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Planned Parenthood Comes to West Oakland!

“With no grocery store or bank in the area, West Oakland is often overlooked to say the least,” said Donna McNichol, manager of the new Planned Parenthood center opening in the area last April.

“We wanted to find out what is the niche, how can we help, because there’s lots of existing community groups that are helping,” explained Donna, “and they said that access to reproductive health care services was one of the most important missing pieces rights now, that there are some great organizations but there’s a delay in getting appointments and things like that.”

According to Donna, the center has been long in the making. Though Planned Parenthood Mar Monte has been collaborating with other local organizations for years, this is the first time they maintained a separate presence in west Oakland, and they wanted to get it right.

Looking around the center, it was clear that much time and effort have been invested in the site and equipment—from their high-tech colposcopy machines that required a special collaboration to be made accessible to the carefully picked staff to the strategic location just down the street from the West Oakland BART Station.

Unlike other centers with similar services, the new Planned Parenthood center focuses on birth control as a part of a life plan, said Donna, helping patients assess various birth control methods and decide which are most suitable for their long-term plans—be they birth control pills or one of several LARC (long-acting reversible contraceptives) options like patches or IUCs.

But don’t be fooled by services that seem geared toward women! The center is open 20 hours a week to serve the community as a whole, Donna assured me, offering HIV and STI testing and health counseling for men as well and hoping to launch their trans-inclusive services and expand their hours soon. As part of the county grant project for opt-out HIV testing, the center encourages all individuals to learn their HIV status through a quick 5 to 10 minute preliminary test regardless of their lifestyle or sexual profile. They expect a high turnout in the upcoming months.

But how will patients pay for these services? Financial compensation is clearly a concern in a community consisting of mainly low-income families.

“The center operates on a sliding scale,” explained Donna, charging patients based on factors like income, family size, and insurance coverage to ensure the affordability of these health services.

“And it’s all completely private,” said Donna, explaining that patient records are kept entirely confidential, even from a partner or family member, unless otherwise authorized by the patient, which may be a concern for many minors in particular.

Yet the services of Planned Parenthood extend past the center as well. As Lupe Rodriguez, the Director of Public Affairs, demonstrated, there’s also much politics involved in this effort to make a positive impact.

For example, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte was one of the main supporters of AB 1248, which passed into law earlier this year, allowing registered nurses to provide birth control services previously limited to medical practitioners only. This improves access to health services for people living in remote areas where the number of medical personnel is more limited, explained Donna.

The center also rallied behind SB 640 to prevent further cuts to reimbursement rates of insurance companies, which would have forced Planned Parenthood to reduce their services. In addition, Lupe was excited to announce that the Safe and Early Access Bill, their most recent endeavor, is currently passing through the state senate. The bill will increase access to abortion services by allowing trained mid-level clinicians (nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants, and certified midwives) to provide aspiration abortion, yet another service that had been previously limited to physicians. The center had worked tirelessly for 6 years in collaboration with UCSF to research the efficiency of such a measure before deciding to support it.

“It’s all connected,” remarked Donna, who had started as a volunteer herself, explaining Planned Parenthood’s commitment to enacting change through various approaches. The organization has even recently contracted with the Oakland Unified School District to provide sexual health education to local middle schools, attesting to their reliability.

“We’re just excited to be in the community,” declared Lupe with a smile to Donna’s approving nods, “Come one, come all!”

The Planned Parenthood Mar Monte health center in West Oakland (not to be mistaken with the West Oakland Health Center) is open and more than happy to serve the community. To get more information or to make an appointment, visit their website or call 1 (877) 855-7526.

The center is located at 1682 7th Street, Oakland, CA 94607, and is tentatively open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 am to 4 pm as well as on Saturdays from 10 am to 2 pm until more hours are made possible.

Article by Amy Mostafa

Feature Image Source: Wikipedia