Family planning

Funding shortage hits local clinic

Ski clubs hold bake sales. So do Future Farmers and the Young Republicans. But Planned Parenthood?

“Yes, the idea of a bake sale seems crazy,” agreed Chris Lee, vice president for public policy and advocacy for the Planned Parenthood Shasta-Diablo, which represents much of Northern California. “However, we were trying to highlight the fact that Planned Parenthood will do whatever we need to keep our doors open.”

Last month, staff of the Chico Planned Parenthood center on Vallombrosa staged a mock bake sale to bring community awareness and support to the organization, which they say is barely keeping its head above water.

It seemed to work. Many people were concerned that their access to reproductive health care there might be halted.

“A lot of people were concerned that they would not be able to afford things like birth control or pregnancy testing,” said Luanne Ciccone, the center’s director.

While the cookies didn’t do much to help Planned Parenthood meet its payroll, many people did fill out cards to send to state legislators asking for increased funding.

In the past 20 years, the Medi-Cal rates that determine how much Planned Parenthood is reimbursed for many of the services it and other community clinics perform have gone up only once, while health-care costs have ballooned by 300 percent.

“You can’t perform a procedure for $87 when the entire cost is about $2,000. Clearly the economics are out of whack,” said Lee.

The need for funding is felt throughout the state, but Chico has seen first-hand what a toll this takes on patients and providers.

The small waiting room of the local clinic is filled with patients seated in colorful chairs awaiting services ranging from STD testing and cancer screenings to contraception and family-planning educational services. Unfortunately, there is not nearly enough space to provide care to all those who need it, so a few “express sites,” such as an office on Rio Lindo, have been opened to broaden the clinic’s reach.

Providers are even sent to offices in Paradise, Gridley and Willows to serve patients who have no other access to care. Ciccone says her staff of 22 is responsible for 1,300-1,500 patient visits a month.

“Chico is a growing population with growing health-care needs, but our lack of funding keeps us from expanding our staff and services to meet these needs,” she said.

In 2004 the clinic had to give up prenatal care altogether, leaving expectant mothers and families to find their own means of educational and medical services. Statewide, about 10,000 patients a month are turned away because of a lack of staffing. And many clinicians are lost to organizations like Kaiser and Sutter because they pay better.

Tight fiscal times are a real threat to these safety-net providers, but when funding is invested right, the payback is big.

“For every dollar the state spends on family planning, California taxpayers save an additional $5.33 in future medical and social-service costs associated with unintended pregnancy up to five years after birth,” said Lee.

Besides, even a small investment by the state produces a large return from the federal government: $9 in matching funds for every dollar spent by the state.

Because state budget decisions are already taking place, there is little chance that increasing provider rates will be considered for 2008. The issue would need Republican support, which has been denied frequently.

“It would be impossible just to get into the discussion at this point,” said Alicia Trost, press secretary for Don Perata, president pro-tem of the state Senate. “However, Sen. Perata is sympathetic to the problem and will address it further in the future.”

Although Ciccone will not receive the funding her clinic needs in the near future, she and her staff will continue to raise awareness locally of their problem. In the next few months, expect to see booths set up at the Thursday night farmers market, where people can get information on services and get politically involved, if only to fill out a card.

Ciccone hopes one day the clinic can offer prenatal services again and begin utilizing programs such as rapid HIV testing. Until then, she and her staff will do what they can to keep Planned Parenthood’s door open, even if it means selling a few cookies.