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The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated communities across Illinois and caused anguish for residents, and it has also highlighted—and worsened—inequalities statewide. Last week, Planned Parenthood of Illinois (PPIL) hosted an important panel discussion to address how nonprofits can work together to build a more equitable future after COVID-19. (If you missed the event, you can watch it here.)

I was honored to be joined on the panel by nonprofit leaders Alexa James from NAMI Chicago, Erin Walton from Resilience and Karina Ayela-Bemejos from Instituo del Progreso Latino. The event was moderated by WBEZ-FM’s Natalie Moore.

Below are some highlights from the conversation.

How we have responded to the COVID-19 crisis

Planned Parenthood of Illinois recognizes that this pandemic affects different people in different ways and at different times. From the beginning, our team took quick steps to ensure both staff and patients are safe because we know that sexual and reproductive health care can’t wait. In fact, in a time of crisis, research shows patients may need these services even more. PPIL is committed to providing ongoing essential health care services, including birth control, sexually-transmitted infection testing and treatment, and safe, legal abortion. We have taken a number of steps to keep both everyone safe, while also increasing access to care through new services like telehealth.

How we are building a more equitable future for Illinois

One of PPIL’s core values is equity—a value we challenge ourselves to uphold every day in our policies and practices. Illinois is uniquely poised to be a state that works for all of its residents, across race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, culture, income, and geography. PPIL routinely partners with other safety net providers and nonprofit organizations to push the State of Illinois to do more. 

Moving forward, we must:

  1. Ensure people with low incomes have access to health care by fulling funding Medicaid and other programs for the under/uninsured, like family planning;

  2. Preserve intact safety-net health care programs, like the programs under the Office of Women's Health​;

  3. Support essential health care providers so that people can get the services they need. Nonprofit safety net health care providers like Planned Parenthood have faced significant federal cutbacks, like the loss of Title X funding, and are still recovering from the Illinois budget crisis under the Rauner administration.

Everyone can send a message to state legislators that the Illinois safety net must be protected. On Wednesday, May 6, PPIL is holding a Virtual Lobby Day. State funding for essential health care could be threatened as tough decisions are made about the state budget under COVID-19. Sign up today to take action with other Planned Parenthood supporters.

What gives us hope for the future

My team gives me hope. PPIL’s staff are the core of everything Planned Parenthood does. They continue to show up for patients in every way possible. Whether providing in-person care or pivoting to expand services through telehealth, I am awed by their commitment to our patients and our mission throughout this crisis.

Our supporters also give me hope. We’re doing all we can to stay in touch with our supporters and volunteers. They are a big part of why our doors are still open, despite the current challenges. Thank you for standing with Planned Parenthood today and in the months and years ahead. We need you and we are so thankful for your ongoing commitment.

If you want to support PPIL now, we invite you to join us on Tuesday May 5th for #GivingTuesdayNow, a new campaign to help nonprofits weather this crisis. I hope you’ll consider making a gift to PPIL, so we can continue to provide essential health care to our patients—no matter what.

Jennifer Welch is the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois.

Tags: covid, care, nonprofit, GivingTuesday, future, illinois, covid-19, Health_care_access, equity, Health Equity, Title X, healthcare, telehealth