Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Visit to PPLA: Planned Parenthood Does More Than You Ever Knew

 by Leadfoot

Because of the volunteer work we have done promoting the Power Pom, Bella and I were recently invited to tour Planned Parenthood Los Angeles (PPLA).

For some reason, it never occurred to me just how eye-opening this experience would be for a 14-year-old. However, the questions she asked during the tour opened my eyes to just how much of her innocence is left, and how important it is to discuss women’s health issues with our daughters, as early as possible. It has been 6 days since the tour, and she still hasn’t stopped talking about it. Below is a re-telling of our experience.

Private Tour

We drove downtown and easily found the PPLA headquarters building, which is large, bright and modern. The building has two sides, one for the clinic and one for the business entrance.
We went into the office building side through an open door, met up with my friend and her 12-year-old daughter Sophie (creator of the Power Pom), and were introduced to the Director of Development, who would lead our private tour. (For security reasons we will call her W. B.)

W. B. explained that PPLA had purchased this building, an old garment factory, a few years back, and converted it into their headquarters. It houses operations staff for all Planned Parenthood clinics in Los Angeles County. This part of the building was designed to be open and provide easy access for the community. In case of an emergency, such as an earthquake, they want to function as a community center that can help anyone in need.

After being led down a long hallway, past a big open courtyard, we reached a double door made of very thick glass. W. B. informed us that the glass is bulletproof and bombproof.
Both Bella and Sophie said, in unison, “why?!” My heart sank, as I tried to explain that there have been people who tried to hurt Planned Parenthood employees in the past. An unpleasant conversation ensued about why anyone would want to hurt people who are helpers.


First stop was the IT department, which might sound boring but was quite interesting. PPLA Is the largest chapter in the US, with more than 250,000 patients each year spread over 21 Planned Parenthood health clinics in Los Angeles County. Nineteen of these are full-service clinics, while two are “pants-on” clinics located inside Roosevelt High School and Hollywood High School.

The IT department has a high-tech real-time system to track activity at all these health centers.
On a big screen TV, which refreshes every 5 minutes, W. B. showed us that there had been 784 visits so far that day, which included 297 walk-ins. Of those 784 visits, 35 were for abortions, 359 were for family planning, and the rest were for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) screenings.

Just think about that for a moment: Crusading Republicans want to prevent 750 people a day from getting birth control for the sake of preventing 35 abortions. Added to that, in their blindness, they are also increasing the chances of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Bella asked if teenagers ever come in without their parents. I had a flashback to myself as a 17- year-old going to Planned Parenthood in Cleveland to get birth control because my parents would kill me if they knew I wanted it.

While I was figuring out how not to bring that up, W. B. graciously explained that most teenagers do come in without their parents. Again, Bella and Sophie looked amazed and said, “Why?!” Internally I was beaming with pride as the other adults explained that not everyone has understanding parents.

Avoiding Traps

Next, we were shown another screen that looked like a giant spider web. It was a live, real-time look at all the networks that connect the 21 clinics electronically, so they can immediately see when something goes down.
We were told that they see cyber attacks as a huge risk, and most likely the next likely method of attack – so all records are electronic, backed up nightly, and back-up servers are kept in a secure location in Nevada.

We left IT and visited the operations center, where we learned about the clinics themselves. Protesters in other states have tried to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics with TRAP laws (Targeted Restrictions of Abortion Providers).

This means that any clinic that performs abortions is held to much higher standards than any other health clinic. They have to have hallways wide enough that a stretcher can turn a corner in one try. They have to have certain lighting and ventilation, etc. Basically, they make it cost prohibitive to retrofit your clinic, so instead, you just stop providing abortions.
California has never had TRAP laws, but PPLA builds all new clinics to TRAP standards anyway, just in case.

When it came to Republican attempts to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, W. B. pointed out:
"Defunding is a bit of a misnomer. Just like hospitals and urgent care clinics, we receive reimbursement for the care we provide to low-income people who qualify for Medicaid. Efforts to 'defund' Planned Parenthood focus on barring us from participating in Medicaid. This would mean millions of people could no longer access care at Planned Parenthood health centers. Eighty percent of PPLA's patients depend on Medicaid for their health care. If we cannot serve those patients, most of them will have nowhere else to go."

Vital Services 

Then we were led to the call center, which fields 2,000-3,000 calls every day. They explained that teens always get priority,
“because sometimes a teen only has 3 minutes to sneak in a call while Mom is in the shower. If you put them on hold, they will lose their nerve and hang up.” 
Bella looked at me with wide eyes.

Apparently, she was still thinking about all those teens who can’t bring their parents, because she said, “do teens get free services?” W. B. explained that indeed they do. Planned Parenthood doesn’t get a big bucket of money from the government each year, she explained. They get reimbursements from Medicaid for each service provided. (Federal dollars do not pay for abortions, however. Those are paid for using donations or private insurance.)

Next, we met the Education Department heads, who told us about the programs they run in LA schools. They go into health classes and provide seminars on birth control options, STIs, etc. They train peer advocates (70 schools in LA have them), so that students can reach out to a peer at any time with questions.

Finally, it was time to leave the office building and go visit the clinic. To get there, we had to pass that giant courtyard again. W. B. explained that they wanted “to bring nature in” when they built the building, but because the entire building has to be bullet and bombproof, they couldn’t have an open, park-like area. 

So even though it cost extra, they asked that the architects create a completely enclosed courtyard in the center of the building, full of trees, vines, and flowers. 8 picnic tables provide a place for employees to eat lunch in the sunshine. The walls inside are lined with letters from people who have been helped by PPLA. They brought tears to my eyes.

In the clinic, we learned quite a few things that I had never heard before. For the first time this year, PPLA is now offering prenatal care for those who chose to keep their babies. They offer services to males such as STI testing and vasectomies. They offer cancer screenings and flu shots to anyone in the community who wants them. And most importantly, they are a one-stop shop. Teenagers don’t have time (or cars, or money) to take a prescription to CVS. So they leave PPLA health clinics with a 12-month supply of birth control in hand.

Our tour had come to an end, and we all felt surprised. We knew going in how important Planned Parenthood is to women’s health care. But none of us realized just how many services they provide to the community as a whole, and just how good they are at what they do. I was beyond impressed, inspired, and frustrated, all at the same time.

Bella must have sensed it, because she said, “Mom, can we go get ice cream?” And I smiled because my little girl is still somewhere inside that 14-year old body.

Yes, Bella, we can always get ice cream.

(Note from Nomad: Many thanks to Leadfoot for adding her voice to Nomadic Politics as a contributing blogger. It is very much appreciated. )