Planned Parenthood Arizona is shifting its focus in Yuma County from health care delivery to advocacy and education.
The organization is closing its health center, located at 1455 W. 16th St., and introducing a regional health education and coordination model, which includes hiring a full-time regional health coordinator.
“We've been talking to health care professionals to best understand unmet needs,” explained Bryan Howard, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona. “We decided in a world that is really evolving in terms of how people get health care and health care information, we really had an obligation and opportunity to better serve.”
While the number of health care resources has grown over the last decade, the county still has a need for sexual health education with emphasis on preventing sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancies, Howard said.
Planned Parenthood has operated a health center in Yuma for two decades, providing annual gynecological exams and preventive birth control, treating sexually transmitted infections and, at one time, early stage abortions which were eliminated by the Arizona Legislature in 2012.
However, gynecological exams are now readily available at local clinics and pharmacies and grocery stores now offer health care products and services. For example, HIV tests can be purchased at stores, conducted at home and mailed in.
“We know there will always be need for Planned Parenthood because of our focus on confidentiality and nonjudgmental health care,” Howard noted. “But it’s not distinct enough. We felt we were not filling a truly unfilled need. We are trying to go to the source of the health challenges, for young people in particular, in partnership with other health care resources.”
The best way to do this is by educating young people, their parents and other community members, Howard said.
“We looked at health care data in Yuma County and found, for example, the teen birth rate in the three western counties in Arizona - Mohave, La Paz and Yuma – is 29 percent higher than the rest of the state,” he said.
“We asked ourselves if we have great health care institutions like Sunset (Community Health Center), Regional Center for Border Health and (Yuma Regional Medical Center) and we’re still seeing challenges in health outcomes, what’s not getting done?
“It had to do with knowledge and values and a community dialogue about prevention. That’s something we had promoted, something that needs to be out in the community. We can’t promote it being inside a building,” Howard added.
The organization will discontinue services at the health center but will continue to have a presence in the community through the regional health coordinator.
“We are moving from health care services sequestered inside a building to a full-time person who is out in the community,” Howard said. “We had a ‘build it and they will come’ orientation. The idea was we can’t do anything for you unless you come to us. We can do more by going out to the people.”
This full-time staff person will provide information and referrals to difficult-to-access sexual health care, foster community partnerships, engage volunteers and activists, give presentations and promote inclusion of sexual education in local school districts. The coordinator will be hired from the community and will work exclusively in the county.
Howard hopes the hiring process is completed in March. Those interested in the position can find additional information at www.ppaz.org.
The health center’s 200 patients will be transitioned to other local providers “with as little interruption in their care as possible,” he added. “We are communicating changes to patients and will work to make the transition as smooth as possible for them.” Patients can call toll-free 855-207-PLAN (7526) or go to www.ppaz.org for more information.
The center had been staffed by one employee, with additional staff brought in for health sessions. The organization is helping the employee “find a new opportunity in the community” and has been encouraged to apply for the new position.
With the new model, Planned Parenthood will have a three-fold focus:
First, it will work to expand access to comprehensive sexual health education by talking directly to leaders in the school districts about teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases in their schools and opportunities to reduce incidents by incorporating a sexual health curriculum.
Planned Parenthood offers a curriculum at no cost and will train all educators and school nurses at no charge, Howard said.
Howard said he personally talked to local teachers and learned that “there is no conversation going on” when it comes to sexual education, “even though young people in the middle school years are already getting into relationships and popular entertainment is exposing them to provocative images.”
Second, Planned Parenthood will facilitate access to hard-to-find sexual and reproductive health services with the on-the-go ability to book health care appointments. For example, the coordinator might be approached by an audience member after a talk requesting a referral. The coordinator would immediately be able to book the appointment at Sunset or RCFBH with a tablet.
The organization will also have funds available to help people connect with needed health care. For example, if certain services are only available outside the county and a woman needs gas money or help with the cost of child care to get there, the organization will help pay her expenses.
Third, it will promote health care education among community organizations and the general population. Planned Parenthood hopes to partner with local groups, including civic and social organizations. Among the topics that can be discussed: how parents can have “the” conversation with their child or what family planning options are available.