Daily Planet builds strategies for homeless healthcare delivery during COVID-19

Daily Planet Health Services’ mission — to provide accessible, comprehensive and integrated quality health services to anyone, regardless of their housing, financial or insurance status — has found new urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of their clients are experiencing homelessness, which presents unique challenges to administering care during this health crisis and preventing outbreaks at homeless shelters continues to be a top priority. 

“The thing about COVID is that we have no outpatient treatment available. The only thing we have is prevention,” said Dr. Patricia Cook, Chief Medical Officer of the Daily Planet. “It’s so important to make sure people get tested when they need it, and it’s just as important for people to be able to self-isolate until those test results come back and then stay in isolation if they’re positive.”

As the pandemic reached Central Virginia, the Clinic was able to quickly establish a COVID-19 assessment center located inside a recently purchased building adjacent to the West Grace Health Clinic. “We know that many of our patients don’t have cars, so a drive-thru screening service wasn’t going to work,” Cook said. If someone experiencing homelessness begins showing symptoms of the illness, they can come to this Center to be tested for COVID-19 and then placed in a hotel for isolation until the test results come back. From there, staff can determine if it is safe for them to return to shelter. 

This testing site launched on March 16, just a few days after Governor Northam declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic. Current Daily Planet patients, individuals without health insurance, and people who work with homeless populations can also get tested at this facility. To date, the assessment center has tested over 2,700 people. 

Daily Planet has also harnessed their partnership with the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care — an umbrella organization administered by the homeless services systems coordinator Homeward — to establish new best practices for shelters in Greater Richmond. New protocols include shelters staying open all day to help clients limit exposure; spreading out and reorienting beds to observe social distancing; and staggering mealtimes or spacing out seating to avoid large group meals. In March, a high-risk shelter for patients with chronic health conditions was also set up temporarily inside of a Boys & Girls Club facility that had closed due to the pandemic. 

By building relationships with local hospitals, Daily Planet has also been able to coordinate hotel stays for people who have gone to the emergency room for COVID-19 and need somewhere to self-isolate after their visit.

“Through this process, we have managed to house many unsheltered people during the duration of their COVID-19 isolations, which helps us treat people without housing when they become sick and protect existing shelters to keep them COVID-free at the same time,” Cook said. “We’re so grateful for the strong partnerships we have formed with organizations across Richmond, which allow us to all coordinate our efforts to keep residents healthy and safe.”