'These are already vulnerable populations struggling day-to-day’: Richmond healthcare clinics pressed during pandemic

Published: Apr. 17, 2020 at 7:57 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - With Virginia’s healthcare system already strained by the pandemic, community clinics serving some of Central Virginia’s most at-risk and low-income clients and families say they’re more pressed than ever.

“These are already vulnerable populations struggling day-to-day,” said the Richmond-based Health Brigade’s Executive Director Karen Legato.

The Health Brigade continues to serve thousands of people in need of everything from primary medical care to mental health counseling and drug rehabilitation. But since the pandemic took hold, the 50-year clinic has now completely converted to doing it all virtually in a matter of weeks. The clinic’s entire system is now operating through telehealth, buying new phones and computer equipment and software.

"We put out probably about $25,000 just to get started and rolling into this,” said Legato.

A large portion of that money came from the Central Virginia COVID-19 Response Fund. The fund was created years ago in case the Commonwealth experienced a crisis. That time is now. The fund has since given out more than a million dollars to over two dozen organizations on the front lines of the pandemic.

The Health Brigade’s services that remain in person, like prescription pick-up and the syringe exchange, now have coronavirus precautions in place.

Another Richmond clinic, the Daily Planet Health Services, converted one of its facilities just for COVID-19 testing. This way, the Daily Planet’s main centers could stay open for other kinds of treatment.

"COVID is not the only thing out there. We still need to take care of people’s diabetes… or other conditions that might make them end up in the emergency room,” said Dr. Patricia Cook, Chief Medical Officer with the Daily Planet.

The Daily Planet also had to switch to predominantly telehealth visits and make sure its half-dozen facilities and shelters for homeless patients are as safe as possible during a pandemic. The Daily Planet is currently waiting for relief funding from the COVID-19 Response Fund, along with more federal grant money.

“All of these (health care clinic) efforts across the community and across the state have done an amazing job in ramping themselves up, in doing anything and everything they can… to work with those most vulnerable,” said Legato.

But between buying new equipment to enable telehealth visits, supplies for COVID-19 prevention, and overhauling its everyday operations, the Health Brigade says its emergency funding has already been largely depleted. That’s why continued donations are needed, according to the many organizations that battle the pandemic every day in Central Virginia.

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