Substance use response at RHHD: Meet Jasmine Blue!  

Gateway’s community work fills a vital role in our region’s efforts to address substance use disorder (SUD) through prevention, harm reduction, recovery, and treatment. RHHD recently hired a new Substance Use Disorder Coordinator to help create links within these areas and across our community. Below, get to know Jasmine Blue, who says one important step residents can take is registering for Rapid REVIVE! training. The free online course teaches participants how to spot signs of a potential opioid overdose and how to respond to the situation with life-saving opioid reversal agents like naloxone. Below, Jasmine responds to a few questions about her work and RHHD’s priorities:

 

Q: Health initiatives like Gateway and REVIVE! address different parts of substance use response—recovery in one case, and harm reduction in the other. Why is it important for a community to be doing work in both those areas?  

JB: The primary goal of harm reduction is to save lives and protect the health of people who use drugs. Harm reduction programs such as our Rapid REVIVE! training can serve as a bridge for individuals struggling with substance use to access treatment options, such as long-term recovery supports. By working together to combine harm reduction and recovery efforts, we can offer a more comprehensive approach, leading to better outcomes for both the individual and community.

Q: Part of your role will be helping RHHD create a longer-term strategy for how we respond to substance use. Why is that kind of planning important? 

JB: In the Greater Richmond Region, certain neighborhoods and communities are experiencing higher rates of overdose compared to others. Strategic planning helps us ensure that we are maximining our efforts to improve health outcomes in lives of those impacted by substance use. This includes efforts such as community engagement and collaborating with stakeholders such as healthcare facilities, government agencies, and other community-based organizations to ensure that our efforts are being aligned and that we are working to address the unique needs of our communities.

Q: What are you excited to learn or do in this new position? And what would you most like community members to understand about this work?  

JB: I’m excited to partner with so many amazing organizations to raise awareness in our local communities. I get to be a part of a change that creates more supportive environments for the individuals and families impacted by substance use that improve health outcomes. I’d most like the community to understand that working to reduce stigma is essential if we’re going to ensure that those seeking help for substance use feel supported and empowered.

Health Equity Fund Spotlight: Gateway Community Health     

This week, we continue 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.

Gateway Community Health is a HEF recipient in the focus area of Substance Use and Recovery. The organization offers recovery services for people experiencing addiction or substance use disorder, pairing housing and transportation support with academic development.

Gateway co-founder Charlene Hinton-Watts is a life-long Richmond resident whose personal and professional experiences throughout the city have illustrated the gaps in services for people working toward recovery. She says housing is fundamental: “If you can’t keep someone in one place, it’s hard to offer services. So housing is a big piece.” Charlene and her business partner, J. Irving Dixon III, began Gateway as a single residential unit. It now functions as a sober-living campus environment in Chester. Once participants have completed the first program phase, Gateway helps them move into independent living spaces, which they call “Angel Houses.”

HEF Program Officer Saraya Perry is particularly impressed by what she calls Gateway’s “unique and effective” approach to linking residential support with academic programming—and it’s this programming that will be supported by the HEF.

Charlene and her team began incorporating education into Gateway’s mission as life skills training, things like learning how to access Social Security or to fill out a job application. But “residents wanted more reading comprehension and financial literacy,” she recalls. Charlene, a lawyer by training, began offering civics classes and others jumped in with their own areas of specialty.

About a year ago, Gateway began partnering with Love Cathedral Community Church, which had already established a Christian-based Adult Education curriculum. Charlene says that has helped add structure and a sense of purpose to Gateway’s educational philosophy: “We wanted people to feel like they were in school, that it wasn’t just a meeting but an actual class. We started with an orientation class to prepare people for being students again: ‘What does it mean to study?’ ‘What does homework look like?’”

Gateway participants came into the curriculum from a range of educational experiences—some had been to college and others had completed elementary school—but Charlene observed each participant learning and growing: “Our first class culminated with presentations that brought so much out of each student—everybody benefited from it!”

Love Cathedral’s pastor Reverend Donté McCutchen, MDiv, is now also the pastor for Greater Mt. Moriah Baptist in Jackson Ward. This relationship allows Gateway to develop educational offerings in Richmond as well as Chester. “Greater Mt. Moriah is a strong community-based church, so we’re seeking to bring more people into our program based on the community outreach they’re already doing,” Charlene says. Both Pastor McCutchen and Academy Pastor Robin Best, Ed.S, say, “we are excited about the opportunity to partner with Gateway as we fulfill our mission of being the cathedral in the community.”

