Ashley Killion

Homelessness is Deadly, Complicated, and Solvable: Tracking Mortality Data of Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

Ashley Killion is a certified social worker and doctoral candidate at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. She was selected for a competitive Master of Social Work to Doctorate of Social Work bridge program and will be among the first cohort to graduate from this program in May 2023. Professionally, Ashley supervises a team of community health workers and outreach and enrollment staff at HealthFirst Bluegrass, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), serving approximately 23,000 patients annually for their medical, dental, behavioral, and pharmacy needs. Ashley plays a critical role in developing and implementing organization-wide efforts to reduce social determinants of health. This position grants the opportunity to serve diverse, marginalized, and vulnerable patients with varying health disparities by enhancing the quality of life through transformative health care. Integrating primary care and behavioral health services make FQHCs, like HealthFirst Bluegrass, safe, easily accessible places for vulnerable patients who need dynamic services not typically offered in traditional health clinics.

Ashley serves as the HealthFirst Bluegrass access committee chairperson, working to eliminate patient barriers to ensure they receive quality health care regardless of financial hardship, insurance status, citizenship status, or any other obstacle that may limit traditional health care options. Additional leadership opportunities have allowed Ashley the execution of an employee-donated patient assistance fund to utilize when community resources are unavailable for unique patient needs. Ashley has also professionally collaborated with numerous community partners. These partnerships include God’s Pantry Food Bank, providing on-demand food boxes, in the clinic, for patients experiencing food insecurity, the Social Security Administration on a kiosk that links patients with a social security employee to assist in virtually applying for social security benefits, and the Kentucky Opioid Response Effort to supply patients at high-risk for an opioid accident with free Naloxone.

Throughout the DSW program, Ashley’s research has focused on removing barriers to health care access and social determinants of health for vulnerable populations. However, after completing a practicum placement in the HealthFirst Bluegrass Healthcare for the Homeless Clinic, her capstone project has been dedicated to that population as she has worked to design and implement a homeless mortality review task force. A homeless mortality review task force is a multidisciplinary community-based team that provides intensive health care and mental health interventions, resource navigation, and demographic and mortality data collection via street outreach to the population experiencing homelessness. The public health concern and the experience of homelessness have established consequences on health and have been comprehensively studied, documented, and recognized. However, evaluating how homelessness contributes to death has presented several challenges. The nonexistence of records involving the mortality rate of this population contributes to this growing social problem. Integrating mobile medical and social work teams with tools to screen and monitor health and mortality could eradicate the issue of accessing care and the absence of mortality data within the population experiencing homelessness. Ashley is passionate about eliminating barriers to health care for all, but her heart lies in diminishing social determinants of health and helping give voice to the underserved and marginalized.