Celebrating 50 Years Of Health Brigade

by | Mar 12, 2020 | QUEER RVA

For 50 years, Health Brigade has been working hard to offer medical assistance to disadvantaged and marginalized communities in Richmond. Their 50th anniversary is certainly worth celebrating.

UPDATE, 3/12/20, 3 PM: Due to concerns over the coronavirus, Health Brigade has cancelled their Golden Anniversary BriGala, originally scheduled for Friday, March 13. For more information, check their Facebook page. Original article follows:

Health Brigade, formerly Fan Free Clinic, has been serving the community for 50 years, and they’re celebrating with their “Golden Anniversary” BriGala on March 13, 2020. It’s time to take a look back and see how this clinic has impacted Richmond, as well as highlighting what 50 years mean for both the community and the staff of Health Brigade.

Health Brigade was opened in 1970 and was the first free clinic in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Since then, through the decades, the clinic has never backed away from a challenge.

The establishment of a program that offers so many services to low-income individuals is so important. Julie Sulik, Health Brigade’s communications coordinator, says that 50 years of Health Brigade is “50 years of changing almost 11,000 lives a year.”

Health Brigade’s services can be split into three sections: the primary care and medical clinic, the mental health and wellness department, and the outreach and advocacy.

Karen Legato, the executive director of Health Brigade, says that “50 years of Health Brigade is 50 years of quality health and mental health services for people in our community who have been most marginalized.”

Specifically, Health Brigade has always been committed to serving the population and has been at the forefront of the HIV/AIDS crisis since the ’80s, Legato said. Since the 80s, it has continued to do work in the community and link people to services.

Members of Health Brigade’s staff taking part in Equality Virginia’s 2020 Day Of Action. Photo via HealthBrigade/Facebook

One of the newer ways it is helping patients, both mentally and physically, in regard to HIV/AIDS, is by offering a needle exchange program. It started in 2018 and was the first comprehensive harm reduction program in central Virginia. The program is designed to help “prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis C among persons that inject drugs, their families, and the larger community,” according to Health Brigade’s website.

This program provides free needles, wound care supplies, safer sex supplies, syringes for injecting hormones or steroids, testing for hepatitis C,  HIV and other STD/STI’s, and referrals to medical care, mental health and wellness, and substance use treatment, along with other community resources.

It also reaches people in prisons, testing them for HIV/AIDS and offering them proper healthcare while inside the prison system. Even after they get out, Health Brigade helps them with housing and medical treatment.

Bill Harrison, the president and executive director of Diversity Richmond, believes that Health Brigade has made a significant contribution to the city of Richmond by being a place of non-judgment. Through their expansion into larger programs, they have always put their patients first and make sure each patient is receiving proper care, he said.

In addition to its work with AIDS, its transgender health program was one of the first in Virginia. Right now, they see over 200 patients and are able to provide them medical care, even if they don’t have insurance.

The Trans Health program offers coordination of care, hormone treatment & monitoring, breast & chest health, and pelvic wellness and pap smears, as well as even more services in primary medical care. It also offers a range of mental health and support services.

Health Brigade currently only accepts transgender patients who are uninsured but, in the future,  they hope to expand to accept Medicaid so that they can further help trans patients and expand their outreach in the community, Legato said.

From offering safe birth control for women in the 1970s to becoming the place where you could obtain services and support if you were infected or affected by HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 90s, Health Brigade has always been ahead of the curve. Health Brigade believes that “everyone, especially those least served, deserve quality care,” and their 50-year anniversary is one that deserves celebrating.

Health Brigade’s “Brigala” is on Friday, March 13, 2020, from 6-10 pm at The Jefferson Hotel. Details can be found on their website and tickets can be purchased at https://e.givesmart.com/events/efc/.

Kaitlin Edwardson

Kaitlin Edwardson

Kaitlin Edwardson is a journalism major at the University of Richmond. At school, she is a writer on the school’s newspaper and enjoys writing about topics such as culture, events, food, and sports.

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