Charlene looks forward to the way HEF funding will expand educational opportunities to include arts and music programming, introducing participants to Richmond’s museums and galleries at the same time as they’re connecting with health and social support services. And while she has big plans for the program, she comes back to the impact it has on each individual resident: “If I can see just one piece of it help someone succeed, it doesn’t have to be a whole lot, one piece of it makes me know it matters.”

Learn more about Gateway Community Health at their website.

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. 

RHHD & RPS Collaborate to Provide In-School Immunization Clinics

RICHMOND, VA — The Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD) and Richmond Public Schools (RPS) are partnering to offer in-school immunization clinics in February and March. RPS families are encouraged to sign the RPS-provided consent form and have their 6th and 11th graders receive their school-required immunizations ahead of the traditional Back-to-School season. 

“Now is a great time for all 6th and 11th graders to receive their required immunizations for the next school year,” said RHHD Nurse Manager, Amy Popovich. “In-school clinics provide a convenient way for families to stay up to date on these safe and effective vaccines, making sure their child is ready to start the next school year strong.” 

“Our vaccination program is a vital part of our Wellness and health efforts at RPS, said Chief Wellness Officer, Renesha Parks. “Partnering with RHHD means that families and students can take care of a critical step in the enrollment process without needing to leave the school building. We’re committed to lowering barriers facing our students and grateful to everyone who makes this possible.”  

Current 6th and 11th graders at the following schools are invited to attend on-site immunization clinics. These events are for the students at each school only. See below for additional immunization appointment options. 

Wednesday, Feb. 21 

9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. 

Lucille Brown Middle School 

 

Thursday, March 7 

1 p.m. – 3 p.m. 

Open High School 

Tuesday, March 19 

9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. 

Thomas C. Boushall Middle School 

 

Tuesday, Feb 27 

1 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. 

Franklin Military Academy 

 

Tuesday, March 12 

9:30 a.m. – 11:30 p.m. 

Albert Hill Middle School 

 

Thursday, March 21 

10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. 

Thomas Jefferson High School 

 

Thursday, Feb. 29 

10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. 

Armstrong High School 

 

Thursday, March 14 

9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. 

Richmond Alternative School 

 

Tuesday, March 26 

9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. 

Richmond Community High School 

 

Wednesday, March 6 

10 a.m. – 2 p.m. 

River City Middle School 

 

Thursday, March 14 

1 p.m. – 3 p.m. 

Dogwood Middle School 

 

 

The following immunizations for 6th graders will be provided at these events:  

  • Tetanus, Diphtheria, & Pertussis Vaccine (Tdap)
    Booster dose required after age 11 and prior to 7th grade entry.
     
  • Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine (MenACWY)
    The first dose shall be administered after age 11 and prior to 7th grade entry. 

The following immunizations for 11th graders will be provided at these events: 

  • Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine (MenACWY) Effective July 1, 2021
    Two properly spaced doses of meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY). The first dose shall be administered after age 11 and prior to 7th grade entry. The second dose shall be administered prior to entry to the twelfth grade. One dose is required for 12th -grade entry if the first dose is received at or after 16 years of age. 

Also required but not provided at these events: 

  • Human Papillomavirus Vaccine (HPV), Effective July 1, 2021
    Two properly spaced doses of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (for males and females). The first dose shall be administered after age 11 and prior to 7th grade entry. Parents may opt-out of this vaccine after they have received information from RPS and are encouraged to speak with their child’s pediatrician to make an informed decision. Students are not excluded for HPV non-compliance. 

 

Immunization Appointment Opportunities for Families Whose Children Cannot Attend an In-School Event 

Families without insurance or who are enrolled in Medicaid can schedule appointments at an RHHD clinic by calling (804) 205-3501 and can find more information at rhhd.gov/childhoodvax. The Vaccines for Children Program (VFC) provides free vaccines for uninsured, underinsured, and Medicaid-enrolled children. Families can search for a nearby VFC provider using this tool rhhd.gov/vfc.

Families with private insurance may schedule appointments with their primary care physician, a local pharmacy, or one of RHHD’s community partners and can learn more by visiting rhhd.gov/childhoodvax-partners. 

