the seniors.”

Markel Martinez, a resident assistant at Emeritus Salt Lake, knows how important it is to build relationships. He has had residents find friends at the facility and even fall in love.

“I would want the resident to know that I’m there to help them,” Martinez said. “To be their friend that they can trust and talk to.”

Chandler Hunt and the gift of sight

Story and photos by CALLEN CRENSHAW

How would life be for a person who does not have use of one of their five senses? Can someone with that type of disability live a normal life?

Chandler Hunt is now a senior at the University of Utah.

Chandler Hunt is now a senior at the University of Utah.

From a very young age, Chandler Hunt learned how to do “normal” tasks without the use of one of these senses, his eyes. As a result, Chandler went about his day feeling and listening for social and emotional cues.

Chandler was diagnosed as legally blind at age 5. His father, Bill, had a really difficult time grasping the reality of his son’s disability. The formal term for this condition is called dislocated lenses. The lenses in Chandler’s eyes became more dislocated with time. The timeline for this process depends on the gene itself, which is hereditary.

Bill said that his side of the family produces this gene and every one of his siblings suffers from it. One positive aspect of his son’s diagnosis is the technology factor. “Technology never ceases to amaze me, because Chandler was diagnosed so young doctors have been able to start to reverse his eyesight,” Bill said.

However, he realizes that the condition has made his son learn everything in a different way, a more difficult way. As a father he said his son has been labeled as “different” since he lost his eyesight completely in high school.

Bill Hunt enjoys hiking in Cottonwood Canyon when he visits Chandler in Salt Lake City.

Bill Hunt enjoys hiking in Cottonwood Canyon when he visits Chandler in Salt Lake City.

Chandler spent his childhood participating in monthly doctor visits and adding what he recalled as “what felt like inches to my lenses.” With each of these visits the prescription in his glasses became stronger to the point where he eventually could only see through a small portion of his lenses. Bill said Chandler described the way he sees people as “little specks or dots with fuzziness attached to them.” This was concerning to him as a father.

The next big hurdle in Chandler’s life was his driving test. Although he struggled through school at Cornwall Central High School in California, he was able to get by with the help of many teachers, counselors and friends. But the driving test was something he had to accomplish on his own. He did not pass due to his eyesight. It was then that Bill realized his son needed to see the best surgeon and inquire about the latest technological advancement, LASIK eye surgery.

Chandler began physical therapy for his eyes and began preparing for what would total 19 surgeries. However, the breaking point happened when Chandler participated in a risky surgery that had a small chance of being successful in recovering his vision.

“I was completely against the surgery,” Bill said. In fact, he forbid Chandler to participate in it because it was so risky. “I didn’t think he understood the risk he was taking. If it didn’t work he would lose his eyesight completely, forever.”

This was a risk Chandler wanted to take. When he turned 18 he had the surgery.

He participated in a case study along with 12 other people. Out of that group, he was one of three who had a successful outcome. Although his recovery was two months, Chandler discovered that the surgery had reversed his eyesight and he was now able to learn how to read and write.

Physical Therapist Susan Bateman said in a phone interview that Chandler was one of the “most unique cases I have seen thus far in my practice.”

That is because Chandler is among 3 percent of the population that has the same form of the disability. A much higher percentage of Americans are legally blind due to other causes.

Although Chandler regained his eyesight, other patients like Chloe Hart did not have the same outcome. Hart says she knew the risk she was taking in having the surgery and it was “painfully hard to watch some of the patients receive their eyesight while the rest of us were left blind to some degree.”

Chandler feels bad for other patients like Hart who did not have the same result as he did. However, he believes that God knows what is best for everybody and that he needed the “gift of sight at that point in (his) life.”

Chandler and Bill Hunt enjoy spending time with each other outdoors.

Chandler and Bill Hunt enjoy spending time with each other outdoors.

Chandler is grateful for his eyesight and unlike most people, he does not take it for granted because he knows what it is like to not have it.

“The world is a very beautiful place, and I can say that because for the majority of my life I have not been able to see it,” he said. “But I have experienced it and I have seen what it offers people and that gives me strength. Strength to overcome my newfound challenges and the strength I need to make a difference.”

The life and success of Kirsten Morrise

Story and slideshow by NATALIE CHRISTENSEN

Meet Kirsten Morrise, her friends and family through photos.
Pierre Robin Syndrome is not a very well-known condition that is found in between one in 8,000 to one in 30,000 children born.

Pierre Robin Syndrome is a condition that comes in three stages, namely a cleft pallet, micrognathia (meaning a smaller jaw) and glossoptosis, an obstruction by the tongue from breathing.

Kirsten Morrise, a resident of Salt Lake City in the Sugar House area, has been dealing with Pierre Robin syndrome from the day she was born.

With her cheery personality and positive attitude, you wouldn’t believe the struggles this 20-year-old has gone through. She has been in and out of hospitals her whole life and  has undergone 40 surgeries. She has struggled with depression, been bullied through school and has overcome some learning struggles.

At a very young age she had a tracheotomy placed on her throat. Not only was this a burden for young Kirsten, but also for her mother Lisa who was taking care of two other children with medical needs.

“Kirsten was very sick and we were basically running an ICU and Timothy (her brother) was bouncing off the walls, and Michael (her brother) needed breathing treatments,” her mother Lisa said. “She was in the hospital 16 times her first year.”

