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As originally published in the Los Angeles Times Daily Pilot on Wednesday, October 11, 2023.

When Jon Dunn accepted the position of president and chief executive officer at Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties in 1993, he wasn’t sure he was the right leader for the organization.

“I had already worked in healthcare for about 15 years, and I have always been very committed to reproductive rights,” said Dunn. “So it was something I had some interest in and passion about. But I had not had any experience in reproductive healthcare at that point, so it was a new opportunity for me at that time.”

It was also “out of the box,” as Dunn put it, for Planned Parenthood to hire a man for the job. When the organization asked for a five-year commitment, Dunn negotiated it down to three years. Just last week however, Dunn celebrated 30 years with PPOSBC.

“I guess it was a good fit,” said Dunn.

During his career Dunn has been at the forefront of improving and expanding the services PPOSBC has to offer and the patients it reaches. Planned Parenthood not only provides essential reproductive healthcare but also offers primary care, nutrition services and education programs to over 208,000 local people, no matter their circumstances or ability to pay.

In the 30 years since Dunn joined the organization, it has increased the number of patients it is able to serve annually. In 1993, PPOSBC served 20,000 patients per year. Today, it serves close to 21,000 patients per month.

“That means we are meeting the needs of the communities we serve far better than we ever used to be able to,” said Dunn, “The more robust we became as a business, the more patients we could serve.”

One way PPOSBC is achieving that is by expanding its footprint. Thirty years ago, PPOSBC operated six health centers in Orange and San Bernardino counties. Today there are nine health centers, with six of them offering comprehensive primary care through Melody Health. Additionally, Dunn said health centers were open five days a week, eight hours a day, with long wait times when he started.

“When I started, it was not atypical for a patient to have to wait an hour to maybe 90 minutes at one of our health centers for an appointment,” Dunn said. “We started a concerted effort about 15 years ago to really change that and be respectful of our patients time.”

PPOSBC health centers are now open seven days a week, 10 hours a day, and average appointment wait times are down to 15 minutes or less.

Technology has played a role in the organization’s advancement too, particularly the Planned Parenthood Direct app, which makes it possible for patients to receive birth control and UTI treatment in the mail.

While many people associate Planned Parenthood health centers with abortions, Dunn said before 1993, PPOSBC did not provide surgical abortions in Orange County.

“Actually, we didn’t provide any abortions in Orange County at all when I first came to PPOSBC. We had a couple of doctors in Tustin that did abortions for our patients. We referred about 130 to 150 patients to them a year and they took care of them well.”

A few years after Dunn joined PPOSBC, those two doctors decided to close their practice because they were retiring.

“I had to go to the board of directors and say there really isn’t going to be good access to abortion services in Orange County and San Bernardino County if we don’t step up and do it ourselves.”

Dunn said the board rose to meet the need and surgical abortion services began in Upland first, until 1997 when PPOSBC opened a facility in the city of Orange that became the main surgical site.

But Dunn said there is a large scope of services offered at PPOSBC besides family planning.

“We provide HIV testing and prevention, cancer screenings, HPV vaccinations, prenatal screenings for pregnant women, comprehensive primary care, behavioral healthcare, gender-affirming care, vasectomy,” said Dunn. “And we also have a WIC program, a nutritional program for low-income families with children. So we are providing a very wide range of healthcare.”

Dunn said the organization has also worked to create a culture that puts patients first.

“We have really made a commitment to creating what I call a culture of caring and what that really means is not only is every patient treated with dignity and respect, but they are treated with compassion and without judgment. We know our patients are walking through that door often with some level of anxiety about the kind of care they are seeking. We make an effort to make it clear to them as soon as they walk in that they are welcome there, regardless of background, regardless of the kind of care they are receiving, regardless of the personal choices they are making.”

One thing that hasn’t changed since Dunn began his career with PPOSBC is the fight for reproductive freedom.

“Even back then, abortion was very much an issue, and your access to reproductive healthcare depended a lot on your Zip code,” said Dunn. “So that side was clearly going to be an ongoing challenge, and of course here we are today a little more than a year after Roe v. Wade was overturned. It is still an issue and probably will be a more important issue in the 2024 election than virtually anything else.”

But overall, Dunn feels the work he and Planned Parenthood do ultimately reaches the people it needs to, with the support of the community.

“Despite the political climate, I am very, very optimistic about the future,” Dunn said.

With 30 years of experience behind him, Dunn looks forward to the future of Planned Parenthood.

“We have a tremendously talented young staff, we have the most talented group of people we have ever had, the most committed group of people we have ever had, and so I think we are going to continue to expand and grow and do new and dynamic things and reach the needs of the community more effectively than ever.”

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