 

Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD) are sister public health agencies serving our connected communities. Our mission is to protect health, champion equity, and partner to address local needs. 

rhhd.gov | henrico.us/health | RCHD Facebook | HCHD Facebook | IG: @richmondcity_hd  

Richmond Public Schools’ Health Services Department provides student-centered wellness in an effort to keep students in school and ready to learn. Medical supervision and services are provided with daily assessments and management of student health needs. 

rvaschools.net | Facebook: RVASchools | IG: @rvaschools 

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Get to know Amy Popovich, RHHD’s Outstanding Woman!

On Feb. 1, YWCA Richmond announced its 2024 Class of Outstanding Women Awards Honorees. This award recognizes leaders who “have made significant contributions to our community through their exceptional leadership, sustained dedication, and inspiring achievements.”

RHHD’s own Community Health Nurse Manager, Amy Popovich, was included among these 2024 Honorees. She joins the more than 300 leaders the program has recognized since 1980.

Amy is the Nurse Manager of the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD). During her 14-year career in public health, she has championed the need for a more innovative and equity-driven approach to improving our region’s health. Her work has focused on bringing health and education directly into communities by building relationships with residents and families and inspiring public and private partners to work strategically together towards realizing RHHD’s vision of a thriving, healthy region for all.

RHHD staff concurs with YWCA’s assessment! They offer their own justifications for Amy’s Outstanding Woman Award:

  • “Amy is always able to zoom on the issue at hand and zoom in even faster on the solution. She won’t take “no” for an answer when it stands between her and helping the community. When everyone is thinking about what could be done, Amy is doing it and pulling in all the right people on her team to get it done thoughtfully and equitably—definitely not ‘one day’ but when it’s needed.” Stephanie Mbengue, STI/HIV Prevention Supervisor
  • “Amy is an inspirational leader who shines in her ability to work with partners to support meaningful and equitable change around public health issues. An example of this is her work on school-aged children’s health, where she collaborates with safety-net partners, RHHD team members, other organizations to address evidence-based needs, such as childhood immunizations and physicals.” Virginia Slattum, Community Health Nurse Supervisor
  • “Amy is one of the most compassionate women I have ever worked with. She is truly the best person for this award because she has embodied the true definition of community health, compassion, and care.” Dr. Qadira Stewart, Community Health Worker Supervisor
  • “Amy is human first—she starts most meetings off with a “hey, how are you?” (which is partly why she’s always running late!) Her personal life reflects her passion for investment in people. She’s HIGHLY involved in her East End community, in her church/faith, and in her kiddos. She takes the time to get to know all RHHD staff by name and since she’s been here since 2009, she has decade-long friendships through RHHD and partner organizations. Her projects are about connection and expansion; right now, she’s expanding refugee funding and care by connecting community-based organizations with state agencies and building pathways to permanent care in the East End.” Alex Williams, Clinical and Community Health Services Project Manager

Congratulations to Amy on this well-deserved honor. The RHHD team is grateful for all you do and can’t wait to see what your work accomplishes next!

RHHD in the media: “HIV affects everyone”  

Wednesday, Feb. 7, was National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and to mark the occasion, RHHD took to the news. Dr. Qadira Stewart, RHHD’s Community Health Worker Supervisor, appeared on CBS 6 and NBC12, sharing information about the racial disparities that exist in HIV/AIDS data nationally and in our region. Dr. Stewart highlighted the need for more education, support, and trust building in Black communities—particularly because of legacies of redlining and medical racism in the region—and she also talked about the progress communities have made in connecting people to needed resources like PrEP.

The CBS 6 report also featured information from one of RHHD’s community partners, Nationz Foundation, which focuses on supporting the Greater Richmond LGBTQIA+ community with comprehensive HIV/STI services. PrEP coordinator Troy Kershaw shared that “There have been monumental strides in the work around HIV prevention but there’s still stigma that we’re fighting every single day. And so organizations like Nationz have really strengthened our efforts around prevention and education so that folks understand that there is a guiding light.”

If you or people you know are interested in learning more about PrEP access or other HIV/STI services, check out our STI clinical services site or call 804-205-3501 for a testing appointment.

What’s in a name? Vital Records and public health 

What do Chiefs players Lucas Niang, Willy Gay, and Mike Danna have that Travis Kelce doesn’t? Some of the most popular boys’ names in Virginia!

