The most prevalent issue in the news right now is COVID-19. As a health care organization, Planned Parenthood has made its response to the pandemic a top concern – working to reduce the risk of transmission at our health centers and adapting to the needs of our communities.
We put together a detailed Q&A below to answer your COVID-19 related questions and to keep you informed on what Planned Parenthood is doing as an organization to respond to this current health crisis.
What exactly is COVID-19?
Coronavirus is a family of viruses – this particular strain is new, or ‘novel.’ The disease it causes is called COVID-19, an amalgam of Co and Vi (COronaVIrus) and D (Disease) and the year of initial identification (19). The scientists who name new viruses have proposed: SARS-CoV-2 as the official name of this strain.
COVID-19 is a highly infectious respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The CDC has classified it as a global pandemic due to outbreaks of the virus occurring in several countries around the world. COVID-19 is concerning because the human population has no pre-existing immunity, and it can cause serious health complications such as pneumonia and organ failure. While many people who contract COVID-19 recover fully, people above the age of 65 and others with chronic health conditions are at greater risk to develop complications that can lead to death. Currently there is no vaccine for COVID-19.
The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Wuhan, China in November. On January 21, 2020, the first COVID-19 case was reported in the United States. As of mid-April, COVID-19 has affected 221 countries and territories. In the United States, COVID-19 testing is only conducted in cases of those with the most extreme symptoms making the current numbers of infected persons in the U.S. unknown.
COVID-19 is a serious illness that has not yet been fully researched, as such we have been directed to stay at home and reduce contact with others. Many businesses and industries have been shut down, causing great negative economic impact. We are uncertain, as of yet, when the need to protect ourselves and our loved ones and the risk of overwhelming our hospitals will diminish, and we can return to some of our regular routines again. The current overarching public health goal is to slow the viral spread so as not to overwhelm hospitals, health systems, and the work force.
Is Planned Parenthood still open?
Our doors are open and we are seeing patients. All our 45 health centers within the PPGNHI and PPINK alliance, across six states, have kept their doors open to all who are in need of our services.
Keeping important services, like reproductive health care – including cancer screenings, birth control refills, and abortion services – available to our patients during the COVID-19 outbreak is critical. Many of these services are time sensitive and can’t be delayed.
Has COVID-19 impacted Planned Parenthood?
Absolutely. All six states that our affiliates serve have been impacted by the virus. From the stress and uncertainty of the economic hits this pandemic has caused, to fear and concern for their health and the health of their loved ones; the emotional impact of cancellation of routines, events and social interaction and reduction of essential goods and services has taken a toll on our communities.
We are here for our patients - quickly adapting as health care providers to best serve their needs during this challenging time.
Our staff have been impacted as well. We’ve taken extra measures to ensure they are fully supported and equipped with what they need to best take care of themselves and you while we get through this together.
Are all services still available at Planned Parenthood?
Planned Parenthood delivers vital care, making the services we provide essential. In certain states, our political opponents have decided to take advantage of the pandemic to further their anti-choice agenda and restrict the essential services we provide to the community. We have managed to fight against these attacks. In both Indiana and Alaska, attempts to deem abortion as “non-essential” have not stopped us from providing these services. We are grateful for our public policy team that has vigilantly and proactively worked to keep care available to all our patients.
All services we offer are still a priority, but we are working with patients to determine what procedures they need most to keep everyone healthy.
“We are providing all reproductive health services, while changing our care delivery to minimize direct contact per the CDC guidelines. For patients seeking preventive services, such as an annual wellness visit, we are using shared decision –making with each patient to determine when is the best time to have their care,” said Dr. Kara Cadwallader, Chief Medical Officer of PPGNHI and PPINK. “For patients choosing to delay a visit, we are utilizing a tracking system so we can circle back to provide the care when the risk is reduced.”
Kim Ross, manager of the Puyallup Health Center in Washington, added, “Our staff here have had many doctor and service industry appointments canceled, so they appreciate being here for our patients, even for preventive visits.”
Like our clinicians, you and I know that the availability of health care at this time is vital. Need for reproductive care does not go down during crises like COVID-19 – research says it actually goes up.
Are abortion services at risk of being eliminated as "non-essential?"
PPGNHI and PPINK health centers intend to keep all our services available to patients who need them – including abortion. In fact, despite the pandemic, we have been able to open more access by providing medication and in-clinic abortion care in our Louisville health center.
“Broad spectrum reproductive health, including abortion, is an essential service. Our health centers are busy. We have not closed a single clinic and we’re fighting to keep our doors open everywhere,” stated Dr. Kara Cadwallader.
Any efforts to restrict our patients’ access to abortion services, reproductive health care and general health care during this global pandemic will be fought tooth and nail.
Anti-abortion opponents have taken this opportunity to exploit people’s fears and deem reproductive health care, specifically abortion, to be non-essential, despite the broad range of reasons that people seek care. There are devastating impacts that denying care could have on individuals, families and communities during the time of COVID-19 and the resulting economic hardships. Once again, it seems the anti-choice crowd is more interested in punishing rather than helping its constituents. Time has told in the past that our opponents will exploit any opportunity to go after Planned Parenthood and the availability of reproductive health care, but in the present time, the stakes are high. We are fighting to provide needed health care during a pandemic.
