Planned Parenthood Regina Cannot Meet Demand During Pandemic

Taryn Wahl, education coordinator at Planned Parenthood Regina, said the organization needs to change the way it delivers sexual health services due to increased demand during the pandemic. (Matt Howard / CBC News – image credit)

The non-profit sexual health charity Planned Parenthood Regina has had to cut appointments and services during the pandemic due to funding and staff cuts despite growing public demand.

The clinic, which has received at least 2,470 calls in the past few months, cannot respond to requests, and Taryn Wahl, the education coordinator, said she fears vulnerable people may not be able to access services. sexual health interventions.

“We hear from some of the people who end up going to the emergency room for sexual health issues and it shouldn’t be,” Wahl said.

Planned Parenthood provides accessible contraception and sexual health programs and services to the city and community of southern Saskatchewan, with a priority focus on youth, LGBTQ + and those without health insurance. People can access the sexual health clinic without a health insurance card.

Consequences

Without early intervention or contraceptives, Wahl said the clinic could receive even more calls about people with a positive STI diagnosis or unintended pregnancies.

And the organization is not alone.

The nonprofit Saskatoon Sexual Health, which also provides sexual and reproductive health services, has faced similar demands.

The organization saw an 89 percent increase in demand from April to October compared to the same time a year earlier, said Heather Hale, executive director of Saskatoon Sexual Health.

“We know from experience that in times of public health or humanitarian crisis, human sexual or reproductive health needs are not decreasing, they are actually increasing,” Hale said.

“This has also been made worse by the increasing rates of STIs [sexually transmitted infections] in the province. So certainly that exacerbates the challenges of meeting a need in a province where we face very poor outcomes directly related to sexual health. “

Both said Saskatchewan has the highest provincial rate of HIV infections and chlamydia, the second highest provincial rate of gonorrhea and high rates of syphilis. They added that the province also has high provincial rates of teenage pregnancy and one of the highest rates of sexual violence in Canada.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2019, Saskatchewan had more than double the national average of HIV diagnoses at 16.9 per 100,000 population.

Less staff, more demand

Despite this, the pandemic and lack of funding caused Planned Parenthood Regina to lose a part-time registered nurse and a part-time nurse practitioner, reducing the medical staff to just two nurses, Wahl said.

A registered nurse stays to do STI referrals and contraceptive consultations, and there is a nurse practitioner to do Pap tests, IUD insertions, eye exams for STIs, and prescribe contraception.

Wahl said the sexual health clinic had to change the way people book in-person appointments earlier this year due to demand, especially for intrauterine device (IUD) insertions.

“It was getting to a point where it was going to take nine months, or almost a year to get people in,” Wahl said.

People can only call one day a month, the last Monday, to make an appointment for the following month, on a first come, first served basis.

Before the pandemic, the community organization was already seeing a steady increase in the number of calls and requests for services.

Matt Howard / CBC News

Matt Howard / CBC News

According to Planned Parenthood’s annual report, the clinic saw 16,246 clients in 2019, while this year it had 3,299 appointments.

“We want people to be able to easily get things like birth control or STI testing and that people who have to wait weeks or even months for help with these things to be really difficult for us.” , Wahl said.

In 2020, the clinic had to stop offering walk-in, evening and weekend appointments due to the pandemic.

Contraceptive prescriptions are passed for curbside pickup, and STI testing is only done by telephone appointment, with people then going to city labs to be tested.

Doctors do not offer a smear or IUD insertion

Wahl said many people said they don’t have a family doctor or, if they do, their doctor is uncomfortable talking about sexual health.

“I think a lot of people know this, not only do we have a lot of women on staff, but we’re really welcoming to queer, trans, non-binary people and we try to be really positive and non-judgmental about sex. “Said Wahl.” I think a lot of people feel more comfortable coming to us because we are specifically this sexual health clinic. “

Wahl adds that COVID-19 has increased the demand for services for Pap tests and IUD insertions because some medical clinics and family physicians have stopped offering in-person services.

Wahl said some patients told them their doctors referred them to Planned Parenthood for services. However, Wahl said family physicians are trained to perform them and with just one nurse practitioner in the clinic, they cannot meet demand, leading to delays in care.

Matt Howard / CBC News

Matt Howard / CBC News

“I hope that maybe they [family doctors] Would consider offering these services themselves or referring one of their colleagues who maybe could do it right away for people, ”Wahl said.

Wahl suspects a reason for the increased demand, perhaps because the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s sexual health clinic is now focusing only on syphilis testing, contact tracing and treatment.

Planned Parenthood Regina offers very low-cost contraception to patients, and the nonprofit has seen an increase in the number of people requesting it.

“COVID meant a lot of people lost their jobs and it means they lost their health insurance,” Wahl said.

Wahl suggests that if birth control were universally covered, it would help people avoid unplanned pregnancies, marginalized community members, and bring relief to the medical system in the long run.

Next steps

Wahl encourages clients to contact their family doctor and pharmacist for sexual health services, if they cannot enter Planned Parenthood Regina.

“Our clinic would like to be able to refocus its priorities on young people. People who do not have a health card or who are not insured. People who are recent survivors of sexual assault and need immediate support. And right now, the number of calls that we get, we’re just just unable to keep up with that and then support these people, ”they said.

Lisa Miller, executive director of the Regina Sexual Assault Center, said Planned Parenthood Regina unfortunately sees a lot of sexual assault survivors at the center and any changes will impact them.

Wahl said the organization had asked the Department of Health for an increase in funding, but the response to COVID-19 was a priority. The ministry provided Planned Parenthood Regina with approximately $ 167,000 for clinical services this year.

The health ministry said funding is balanced “against the backdrop of many competing priorities for health dollars” and the decision was not taken lightly.

Wahl, who will lose her full-time position in 2022, said Planned Parenthood Regina will continue to seek government funding and plan fundraising events and advocacy campaigns.


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