This week, VDH’s Office of Vital Records announced the top baby names of 2023, including Liam, Noah, William, Lucas, and Michael for boys and Charlotte, Emma, Olivia, and Sophia for girls. The office also notes that July 7, 2023, was the largest single day for births in the commonwealth—we welcomed 332 babies that day!—while August was the month with the largest number of births.

Fun baby name facts are just a small part of what Vital Records staff do. At RHHD, the Vital Records teams maintain certificates of birth, death, marriage, and divorce, and helps community members access these important documents. Business managers Christine Sult and Nora Herrera-Sanchez oversee Vital Records in Henrico and Richmond, respectively. Both say that Vital Records is a critical—and perhaps less familiar—aspect of public health.

“These documents are housed within VDH because the data that makes up these certificates enhances statistical reporting. It’s one of the ways CDC gets information,” Christine explains. She says that birth records can help public health workers understand important data about delivery methods, the ages of parents, and the number of healthy pregnancies.

RHHD’s Vital Records staff print copies of certificates for people who need them. They can also direct residents to the right offices if they need to make changes to those certificates or to use them for things like applying for a driver’s license, accessing SNAP benefits, or transporting a loved one who has passed away out of Virginia.

Nora says that Vital Records Deputy Registrars often interact with people who are in a moment of life transition, high stress, or grief after the loss of a relative. “We have offices at our clinics because we want to be close to the public to provide these services. We’ve also become a bridge for populations who don’t speak English, who face a lot of barriers when a baby is born here.” Christine has also observed challenges for parents trying to file a birth certificate for babies born at home instead of at a hospital.

In each of these cases, having an experienced registrar helping a resident navigate these processes makes all the difference. “RHHD provides wonderful customer service for people who walk in and are looking for birth and death certificates,” Nora says. “Staff show so much compassion, and I’m so proud to work with them—they really know the needs of the public.”

Christine agrees: “Sometimes you’re getting someone who’s having a really hard time, and it’s amazing to be able to provide the resources to help them get closure or accomplish something that surrounds whatever event that it is.” She encourages residents to visit the Office of Vital Records FAQ page to learn more about when certain records become public, how to use records requests to further your genealogical research, and how to request a needed certificate. You can also walk in to RHHD’s Vital Records:

Richmond 
400 E. Cary St., Room 126
804-205-3911

Henrico West  
8600 Dixon Powers Dr.
804-501-4660

Henrico East 
1400 North Laburnum Ave
804-652-3190

It’s me (norovirus!), I’m the problem, it’s me

What’s norovirus? Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Anyone can get infected and sick with norovirus. Symptoms include a sudden onset of nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. And norovirus spreads if a sick person handles your foods or liquids—people who contract norovirus can remain contagious for a few days after their symptoms stop.

RHHD Epidemiologist Supervisor Louise Lockett Gordon says that we “historically see norovirus increase during the winter months, and this year is no different.” Help prevent norovirus by following these important tips:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers, sneezing, coughing, and before and after preparing food. Alcohol rubs are not effective if your hands are soiled—especially with poop or vomit—so make sure to use soap and water. (Need a soundtrack? The chorus to “Shake it Off” is almost exactly 20 seconds!)
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables before consuming.
  • Adding oysters or shellfish to your menu? Go with cooked instead of raw options during norovirus season.
  • Clean and disinfect counters and surfaces before guests arrive—use a bleach-based household cleaner.
  • Lay out serving utensils or keep plates of food separate so guests aren’t touching others’ food or drinks with their hands.
  • Encourage people to stay home if they’re currently sick or had symptoms less than 48 hours ago.
  • If your friends or family gets sick after eating the same food or out at a restaurant, report possible contaminated food sources to VDH’s My Meal Detective. The information will help us figure out whether a food needs to be recalled or if there’s an issue at a dining establishment.

Find more information about norovirus and advice for keeping your family safe and sound with VDH’s norovirus fact sheet.

RHHD Commemorates National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Feb. 7 

RICHMOND, VA —Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD) commemorate National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Wednesday, Feb. 7 by encouraging Black Richmond and Henrico residents to get tested and seek treatment. This day also creates the opportunity for healthcare providers and policy makers to reflect on the ways racism, discrimination, and mistrust in the health care system may affect those seeking and receiving HIV prevention and treatment services. 

