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My trip to visit Planned Parenthood of Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley was a true homecoming — I had the opportunity to visit the health center where I was first a Planned Parenthood patient, 20 years ago. People have asked what it was like to visit it so many years later, and the truth is, I wouldn’t be able to tell you if the health center looked any different — if the walls were a different color, or if the waiting room was in a totally different area. All I can remember of going there as a young person was how scared I was. I was so terrified that when I saw some pamphlets in the waiting area I thought, “I’ll just take some of those and then leave,” but then I was called back to speak with a nurse practitioner. And she spoke to me with respect, without judgement. I remember leaving the Pasadena health center, after receiving birth control and information, feeling cared for. That is still clearly how the health center and PPPSGV is making thousands of other people feel. I was so lucky to witness empathetic health care professionals in action as PPPSGV President and CEO Sheri Bonner showed me around the health center and introduced me to her compassionate, talented team.

“We have done extensive quality work in our health centers through a team-centered patient care approach,” Sheri said. This ensures that all patients who come in for services such as contraception, well-person exams, HIV prevention (PrEP and PEP), and STI testing or treatment are in and out of the health center in an hour or less on average, she added. Approaches to care like this help PPPSGV be the provider of choice, not the provider of last resort, and I got to hear a lot about it during my chance to meet health center staff.

PPPSGV’s Pasadena health center may have been the same health center I received care at years ago, but over the years PPPSGV has greatly expanded their services, physical locations, and partnerships, all based off of the needs of the communities they serve.

Sheri and her team have been very deliberate about how they are expanding. They have conducted feasibility studies to understand the greatest unmet needs, and what’s needed to meet them. Then, they work to build the right infrastructure to support any new services.  “For 60% of our patients, we are their only source of health care,” Sheri told me. In their initial research, PPPSGV identified mental health as one of the biggest unmet needs of patients in the communities they serve. Later this year, they hope to begin offering mental health services and plan to implement mental health screenings into family planning visits and provide linkages to care through partnerships with LA County and local mental health providers.

PPPSGV now provides transgender care and recently launched a transgender patient navigation program. Once a month, the Pasadena health center also offers mammograms, providing a life-saving service many of their patients may otherwise not be able to access.

PPPSGV’s staff also updated me on their plans to expand the number of their health centers, providing a vital health care resource for underserved communities in their region. This year, they plan on opening two new health centers. In Glendale, there are a shortage of providers who participate in California’s Medicaid program, forcing many patients to delay care or rely on emergency rooms. More than 3,000 Glendale residents travel to other PPPSGV health centers each year for care and 65% Glendale’s adult population has never been tested for STIs or HIV. PPPSGV will open another health center in Baldwin Park, where over 20% of residents are single mothers and 17% of residents are uninsured. And, in 2021 PPPSGV plans to open a health center in Highland Park, which has the highest rates of HIV in PPPSGV’s service area. Twenty percent of Highland Park’s residents are non-citizen immigrants, a population we know is consistently left out of the health care system.

We at Planned Parenthood know the importance of partnerships – our partnerships within the health care system, all levels of government, corporations, and more are key to ensuring we provide high quality health care services to our patients, as well as advocate on behalf of them. PPPSGV also understands how critical partnerships can be, providing transportation to and from treatment appointments for patients with breast cancer, through a corporate Lyft account. They have a new partnership with Foothill Unity Center, an organization that provides food, case management services and access to health care resources. At two of the Foothill Unity Center sites, PPPSGV staff provides sexual and reproductive health education and outreach on food distribution days. PPPSGV partners with City of Hope, to provide mammograms and cancer prevention activities to monolingual Spanish speakers. And finally, PPPSGV has partnered with the LA County and Pasadena Departments of Health to fight the growing STI crisis in LA County. The health departments now refer patients with syphilis to PPPSGV for treatment. PPPSGV is the only syphilis treatment provider in the San Gabriel Valley.

During my time with staff, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Noah Nattell, PPPSGV’s Medical Director, who told me a story about a patient who was about to undergo an abortion procedure.  She looked around the room and asked , “Have any of you been here before?” She meant ‘have any of you had this experience?’ PPPSGV’s staff see themselves as partners with their patients. As part of the abortion care PPPSGV is proud to provide, patients have the option of working with a patient advocate, like Valerie who I had the chance to meet while I was at the Pasadena Health Center. Valerie and the other patient advocates’ primary role is to ensure the patient has the support they need, every step of the way. As doctors and health care professionals, we can learn procedures, but it’s equally important to provide the emotional and mental support our patients need so they can make the best decisions for themselves, and have the best experience possible.

Towards the end of my visit, I had the pleasure of meeting many of the people who help us keep our doors open and provide such high-quality care, day after day.

Near the end of my Pasadena health center tour, unprompted, a patient walked up to us and said, “This is the best Planned Parenthood I have ever been to. I always have a good experience.” Even though we are confident that we provide compassionate, comprehensive, and life-saving care, hearing it directly from a patient’s mouth was moving — so moving I teared up!

I am grateful to Sheri for hosting a public health roundtable, where we were joined by representatives from the LA County Department of Health Services, the Pasadena Public Health Department, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, the City of Hope, and Latinx LGBT Task Force. As one can imagine, much of the conversation focused on STIs. California is seeing the rates of congenital syphilis rise at a rate much higher than the national average. PPPSGV, as well as other California affiliates, are playing an integral role in collecting data, screening and treating patients. This roundtable, as other roundtables across the country have, provided a fantastic opportunity to learn how we can continue to expand our partnerships with public health and community organizations. I was so proud to hear Los Angeles Department of Public Health Deputy Director Dr. Deborah Allen say, “Planned Parenthood is not a partner of public health. They are an integral part of the public health system.”

Towards the end of my visit, I had the pleasure of meeting many of the people who help us keep our doors open and provide such high-quality care, day after day.

Throughout my visit, I was impressed and inspired by PPPSGV’s areas of expansion, in service of ensuring that their patient communities could access the health care services and education they need. PPPSGV’s Office of the President and Business Development Manager Christian Port, MPA, said it best. “We realized that PPPSGV serves as a lighthouse to the community,” he said. “No matter where it is located, the purpose of a lighthouse is always the same: to provide a beacon of light and guide people safely on their way. People may come to us at a specific moment in time in their life or for a specific reason, but it is our imperative to ensure that we are able to guide them to get the other types of services, care, or education that they might need.”

Thank you to PPPSGV for being my lighthouse twenty years ago, and for continuing to serve as a beacon of light to your patients today.

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