In 1970, a small community clinic opened – in conjunction with the free university movement and patterned after similar efforts in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood – in Richmond’s historic Fan District. Health Brigade, formerly Fan Free Clinic, became the first free clinic in the Commonwealth of Virginia.In the 1970s, we championed women’s access to oral contraceptives, providing safe birth control in the light of day. We wore arm bands identifying us as medical personnel when we went into street protests to provide first aid. We provided primary care to the poor and uninsured.In the 1980s, we were early responders to the world’s AIDS pandemic, sending out care teams to support those living — and dying — with AIDS. Volunteers warmly embraced those who had been abandoned by family, friends, the community and society.In the 1990s, as HIV/AIDS became a manageable, chronic disease, we shifted our focus to HIV/AIDS education, prevention, testing and support services. We became known as “the” place where you could obtain services and support if you were infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.We ushered in the new millennium by opening our doors and welcoming the transgender population, a decade before “transgender” had become the mainstream word it is today. And we expanded our free mental health services well before headlines about mass shootings became tragically commonplace.Today, we use an integrated person-centered care model, offering coordinated services for a healthy mind, body and spirit because we believe that EVERYONE, especially those least served, deserve quality care.Indeed, throughout our history, we have run TOWARD tough health issues of the day when others retreated. We are fearless. Our willingness to take immediate action when faced with a crisis is reminiscent of historic “bucket chains,” where community members rushed to line up and pass water buckets to quell a raging, seemingly unstoppable fire.Simply put, “health” is what we do and “brigade” is how we do it.
FAN FREE CLINIC, BORN IN A REVOLUTION
In 2020, Health Brigade celebrated 50 years of serving the community. To really appreciate the legacy of Fan Free Clinic and how it grew into Health Brigade, it is helpful to take a glimpse of the culture from which it sprang. In the era of Woodstock…of peace and love and Vietnam…two doctors, a nurse and a minister began an effort to serve those who lived mostly in the shadows of Richmond’s inner city–the poor, the sick and the forgotten. This is what became of their dream.