The region covering Ontario and surrounding counties sees more than 30,000 patients annually
More than 30,000 patients a year rely on Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York, which includes men and women in Ontario and surrounding counties. More than half are people living in poverty with Planned Parenthood their only primary care provider, according to the organization targeted to lose federal funding.
If the plan in Washington to defund Planned Parenthood goes through, “a huge number of people will be at risk,” said Michelle Casey, president and CEO for the PPCWNY.
Though abortion services lie at the center of the push to defund the nonprofit, abortions comprise just 3 percent of all Planned Parenthood provides. The majority of services involve birth control and emergency contraception, breast exams, gynecological care, HIV testing and counseling, pregnancy testing and options counseling, testing and treatment of sexually-transmitted infections, and men’s health services. Casey said Planned Parenthood checks patients for a wide variety of conditions that touch everything from high blood pressure to mental health and substance abuse. The organization also has care coordinators who help patients access services not provided by Planned Parenthood through referrals, she said.
Casey said the emphasis is on prevention through “well-rounded care.” That includes providing people with the safest and most effective contraception to avoid unintended pregnancies. Because more than half of Planned Parenthood patients are at or below the poverty level, this contraception goes to people who could not otherwise afford it, she said.
Statistics from the New England Journal of Medicine shed light on the correlation between access to highly effective contraceptive methods and a drop in unintended pregnancies and abortions. Women’s use of “long-acting reversible contraceptives” (LARCs) tripled between 2007 and 2012, from 3.7 percent of all contraceptive users to 11.6 percent, according to the NEJM. Meanwhile, the rate of unintended pregnancy fell 18 percent between 2008 and 2011, reaching its lowest level in at least three decades. As a result of fewer unintended pregnancies, the rates of both abortion and unplanned birth fell substantially over the period, by 13 percent and 18 percent respectively.
Casey said if funding is pulled for Planned Parenthood it will create a crisis for people most in need. The defunding would happen in stages, she said. The first stage would deny patients the ability to pay for Planned Parenthood services using Medicaid, the government program for low-income people.
“The communities we operate in don’t have the capacity to take this on,” added Casey, who was chief program officer for Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency before being named PPCWNY president and CEO in September. Her experience in management, leadership, administration and teaching has included positions at University of Rochester Medical Center, the Monroe County Department of Public Health, and PathStone and DePaul Community Services.
Casey said it is already difficult for Medicaid patients to find providers or be seen in a timely fashion. In some areas of the region Medicaid patients must wait several months to see a provider, she said.
Casey added that if government funding is pulled, she believes Planning Parenthood will stay open. “But I don’t want to paint a rosy picture,” she said. If that happens, “we’d have fewer centers and see a lot fewer people,” she said.
Currently with permanent sites in six counties including Ontario and Monroe, PPCWYN also has a mobile unit that reaches 18 counties.
Since Casey came on board, PPCWNY celebrated a milestone in a fundraising campaign to raise $7 million for the first facility upgrade in 25 years for two of its busiest health centers in Syracuse and Rochester. Casey said with the move now to defund Planned Parenthood the campaign is moving in a new direction to help with other expenses as well.
Dr. Rachael Phelps is medical director for PPCWNY. In a release announcing most of the $7 million had been reached for the facilities upgrades, she stated the significance in keeping Planned Parenthood strong.
“Women with money have always been able to access the health care they need,” stated Phelps. “Everyone deserves that access – no matter who they are or how much money they make.”
On Saturday, Jan. 21, supporters of Planned Parenthood will be among those participating in events across the nation that coincide with the Women’s March on Washington. A People’s Solidarity Rally will take place that day in downtown Rochester and also at the Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls. A Day of Action to voice support for Planned Parenthood will take place Jan. 30 in Albany.
By the numbers
65% Patients at or below federal poverty level
60% Patients using Planned Parenthood as primary source of care
36,000 Reproductive healthcare visits, 2014
SOURCE: Planned Parenthood of Western and Central New York