By Keith Loria
When 20-something Sayra Molina discovered she was pregnant last year, she wasn’t quite sure what to do. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to have the child and wasn’t confident enough to know if she could handle it.
She met with Robin Watkins, Certified Nurse Midwife at Unity, and quickly had her fears alleviated and questions answered.
“I was always anxious and Dr. Watkins made me feel at ease about being a first-time mother,” she said. “I would Google things and find all these things that could go wrong, and she explained how what I was seeing doesn’t apply to everyone and that she and the nurses at Unity would be there to help, and they were throughout the entire process.”
That’s just one example of literary thousands of people who have received help through Unity’s Family Planning services.
“The patients that we serve, we want them to be able to plan for their families and be the best families they can be, and family planning is an integral aspect of this,” said Dr. Andrea Anderson, medical director and core faculty member for Unity’s residency program. “Many of our patients deal with economic, social, and even immigration challenges, and it’s very important to plan a pregnancy when they are best equipped and ready to bring a child into the world if that’s their decision.”
An integral component of Unity’s health care system has always been to provide high-quality family planning services and other preventive health care to low-income or uninsured men and women in the District.
Through Unity’s family planning education and outreach program, continuity of care model, its five sub-recipient agencies, a collaboration with local and national partners, and its commitment to Title X compliance, it’s able to provide family planning services and preventative care to its target population with very few barriers.
Karen Klauss, Unity’s Family Planning Clinical Coordinator, said thanks to the federally funded Title X program, which sets aside money for family planning services with an emphasis on low-income patients, Unity is about to help those looking to avoid or achieve pregnancy, and offer related preventative health services that will not interfere with someone’s ability to become pregnant if they want to become pregnant in the future.
Services also include screening for STDs, cancer screenings and identifying patients at risk for diabetes or high blood pressure.
“Title X offers funding for pregnancy testing and we can link them to whatever care they need to continue or not continue a pregnancy,” Klauss said. “The real strength the way family planning happens at Unity is we are able to integrate our family programming services with the overall care we provide. It’s not in its own silo, but is integrated with our services and teams.”
Some of the helpful offerings include contraceptive services, pregnancy testing and counseling, preconception counseling, basic infertility services, STD services and related preventative health services.
“We offer a wide variety of family planning methods, with trained physicians, to determine the model and method best for them,” Dr. Anderson said. “There are plenty of challenges in life, and family planning shouldn’t have to be one of those challenges.”
Unity works with the “One Key Question” model where it asks patients, “Would you like to become pregnant in the next year?” Regardless of the answer, the staff will work with women, either providing things like vitamins and counseling if they answered “yes” or put them on a safe-sex program if they answered “no.”
In the last calendar year, Unity served 36,804 unduplicated family planning patients, and that involved offering both men and women comprehensive quality family planning and related preventive health services as recommended by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other national guidelines. Of those, 65 percent of family planning patients were women ages 15 through 44, with a vast majority of those relying on Medicaid and other public health insurance.
Contraception available on-site includes everything from the pill, to condoms, to cervical caps, contraceptive implants and IUDs.
“We have them all at our sites and trained people to place IUDs and implants right on the spot, meeting whatever need people need without having to refer them out, like some other places,” Klauss said. “This one-stop shopping is a big advantage.”
Camille A. Dixon, Unity’s Family Planning Program Manager, noted that family planning isn’t something people typically think about but it has an impact on all aspects of a person’s health.
Her role at Unity includes understanding the federal and state requirements with Title X and making sure the organization is compliant and accessible to patients, that providers are properly trained and interactions are streamlined throughout Unity’s sites.
“What we do also opens the door to conversations,” she said. “We do outreach with school health educators, holding discussions and workshops within the curriculum so kids are hearing about it. We also did a campaign last fall to let people know the services we have available. We’re continuing to think about how we can get more people these services and be able to meet the needs as people come in as well.”
Unity’s Family Planning Team is comprised of a multidisciplinary group of staff who are passionate about improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes for District residents. Others in the group include Mark J. Hathaway, MD, MPH as Title X Medical Director; Robin Watkins, WHNP-BC, CNM, Certified Nurse Midwife and Ericka Walker, MA, Family Planning Care Associate (FPCA).