Health Equity Fund Spotlight: Daily Planet Health Services    

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting some of the newest Health Equity Fund (HEF) recipients. The HEF—which is administered by the Richmond and Henrico Public Health Foundation and supported by the City of Richmond and RHHD—announced its most recent round of funding last month. Recipients applied for dedicated funding in one of the HEF’s key focus areas, including substance use disorder, maternal and child health, and food access, among others. Applicants were selected in conversation with the Community Advisory Committee and RHPHF’s board.

One new HEF recipient—but long-time RHHD partner—is Daily Planet Health Services (DPHS). A community health center serving Richmond and surrounding counties, DPHS primarily serves individuals experiencing homelessness and housing instability, as well as those living in and around public housing, in shared housing (ex. doubling up), and those living with HIV. DPHS turns 55 years old in 2024 and is one of the oldest healthcare for the homeless providers in the country—and the only one of its kind in Virginia.

Director of Development Sarah Tunner says that Daily Planet’s philosophy focuses on “Treating each person as a person. Just because you’re experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness does not mean your needs deserve less attention or lesser quality of care. I would say we probably provide greater care, service, and access because all our services are under one roof. Your medical provider, behavioral health clinician, psychiatrist, dentist, case manager, they’re all here. Treating that whole person comes across very differently here because we can treat all of these things in one place.”

DPHS is a federally qualified health center, receiving funds from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the primary federal agency for improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated, or medically vulnerable. Funding from HRSA only covers 23% of the organization’s current operating budget. Sarah says partnerships like the one with the Health Equity Fund are essential for Daily Planet to operate at its full capacity.

Daily Planet’s HEF proposal focused on behavioral and mental health, adding a Behavioral Health Care Coordinator to their already robust team of behavioral health specialists, medical providers, and case managers. “We’re extremely grateful to be able to get this position off the ground with such an exceptional person in the role and to see it already making an impact,” Sarah says.

That exceptional person is Emma Snearer, a recent VCU graduate who joined Daily Planet’s team as a mental health clinician intern and stayed on when the Behavioral Health Care Coordinator role became available. Emma describes her position as one that is constantly shifting based on patient needs, and where “meeting people where they’re at” is the guiding principle. Her day-to-day might look like conducting initial triage appointments with new clients, helping Daily Planet’s psychiatrist determine which patients are facing challenges reaching appointments and sustaining a particular medication, sitting with someone who needs emergency housing or medical services, or popping over to a medical or case management appointment to connect a client to behavioral health services through a “warm handoff” process.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Patricia Cook says that Emma’s work in those warm handoffs has been “a huge success”: “It feels like you need that warm handoff every day of the week. When you’re working with someone who needs immediate behavioral health support, there’s a little thrill when Emma says, ‘I can be there in five minutes.’”

Whether she’s meeting a new patient or guiding an existing client into behavioral services, Emma helps the person anticipate barriers and connect to key resources. “I talk to people about solutions for keeping appointments and moving toward wellness goals,” she says. “Ultimately, the idea is for them to feel confident to take on next steps.” And, if a client mentions needing help with housing, employment, or navigating benefits in an initial meeting, Emma knows exactly where to go next: “I’m able to reach out to our walk-in case management services and say “OK, we’re going to complete this triage, and then I’m gonna have you walk over to case management. A lot of times I’ll walk them over and help explain to case management what they’re looking for. Same with medical—it’s just helpful that it’s right downstairs or right next door.”

Emma thinks of her HEF-funded position as an “opening point” for patients to develop permanent relationships at Daily Planet: “I want people to feel like this is a therapist they could see for years, and these are the providers that they will connect with forever. I want patients to feel comfortable and respected, and I know the team here does a great job with that.”

If you, or someone you know, would like to access the services and resources provided by DPHS, you can make an appointment by calling 804-783-2505. You can also walk-in to 511 West Grace Street Monday – Friday from 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. for medical and case management services. Walk-in behavioral health triage appointments are available on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings at 517 West Grace Street. Additional information and eligibility criteria can be found on the Patient Registration webpage.

If you are interested in learning more about the mission of Daily Planet Health Services, from a partnership or support perspective, please contact Sarah Tunner, Director of Development, at (804) 783-2505 x2101.