Lisa said it was by the grace of God that she made it through that first year. Even with her two older boys needing help, having a child with a tracheotomy meant she needed to be at Kirsten’s bedside at all times.

When Kirsten had her tracheotomy removed at the age of 1, Lisa was able to return to work while neighbors watched Kirsten. Soon after however, problems started rising again.

“There were days when she couldn’t walk,” Lisa said. “And it was very strange … and things got a lot worse.”

Because of the lack of oxygen to her brain, Kirsten was having seizures which were getting worse and worse. Even with treatment, her seizures weren’t getting any better.

“‘Kirsten is sick get over it,’ was basically the attitude of a lot of professionals had that I talked to,” Lisa said. “But she kept getting sicker and sicker, and it got to the point where she couldn’t sit down on a couch without falling off because she was so out of it.”

As many times as Lisa tried to take Kirsten back to the hospital, they weren’t getting any help.

“And it’s like you’re running into a brick wall,” Lisa said. “It’s the scariest thing in the world to have your child be sick and have people not pay attention to you.”

Finally Kirsten was able to get the treatment but needed more surgeries.

She missed a lot of school because of the surgeries, and her social life wasn’t going very well either. A lot of Kirsten’s friends didn’t know how to treat her because of her surgeries. They saw her as being delicate rather than a normal kid.

“A lot of people don’t know what to say to me, because I’ve been through so much,” Kirsten said. “But I say they’re human. Do I really want them to be fully aware of what I’m experiencing?”

When Kirsten turned 6, she started skiing in Park City with The National Ability Center, a program that helps young kids recognize their strengths and helps build their self-esteem. The National Ability Center allowed Kirsten to participate in downhill skiing, and she had her own instructors to help her.

“My mom got me into skiing to help my upper trunk strength,” Kirsten said. “But as I got older and got better at it, it became not a pursuit (of) something to prove — I’m not delicate — but another activity I could add to my collection of talents I had.”

Kirsten went on in 2009 to win the gold medal in downhill skiing in the Special Olympics in advanced skiing.

Kirsten enjoyed skiing much more than physical therapy, it was more enjoyable and fun, and she could be outdoors. A lot of children with disabilities prefer to have their physical therapy this way, and Kirsten always looks back on the skiing experience with a lot of pride.

In 2005 Kirsten had screws put in her jaw called jaw distractors. The screws were visible on the outside of Kirsten’s face. When the screws were turned it forced her jaw forward so the jaw bone behind it could grow.

When asked if it hurt, she explained, “Yeah, you try getting the bone in your face being gradually moved forward.”

But, she added, “knowing what the end result is supposed to be makes it easier to endure.”

When she was 12, she attended LDS Brighton Girls camp. She enjoyed that summer so much she went back a second time and then finally went back as a helper in the kitchen in 2009 and then worked as the Craft Shack in 2010.

Kirsten loved it so much because the people there didn’t treat her like she was a disabled person. “They treated me like I was a human being,” she said. “There I had a blank slate, no one knew about my past … they let me do everything that everybody else did.”

Even having to wear an oxygen tank on her back as she went hiking her first year, she had fun with the girls telling them she was a cyborg.

If you ask anyone who worked with Kirsten at Brighton Camp a huge grin will come across their face.

Michelle Theurer was one of Kirsten’s good friends who worked at Brighton Camp with her. “It was great she always has something to say,” Theurer said. “So there’s never a quiet moment with her and she’s a really hard worker. Even with her limitations she’ll do whatever she can do.”

Theurer said Kirsten was always positive and was involved. She made things so much more fun because she saw them in a completely different way. “We would have time where we’d just hang out and it would be so fun to tease because she just dishes it right back at you, and she’s really ticklish.”

When Kirsten entered high school at Highland High, she was bullied by students taking her scooter and teasing her, calling her retarded and stupid.

“I have cerebral palsy and I have mood disorders, and I have hypotonia which means low muscle tone,” Kirsten said. “Those things have kind of caused with the bullying because of my posture and people look at me funny and also not being very athletic influenced the bullying.”

While attending high school, Kirsten was also going to college because of how much her surgeries held her back.

Kirsten attended Utah State University, because neither Brigham Young University nor the University of Utah sounded appealing.

“I made a plan to get to college,” Kirsten said. “And even though I got to college late, I had a plan I would get all of my high school work done by a certain time, and I would be able to function well enough to go to college.”

She picked social work as a major because she wanted to help others. “I feel like I have a capacity of empathy and I feel like I can give so much,” Kristen said.

Theurer also attended Utah State with Kirsten.

“Even though she may have challenges,” Theurer said. “She is always quick to realize that others have challenges too. She doesn’t seek for pity, but she does seek to serve others.”

Kirsten is looking toward the surgery that will fix it all. The procedure is called an End to End Anastomosis. Doctors will take out the part of the trachea that is scarred and then sew the ends of her trachea together. She went in early 2013 to Cincinnati to have the surgery done, but her throat wasn’t ready for it. So, on Dec. 10, 2013, she had surgery to advance her upper and lower jaws and tongue.

“Even though I have all these issues, I have a plan for how I’m going to do things and make sure I can do them,” Kirsten said. “I can take care of myself, I can do school, I can go on hikes, just not on big ones, and I’m a gold medalist in downhill skiing. Anything I put my mind to most of the time, I can do.”