Patients pack free clinics 

Officials with Planned Parenthood of Missoula report a record number of patients the last few months seeking affordable reproductive health care.

The increased demand coincides with a decrease in patient donations and 70 percent rise in the cost of contraceptive supplies, according to Beth Cogswell, director of communications for Planned Parenthood Montana (PPMT). She says more patients than last year are turning to Planned Parenthood’s sliding fee scale and, unlike in the past, not choosing to put money back into the clinic.

“Those donations are definitely down from what we budgeted,” Cogswell says. “And that’s a direct effect of the economy.”

Anita Keunnen, executive director at Blue Mountain Clinic, says she’s seen a similar increase in patient numbers. Many patients have expressed concern over pregnancy in a worsening economy.

The budget shortfall hasn’t stopped Planned Parenthood from doing what it can as Missoula’s primary “safety-net care provider.” On February 17, for example, the clinic hosted a free emergency contraceptive day funded primarily by Arizona’s Cadeau Foundation. The clinic expected between 75 and 100 walk-ins. The final tally was 175. Those same morning-after pills typically go for $40 to $60 at drug stores.

“We were pretty overwhelmed, in a good way,” Cogswell says.

Building on that success, PPMT will offer free Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) tests every Thursday this April at its clinics across the state. The tests are part of a joint initiative by MTV and the Kaiser Family Foundation titled “GYT ’09: Get Yourself Tested,” though PPMT will fund all testing.

Cogswell says Missoula’s clinic is stronger than most Planned Parenthood clinics in the nation, with no staff cuts on the horizon. She remains optimistic about the clinic’s ability to meet growing community need.

“We want to be able to keep doing that,” she says. “But definitely it’s going to be a big challenge in the next year or two.”
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