RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Throughout the pandemic, praise for essential workers in the healthcare field has skyrocketed. And one local medical clinic has worked tirelessly in order to serve the Greater Richmond community.

Health Brigade’s mission is to provide exceptional health services to those that are sometimes forgotten, in a caring and non-judgmental environment. But even with all Health Brigade does, the clinic still found it shocking that the same community they work for nominated them to be a Richmond History Maker.

“I can’t tell you how incredibly excited we were about this. I have known so many great organizations who’ve been recognized, and it’s really an honor to be considered as part of that group,” said Karen Legato, executive director of Health Brigade. “It’s amazing for us.”

Richmond History Makers is a program from The Valentine that highlights trailblazers in RVA for the bold services they offer to the community. Health Brigade was nominated in this year’s Promoting Community Health category.

Legato said receiving this nomination during a global health pandemic is the icing on the cake.

“That’s what is most meaningful about it. We have been known for so much of our HIV/AIDS work, which was the last big pandemic that we worked,” she said. “So to now be facing this pandemic and saying ‘How can we do as much as we can, not only for our own patients but also for the community.'”

Right now the clinic is knee-deep in continuing their COVID-19 testing while preparing for their vaccination efforts. Legato shared the clinic received its first shipment of vaccines and they will be rolled in early March.

Heath Brigade testing residents for COVID-19. (Photos by Health Brigade)

The non-profit clinic in Richmond’s Near West End offers three major services. One is a medical clinic that serves nearly 2,200 patients. They also have a large mental health program. Last but definitely not least, they have a community outreach program that Legato said is the biggest service they offer.

All of their programs are for vulnerable populations like low-income residents, people of color and other groups that have been marginalized.

“That’s where we’re out in the community, in multiple neighborhoods, in multiple organizations, providing access to HIV testing, helping people get hooked into care,” she said. “We’re also in the prisons and some of your other facilities that sometimes people don’t think about needing to be connected with care.”

Health Brigade has around 40 employees and a couple of hundred volunteers. Legato said they deserve the praise.

“We couldn’t do our work without our volunteers because our business model is built on volunteers working side by side with us to deliver the services,” Legato shared. “These are volunteer therapists, volunteer physicians, volunteer outreach workers, who take the work very seriously.”

Health Brigade is all about bringing humanity back to the forefront in communities that need it the most.

“So often that doesn’t happen in healthcare settings, people are often treated like they’re just a transaction, or you have a short period of time with them, so, this is really an opportunity for us on a day-by-day basis to really connect with the humanity of every individual that we come in contact with,” she said. “That’s what really makes it magical for me.”

Health Brigade started out as the Fan Free Clinic in 1970. The clinic initially involved providing healthcare to students and low-income residents in the Richmond region — primarily on women’s health. As time evolved the clinic became very engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS while continuing their work in the clinic.

In 2016, they changed their name to Health Brigade. Legato told 8News they wanted something more indicative about who they were. Which is, they’re mobile as well as in a fixed location.

She added they want the community to know that they weren’t leaving Fan Free Clinic behind, but evolving it. Some challenges they faced with their former name was for one the location. They are no longer located in the fan. She said some of their services changed as well.

“When you use the word free, sometimes they think that services aren’t as good a quality. So we wanted something that really captured our movement, as well as our diversity,” she said.

Legato said the clinic’s hope is that the community can see, especially during this pandemic, how important health is. She explained that the public health system has been underfunded for too long, only to be hit with a health pandemic.

Legato said the recognition is an honor, and they do what they can for the community because it’s the right thing to do. She said the best part for her is the compassion she gets to see on a daily basis.

“Watching the staff and volunteers and the community come together, to really reach into vulnerable populations and to really be present to them without judgment, and really care for them as people,” she said. “That is the beauty of the work.”