Since its founding in 1916, Planned Parenthood Federation of America has focused on providing reproductive health care to low-income and underserved women. Changes at the national level, however, reportedly have raised some concern about what direction the organization is headed and what that means for the low-income women who were its original focus.
Last spring, for example, the national federation dropped its previous mission statement, which stressed "reproductive self-determination" for all individuals no matter their income. The organization is also moving toward attracting more affluent patients through the construction of upscale health centers, such as a 75,000-square-foot facility planned for Houston.
But at Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma, Executive Director Anita Fream said her organization's mission remains the same.
"Our mission remains to provide high-quality, low-cost and confidential reproductive healthcare services and sexuality education and advocate public policies guaranteeing access to these services," Fream said.
Planned Parenthood's national affiliates were involved in extensive dialogue prior to the decision to re-brand and extend its reach, Fream said.
"We've known for some time that the health care environment was changing. Our sense was that we needed to be flexible and adapt to the health care environment," Fream said.
While PPCO recently upgraded its Edmond clinic "to improve safety and create a more professional atmosphere," Fream said, there are no major building campaigns planned for Central Oklahoma's Planned Parenthood.
Those changes don't hinder the organization's mission to provide accessible health care, Fream said. The new direction is part of a vision statement created for the national organization's 2008 to 2011 plan of action, she said; the vision statement emphasizes "being the nation's most trusted provider of sexual and reproductive health care." Fream has said Planned Parenthood reduces the need for abortions and advances the ability for women to make informed choices for themselves.
Planned Parenthood's re-branding efforts were reported in a June Wall Street Journal article, which also interviewed independent abortion providers who expressed concern that the organization was adopting too much of a business approach or leaving poor women behind. There's also been concern that, in its effort to reach a broader group of clients, the organization is placing less emphasis on affordability and access. But Fream said that's still a priority.
"I would definitely interpret our mission to stress affordability and accessibility. That's still there for us and our clients," she said.
The changes come as some members of Congress begin discussing eliminating taxpayer funding to the organization. If that were to happen, it would likely have little effect on the ability of Central Oklahoma's Planned Parenthood to operate.
"Each Planned Parenthood affiliate is separately incorporated, and funding is not identical for all affiliates," Fream said. "For example, PPCO receives no federal or state funding for family planning, so there will be minimal local impact."
PPCO uses multiple streams of funding to support its services, Fream said, and one of the biggest challenges today's Planned Parenthood faces is maintaining affordability and accessibility as health care costs continue to rise. Nationally, there are more than 17 million low-income women who need subsidized family planning services, she added.
Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma formed in 1937 and saw 985 patients by the end of its second year. It now serves more than 8,400 patients annually.
At PPCO, the typical client hasn't changed much: The clinics still serve low-income, young women, Fream said.
"Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma's most commonly seen client is a young woman in her late teens or early 20s. She works, but her job either provides no health insurance or it doesn't cover contraception. So she's paying for her reproductive health care with cash," she said. "One change we have seen in the past few years is an increase in our Medicaid clients."
The organization is also seeing greater variety in how people pay for services, specifically an increase in the use of private insurance, Fream said.
The decision to appeal to a wider range of groups is nothing new. In fact, Fream said the organization has always tried to reach out to anyone who could benefit from its help.
"We have always tried to engage with groups outside our primary client market. For example, we do provide male services, including testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and vasectomies," Fream said. "And we welcome women of all income levels and ages if our services would be of use to them."
While the public doesn't always understand the role Planned Parenthood plays, Fream feels the organization's patients still know what to expect.
"Sometimes we hear misconceptions about Planned Parenthood " what we do and how we operate. This does not seem to change much over time," Fream said. "But our clients know us best. They know we are determined to bring health care to communities that need greater access to services like contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings, disease prevention and treatment and sex education." "Lea Terry