More than fifty years ago, Daily Planet opened its doors with a mission of helping Richmond teens and young adults who were dropping out of school and society. At the time, this population represented a disenfranchised group of young adults who needed support. And by providing shelter, meals, health clinics, and counseling, Daily Planet helped them to integrate back into society.
While its name has changed – Daily Planet is now known as Daily Planet Health Services (DPHS) – the organization still cares for those most in need in the Richmond community. Services focus on providing accessible, comprehensive, and integrated quality health services to anyone regardless of their housing, financial, or insurance status.
What Anne Lane started in a small building known as The Rap Center near VCU’s campus in 1970 is now a full-service health care center. In 2019, DPHS provided more than 43,000 patient visits and over $2.3 million in uncompensated services.
“I think something that’s allowed our organization to not just survive, but thrive over the last fifty years, has been our constant desire to adapt to help those in need,” said acting CEO Anita Bennett. “It’s what guides us in everything we do.”
Since 1998, the nonprofit has operated out of its West Grace Health Center located at 517 West Grace Street in downtown Richmond. In 2014, DPHS added a second facility, its Southside Health Center located at 180 Belt Boulevard. Each facility offers a full range of primary care, behavioral health, and dental services. The Southside location is staffed by a bilingual team of doctors, nurses, and administrative staff.
Daily Planet Health Services also runs Medical Respite and Safe Haven programs, both of which are designed to offer patients a place to recuperate, re-establish, and reconnect. These recuperative spaces play an essential role for people who are working to get their lives back on track, especially among veteran populations.
Pandemic Response: Expanding Access and Services
Elizabeth Roark, president of DPHS’s board, reflected that with the continued growth of the nonprofit’s services, lack of space had been identified as a hindrance to access.
“The last thing we wanted was to turn people away because of a lack of capacity,” Roark said. “For a number of years, we’d identified the building next door [511 W Grace St] as a good opportunity for the organization, but for one reason or another, the pieces just didn’t come together.”
But when the previous owners, Commonwealth Catholic Charities, put the building up for sale in early 2019, the stars aligned and DPHS closed on the building in February 2020.
During the purchase process, planning for how the West Grace Street locations would be most effectively used included the full spectrum of services, primary care, administration, behavioral health, etc. Those discussions quickly changed course after the purchase, with the predictions of the potential impact of COVID-19, and thanks to the foresight of Patricia Cook, MD, chief medical officer at DPHS. Dr. Cook, who took over as the nonprofit’s top doctor in January, described how the confluence of events that led up to the building’s acquisition worked to DPHS’ advantage.
“With the pandemic unfolding so quickly, we knew that we would need to act fast when it came to preparing the facility to see patients,” said Roark. “It was a great example of board members and the staff adapting and working a few small miracles in a short time for the benefit of the community.”
By mid-March, DPHS had converted the first floor of the new facility into a COVID-19 assessment center, allowing the nonprofit to test its existing patient population and other at-risk groups without putting its staff from the other two facilities in direct contact with potentially sick patients, while also protecting non-COVID patients.
To date, DPHS has seen more than 3,500 patients at the COVID clinic that had been acquired just weeks before the viral outbreak began. As a result of the quick work in transitioning the facility, the nonprofit is one of the most active safety-net providers in the state when it comes to COVID testing.
“We are incredibly proud of the work that’s been done in the assessment center, and we feel fortunate to have acquired the building when we did. It’s truly allowed us to further our impact throughout the community,” Bennett added.
While Bennett is proud of the work that’s been done in the assessment center, she is especially gratified by the work the organization has continued to provide outside of the space. Through community partnerships, the team at DPHS has worked to provide shelter and housing to vulnerable Richmonders who tested positive for the virus while continuing to provide its existing patients primary and behavioral services from its West Grace Health Center and Southside Health Center locations.
“What we’ve seen since the pandemic began is a true coming together of community partners with one common goal, which is to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our most vulnerable populations across the region.”
Currently, the nonprofit is testing for COVID at the 511 West Grace facility while providing in-person and telehealth primary care, behavioral health, and dental services at its other two facilities. On a daily basis, DPHS has a team of outreach workers who work directly with members of homeless populations – something Bennett says there is a constant demand for in the region
“Many of these groups don’t have sufficient access to the resources we take for granted on a day-to-day basis – clothes, towels, hygiene items like toothpaste, deodorant, and shampoo to name a few,” Dr. Cook added. “We are thrilled when the community comes together to assist us in the work that we do. And we invite families to get involved by putting together care packages that will be distributed to those in need or participating in virtual service projects to learn more about those in need and other ways to help.”
Conduct a Supply Drive for Daily Planet Health Services
Monday, October 12 through Friday, October 30
For families who are interested in having a supply drive or creating care packages for the homeless population in Richmond, visit DailyPlanetVa.org for a list of needed items.
Supplies can be dropped off at the DPHS 517 W Grace Street facility, Monday, October 12 through Friday, October 30, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. In keeping with COVID-19 safety precautions, anyone participating is encouraged to call 804-783-2505 to notify DPHS of the delivery, and a member of the DPHS team will come out to collect the items.
There are service project ideas for students available here.
Photos: courtesy Daily Planet Health Services