For my first official affiliate visit, President and CEO Bryan Howard graciously hosted me at Planned Parenthood Arizona (PPAZ) and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.
I kicked off my visit by speaking with the grassroots organizers from Raiz and PP Generation Action, who are on the frontlines of advocating for reproductive rights. Together, we celebrated the fact that Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema and several other pro-reproductive health representatives are headed to Congress from Arizona. We are thrilled to have a Planned Parenthood alum, Raquel Teran heading to the Arizona House of Representatives.
I was especially impressed by the work of Raiz to mobilize and serve the Latinx community around issues that affect health and justice. One of the Raiz organizers told me that she was dedicated to knocking on doors with Planned Parenthood to advocate for reproductive health and rights after the 2016 election because she knew that Planned Parenthood would fight for her people. Another young woman, Jordan Iglesias, spoke about the importance of breaking the abortion stigma among the Latinx community. She shared that Planned Parenthood saved her life in college because it offered free access to healthcare.
I also shared my story of immigration with the group. I left China just before my eighth birthday, and my parents did everything they could to provide for us, including seeking out Medicaid, food stamps, and other services. If my family were immigrants today, it’s hard to think about the kinds of decisions that we would have been forced to make because of the Trump administration’s public charge rule. No one should be forced to make difficult decisions between food and electricity or healthcare and a green card.
In my discussion with the organizers, I was inspired by how these passionate young people took their anger (rightfully borne from policies that single out sexual and reproductive health and stigmatize our needs), and channeled it into action—into spreading knowledge about health care, advocating for their patients’ rights, and helping others. Catherine Corbett, President of the PPGen Action Chapter at Arizona State University, told me, “I wanted to find my voice and Planned Parenthood helped me to do that. I started volunteering with PPGen because I wanted to help other women find their voice.” It was great to see young people educating and rallying others on their campuses.
I also spoke with the patient escorts and advocates that support patients at PPAZ. Patient advocate Serena Knierim said, “We’re out there when it’s 118 [degrees]. It’s what we do, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” The dedication of these staff members to helping patients receive the care that they need was truly inspirational. I am so grateful for the members of our Planned Parenthood family that are out on the frontlines every single day in service to their patients.
As part of my visit, I also participated in a public health roundtable, which was hosted by Arizona Public Health Association Executive Director Will Humble and included representatives from the Arizona Women’s Foundation, Children’s Action Alliance, and the Arizona Family Health Partnership. We talked about the importance of advocating for “what works” in the face of relentless attacks like the Trump administration’s public charge rule. A representative from the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, told us that at a health center down the street, there was a 50% decrease in people coming for services after the public charge rule was proposed. Especially in Arizona, the rule has severely impacted families and limited their access to services. We also spoke about the importance of mental health services and the importance of recognizing mental illnesses as diseases that require treatment, and the intersection of sexual and reproductive health with all aspects of public health.
As I visit affiliates around the country, I want to bring together public health leaders, including our affiliate CEOs, to exchange ideas and discuss ways that we can work together to improve health outcomes and reduce health disparities. Our roundtable in Arizona was an incredible success, and I look forward to similar convenings with other affiliates.
Finally, I had the privilege of meeting PPAZ’s incredible administrative and clinical staff, as well as affiliate board members. The affiliate is opening a new health center in December to serve an increasing number of patients. It marks the conclusion of a multi-year strategy to build modern, efficient, sustainable health centers. With the opening of the new Desert Sky location on Phoenix’ west side, every Planned Parenthood health center in Arizona will be less than a decade old.
Connecting with affiliate and health center staff, and patients takes me back to my roots as a physician and frontline provider. My visit further affirmed my vision for Planned Parenthood—a shared vision that our affiliates are so committed to—to provide, protect, and expand our health care, our education, our advocacy, and our impact.