When I visited Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, I knew I would be visiting our largest affiliate (whose call center takes one million calls a year!). But I didn’t yet know that CEO Stacy Cross and her team have become leading innovators in providing whole-person care, with a deep understanding of the factors that affect health — even outside of what happens in the doctor’s office.
PPMM has been providing comprehensive primary care for more than 25 years, serving patients from “newborns to 100+ years,” PPMM Chief Medical Officer Dr. Laura Dalton explained. More than 15,000 patients a year turn to PPMM for primary care services, ranging from newborn visits to geriatric care, and including the treatment of complex medical issues and chronic diseases.
The care model PPMM utilizes is one that builds trust among patients and efficiency for all involved. Each primary care provider works with a support staff team, so a patient sees the same team each visit. When support staff call patients to remind them of their appointments, they also offer pre-visit planning - letting patients know what to expect, checking in on their health and care plans, asking if they need referrals during the visit, and asking the patient what they would like to get out of the appointment.
PPMM is now offering integrated behavioral health at three of their health centers, with the goal of offering it at six health centers in the next few months. If a provider screens a patient for depression, anxiety, or something else, they are able to refer them directly to a counselor within the health center and introduce the patient and counselor on the spot. “We started offering mental health therapy right in our health centers because we found that if we give people a referral and they walk out the door, the likelihood of them going to get that service greatly diminishes,” Stacy said. “I think it’s vital we do this and I think it’s something we should be looking at all across the country.” Last year, PPMM saw 26,000 behavioral health visits for depression, anxiety, and other behavioral health issues, including more significant health disorders.
Perhaps even more important than PPMM offering services such as primary care and mental health services, among many others, is the fact that they provide this care with a deep understanding of the social determinants of health. Housing security is a major issue in California, and for many of PPMM’s patients. “If we have a family who struggles with housing, they may live out of their car, or rent one small room for an entire family,” Dr. Dalton told me. She said family members may work in fast food, so that’s what they eat because they may get it for free and they might not have access to a kitchen. “You have to keep these things in mind when providing care. It’s meaningless for me to educate people on how to cook fresh, healthy meals when they don’t have access to a kitchen. When we’re really going to take care of a person, we need to listen, understand, and not have a set script.” That’s why PPMM offers patients a tool kit of sorts — offering resources for housing, food, child care, and more. Staff members can tailor a kit based on the needs of a patient and their family.
I had the opportunity to meet with many PPMM staff members and hear about their amazing programs: Teen Success, a program for pregnant and parenting young women, ages 14-19, who have not yet graduated from high school or received a GED; the PPMM lab, where gonorrhea and chlamydia tests are processed for 25 health centers across the state; their patient portal, which allows patients to receive their STI test results on a secure online platform; their ability to provide aspiration abortion during family planning days; colposcopy services; infertility services; and so much more. One staff member told me a teenage couple came to PPMM after being discharged from the hospital with their newborn and without a car seat. Because of PPMM’s wide range of services, they were able to provide care to the family, talk about breastfeeding and contraception, and send the family home with a car seat.
When I asked the PPMM team what a good day looked like for them, one of the providers responded, “A good day is when a patient comes in, and no matter what they need — a medication abortion, an annual check-up, a behavioral health session, birth control — I’m able to help them with it, and they’re able to go back to their lives, their jobs, and their families.”
Stacy and her team know that our patients don’t just come to a health center with one need. We come with all of who we are. PPMM is such an incredible model for what health care can and should look like.