Planned Parenthood of Montana announced this week it will close its Kalispell clinic in late November, another victim of the Flathead Valley's unsparing economic slowdown.
"It's closing due to the challenging economic times that have been somewhat worse for the Flathead Valley than in other counties in Montana," says Beth Cogswell, Planned Parenthood of Montana's director of communications. "We're just seeing more and more people there who unfortunately have lost their jobs and lost their health insurance, and just don't have the ability to pay.
"Our patient numbers are also flat," Cogswell continues, "and we think that because of the economic crisis—and this has been born out in some recent studies—that people are putting off getting their health care. They're trying to put food on the table and gas in the car, and sometimes they put their health on the back burner."
According to a recent survey conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, nearly one in four women have put off a gynecologic or birth control visit in the past year to save money, and the same proportion reported having a harder time paying for birth control than they did in the past. The trend has led Planned Parenthood Federation of America to merge seven locations around the country with others. The number of outright closures was unavailable as of press time.
Cogswell says the Kalispell clinic, which opened four years ago during the Flathead Valley's economic and population boom, saw about 1,500 patients last year, compared to the more than 5,000 patients the Missoula clinic sees annually. Three of the clinic's four staffers will lose their jobs. The clinic manager will be employed at the Missoula location following the closing.
In the meantime, the Kalispell clinic's goal, Cogswell says, will be to refer its patients to appropriate providers. She expects many will find care at the Flathead Community Health Center, a federally funded facility similar to Missoula's Partnership Health Center. Its success, in fact, and the success of other health clinics like it, have contributed to Planned Parenthood's closures and consolidations nationwide, Cogswell says.