“In Indiana, our legal team made sure that we’ve been able to continue providing abortion services while remaining within the law,” Dr. Cadwallader stated. “In Alaska, we saw the same type of thing. We had three health centers providing abortion care with full schedules the day after an executive order came out, trying to classify abortion as ‘elective.’ Within 24 hours, we had done a full legal analysis and complied with those orders, and those patients did not have to cancel or reschedule their abortions.”
Cadwallader added that these types of situations call for our legal teams to “drop everything” and scramble to make sure our patients retain access to care, while ensuring we remain within the parameters of the law. This effort consumes a large amount of organizational resources, but that’s a part of being Planned Parenthood. We do everything we can to keep care available, accessible and possible for our patients.
Reproductive health care is essential and will not be shut down during this time. Planned Parenthood is an essential community provider and will remain open.
How great is the need for reproductive health care during the time of COVID-19?
There is still a great need for reproductive health care. There has only been a slight reduction of in-person visits to our clinics. Our clinicians are working tirelessly to keep up with this demand, as well as the increased need for telemedicine.
Our clinical leadership is working round the clock to stay up to date with COVID-19 information to share with staff and patients.
What is Planned Parenthood doing to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in its health centers?
All Planned Parenthood health centers are following CDC guidelines closely, including social distancing. We are not only committed to keeping reproductive care available, we are also working to safely reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in our health centers and moving services such as refills to remote telemedicine when appropriate. Our clinicians and teams are constantly adapting to their community’s needs and innovating ways to better protect everybody’s health.
We have launched “direct to patient’ telehealth to provide that option to our patients when appropriate. To further reduce risk, we are no longer allowing anyone in our health centers unless they are essential staff or a patient.
Our phone system messaging now provides callers with information about symptoms of possible Covid-19 virus, how to seek care, and to delay or reschedule their appointment with PP for non-urgent issues, if they think they may have been exposed or are ill. We have also updated our website with the same information. The phone line for PPGNHI patients is 1-800-769-0045 and for PPINK, 1-800-230-7526.
The Patient Access Center and Change Health have been provided with talking points to screen patients who have fever and cough or shortness of breath and provide them with information on seeking appropriate care.
Staff are wearing protective face coverings during all interactions with patients and are following CDC guidelines regarding personal protective equipment (PPE) during patient appointments. We are advising our patients to wear face coverings, as well. N-95 masks and protective eyewear have been distributed to every health center in the alliance. Detailed guidance to health center managers and staff regarding interactions with symptomatic patients and personal protective equipment have gone out.
All common areas and waiting rooms at Planned Parenthood health centers are stocked with hand sanitizers, tissues, and no-touch waste receptacles for our patients. Patients that display symptoms of COVID-19, such as coughing, are isolated in a room with a closing door during wait time and treatment.
Planned Parenthood is supporting staff by providing up to date information and training for staff to protect themselves and patients from transmission of the virus. That support also includes resources such as creating a separate bank of time off specific to COVID-19 related reasons, and access to counseling and other employee assistance. So far, our proactive approach has worked, and the support has allowed our clinicians to keep care available to patients.
Has Planned Parenthood been using telemedicine more in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes! Telemedicine programs are in place across our six states. Visit https://www.plannedparenthooddirect.org/ to learn more.
There are many types of telemedicine that Planned Parenthood offers. The first and most basic form of telemedicine is one in which the patient at one Planned Parenthood health center talks to a health care provider at a different health center. This form of telemedicine is called “site-to-site” and has been in place for some time.
A newer type of telemedicine is called “direct-to-patient.” With this form, patients can interact with staff and clinicians via a screen from anywhere on their cell phone, tablet or computer. For social distancing purposes, direct-to-patient telemedicine is ideal.
Is there anything more I can do to support Planned Parenthood in the time of COVID-19?
Yes! Right now, we need your solidarity. We need you to stand with us in our commitment not only to care, but to compassion.
You are our front line and the reason we exist to serve your community, your loved ones and you.
We need your donations more than ever. Adapting to the changes that COVID-19 presents is a strain on our resources, and we are doing our very best to play the long game through this crisis so that care will remain available during, throughout, and after the pandemic. Please direct your donations here and select PPGNHI or PPINK.
Like other health care providers across the nation, we are experiencing a shortage of medical grade protective gear for our staff. We are accepting donations of cloth masks to conserve medical grade PPE for use during patient care. For donation instructions and sewing patterns, please contact Nikki Bogden, Events Coordinator, at [email protected].
Please do not create any calls for donations on social media or other public-facing venues for PPE. Many well-intentioned groups are reaching out to us to offer help by donating PPE. Unfortunately, our anti-choice opposition is exploiting these efforts and using social media to accuse Planned Parenthood of needlessly consuming PPE and threatening the health of others.
We would love to pass along your messages of support for our health center staff during this difficult time. Our health center staff strive to create a peaceful, reassuring, calm, warm and professional environment for all of our patients, every single time they come to us for health care. This is an especially trying time, and they would love to hear some encouragement from our supporters. Please email your kind messages of support to [email protected] to be passed along.