This year’s NBHAAD theme is “Engage, Educate, Empower: Uniting to End HIV/AIDS in Black Communities.” This theme focuses on amplifying the dialogue around HIV/AIDS, improving education, and highlighting success stories and strategies. RHHD, along with community partners, offers services that include pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication that can reduce a person’s chance of contracting HIV after an exposure.  

“RHHD is committed to expanding access to HIV testing and PrEP for our Black residents,” said Clinical Nurse Supervisor, Cassie Beamon. “We hope that National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day will encourage more community members, especially Black women, to seek the care they need.” 

In 2021, 40% of all people living with HIV in the U.S were Black. But Black Americans only made up 14% of the population taking PrEP. Beamon sees a similar discrepancy in populations taking PrEP locally. In Richmond, proximity to resources like clinics and pharmacies, as well as insurance status, are still shaped by histories of redlining and segregation.   

For more information about RHHD clinical services and to schedule an appointment, call (804) 205-3501 or visit rhhd.gov/VA-HIV-testing. The following RHHD community partners also offer STI testing services: Nationz Foundation (804) 716-7597, Minority Health Consortium (804) 225-0820, and Health Brigade (804) 358-6343 ext. 2145. Residents can find a testing site at the following link: CDC testing site locator. 

 

Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD) are sister public health agencies serving our connected communities. Our mission is to protect health, champion equity, and partner to address local needs. 

rhhd.gov | henrico.us/health | RCHD Facebook | HCHD Facebook | IG: @richmondcity_hd 

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PrEP for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) takes place this year on Wednesday, February 7. The day emphasizes the racial disparities that are still present in HIV/AIDS testing, prevention, and treatment.

This year’s NBHAAD theme is “Engage, Educate, Empower: Uniting to End HIV/AIDS in Black Communities.” The theme resonates for RHHD’s STI/HIV clinical team, who know that more support is necessary to make sure that Black residents can benefit from services like the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) program.

In 2021, 40% of all people living with HIV in the U.S were Black. But Black Americans only made up 14% of the population taking PrEP, a medication that protects people from HIV exposure. RHHD Public Health Nurse Supervisor Cassie Beamon sees a similar discrepancy in populations taking PrEP locally. In Richmond, we know that proximity to resources like clinics and pharmacies, as well as insurance status, are still shaped by histories of redlining and segregation.

Because PrEP medication trials, primary care counseling, and awareness raising have all historically focused on young gay white men, that demographic is overrepresented in United States PrEP data. And while that population is important to reach with this care, Cassie knows that some of the Black patients who would benefit from PrEP—including Black women—aren’t yet coming to receive services at RHHD: “I would definitely like to see more women, because a lot of people think it’s just men who contract HIV.” Cassie’s team addresses some of the challenges residents might face in accessing PrEP:

  • Stigma and education: Patients who come to RHHD for PrEP work closely with our team’s nurses to plan for the PrEP program. Cassie’s seen patients hesitant to take a daily pill because someone might ask why they need it. Part of RHHD’s education work involves removing stigma around PrEP and HIV/STI services. “People should feel encouraged that they’re taking the steps to protect themselves and others, too,” Cassie says.
  • Insurance and cost. Cassie’s team partners with Gilead, an organization that works with under- or uninsured people who need access to PrEP or HIV medications, to reduce this barrier for patients.
  • Proximity to care: Right now, RHHD only offers PrEP at our 400 E. Cary St. location, which can be difficult for patients who need follow-up testing. Fortunately, RHHD partners with community-based organizations like Nationz FoundationMinority Health ConsortiumHealth Brigade, and Planned Parenthood, some of whom even offer mobile testing! Plus, we work with local pharmacies Hope and Bremo to ensure that patients can access medication at convenient locations.

Cassie knows it can be challenging to adjust to a new medication and attend follow-up appointments. The fact that PrEP is an ongoing program, though, “should be part of the appeal. It shows that we’re invested in making sure that this medication is going well for you. We’re checking on things like lab work to make sure everything is going right—you have a partner the whole way.”

RHHD will continue to work with patients and community partners to expand HIV/STI services to our neighbors who need them most. If you want to learn more about available services or need help finding testing, prevention, or treatment options, call RHHD at 804-205-3501.