Planned Parenthood office shuts down in Southmost - Brownsville Herald: Valley

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Planned Parenthood office shuts down in Southmost

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Posted: Saturday, October 29, 2011 12:00 am

The Planned Parenthood clinic at 5636 Southmost Road closed this month, causing its patients and their files to be transferred to the remaining clinic on Old Port Isabel Road.

Family planning funding for Planned Parenthood and other healthcare providers was cut by two-thirds this past state legislative session, which led to the closure of the Brownsville clinic, Yvonne Gutierrez said. She is vice president for public affairs for the Planned Parenthood Trust of South Texas. The state faced a massive deficit Legislators were tasked with balancing.

Cynthia Contreras, who is general manger for Planned Parenthood clinics in Brownsville, Harlingen and Kingsville, said many patients were upset about the closure.

“They couldn’t believe that the little help that they were getting was being taken away from them,” Contreras said. “We actually had a few who were asking us for phone numbers; who do they contact to let them know it was a hit.”

Planned Parenthood officials said part of the reason family planning funding was targeted by legislators was because of its association with abortion, a hot button ideological issue that has long pit conservatives against liberals.

In the Rio Grande Valley, the organization does not provide abortions, Gutierrez said.

“Planned Parenthood does not provide abortions anywhere in the Valley,” she said.

However, the organization provides more than family planning services, Contreras said.

“It’s not just about birth control,” she said. “We provide the life-saving cancer screenings, the prevention, the treatment of STDs, the breast health services, sex education information and health counseling.”

The Southmost clinic was at its 5600 block location for five years, Contreras said. The clinic moved three times to different locations on the same road over 14 years in the Southmost area, she said.

Since the start of this year the clinic had seen 1,000 patients, she said, with 140 to 150 patients seen per month.

Now the Planned Parenthood clinic at 370 Old Port Isabel Road is the organization’s only location in Brownsville. The organization, like several other healthcare providers in the area, works with a low-income population. Gutierrez said patients are now asked to pay at least $15 per visit.

Sept 30. was the last day the Southmost clinic was open, Gutierrez said. For a time it was uncertain the closure would happen, but she said eventually it was determined Planned Parenthood could not financially sustain the location. In part, Contreras said the decision to close the Southmost location was based on the fact that Planned Parenthood was leasing the building, while it owns its building on Old Port Isabel Road.

Family planning is connected to another volatile issue in its potential ties with immigration, particularly on the border. Contreras said undocumented immigrants may not have the resources to seek birth control in some cases. In those instances, if there are unable to seek healthcare, they end up seeking care later at emergency rooms where there is potential for their care to grow more expensive.

“They are here illegally. They have no where else to go. They end up pregnant because they can’t afford the birth control methods that are out there,” she said. “They end up pregnant and, definitely, they’re going to have to seek care once they’re ready to deliver. They end up at the emergency room. They have to get seen and now they have a child who is a U.S. citizen.”

In Southmost, Contreras said the closest healthcare provider for low-income individuals may be the Brownsville Community Health Center.

BCHC executive director Paula Gómez said she is concerned more women will lose out on vital care now that the Southmost clinic is gone and state funding has been cut.

“Planned Parenthood, in those cases, was the only form of healthcare for a majority of these ladies,” she said. “We’ve always had a good working relationship with Planned Parenthood and I think we’ve always worked hand in hand trying to do as comprehensive care as we can given our financial situation and our staffing situations.”

Gómez said 83 percent of BCHC clients are without insurance and her organization goes far beyond providing just family planning. The center offers a range of services, from prenatal care to screenings for the elderly. Still, the BCHC too has felt the result of efforts to balance the state’s budget deficit.

Closing the Southmost clinic puts a strain on the existing healthcare infrastructure in the area, Gómez said. Women cared for through family planning are affected substantially and that has lasting effects, she said.

“These are the moms and the moms to be,” Gómez said. “They’re kind of the core of the family unit. If they’re sick, you’re affecting the entire family. If they can’t get well, you’re gonna affect a heck of a lot more than just that one person. That’s why it’s so critical for us.”

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