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CEO Of Planned Parenthood Of Greater New York Discusses COVID Impact

Planned Parenthood of Greater New York President & CEO Laura McQuade
Courtesy of PPGNY/Laura McQuade
Planned Parenthood of Greater New York President & CEO Laura McQuade

Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, like other health services organizations, responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by relying more on telehealth. Planned Parenthood was deemed an essential service and has remained open throughout for in-person visits. President and CEO Laura McQuade spoke with WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne about the pandemic, abortion access and more, including protests outside its centers. The interview was recorded before protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

So for almost all of our services, we've tried to provide at least a partial telehealth solution for people. So that they could do, even for abortion care. Part of the visit is done through a telehealth visit before you get to the center, so that you're limiting the time for yourself as a patient but also for staff, in the centers. And we are also- we've removed chairs from waiting rooms, so you're not seeing overcrowded waiting rooms. And we are, we're rolling out a system where we can text you if you prefer to sit in your car and wait. You can do that and we text you when the provider is ready to see you, and you come on in. So there have definitely been the flow of the day, the flow of your visit is quite changed and we anticipate it remaining like that for quite some time. Even as we move, right? The Mid-Hudson Valley may move to phase two, potentially at the same time, or before New York City even moves to phase one. So and we're we're trying to make sure that we're covering all the needs across the state.

I wanted to go back to the telehealth. Kind of at the height of the pandemic, or you know, fairly recently, what you saw in terms of no-touch medication abortion, was not kind of on the rise during that time and how, you know, what did that mean?

So what it meant was that we would do- So I was talking a little bit about how we try to do some of our visits, almost all of our visits through telehealth, so it limits your time in the center. So things that you would normally have come in for, counseling, you know, figuring, you know, going through the analysis of dating your pregnancy, all of that is actually now done through a telehealth visit. So when you come for the medication abortion, you're just coming to receive the medication, the instructions for taking the medication, and then the follow up including a urine pregnancy test, and you're actually taking it home. And actually doing the entirety of the medication abortion in your home, or where you choose to do it. So you're- All of the aspects of registering, demographics, counseling are done remotely before patients get to the centers.

Did you see an uptick though, in prescribing the medication abortion during this time?

We actually have. It's very interesting that you should ask that question. So we look at, we look at our patient volume every day. The single largest service growth area by far, was medication abortion. Whether that was done partially virtually, you know, through that video visit, and then picking up the meds, or coming into the center for medication abortion medication, major uptick in that number for us, even above pre-COVID numbers.

Can you give me an idea when you say major uptick?

So we're up on on those services, we're up a good 15% on medication abortion.

Now, when we were talking about a year ago, there was this movement and anti-abortion efforts in some states across the country, the same kind of things started happening when everything went virtual with the states that historically, are anti-abortion states were were ramping up that rhetoric as well during this time. Did you have any, feel any effect from that?

It's interesting that you should ask about that. Because I mean, clearly we are in New York, we started the conversation saying we enjoy significant support from state and local elected officials across the state. And so they understand that we are essential services, but where we are seeing the uptick is in protester activity outside of our centers. They have gotten very aggressive since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. They refuse to social distance appropriately. In many occasions, I just had an interaction with a protester on Friday afternoon. Protesters refusing to wear masks, refusing to social distance outside centers, being very aggressive with patients and staff. So the places where we've seen it are, again through protests or activity, quite aggressively and that campaign has been very public that they are using this as an opportunity to increase their activities.

Are you seeing that protest in certain regions more than others?

Yeah. I mean, our- even downstate, our Manhattan center, through the entire affiliate gets the most virulent protester activity. We know that we get protesters from around the country who come here specifically to protest in Manhattan. We've seen some uptick in Queens. We've seen an uptick out in Hempstead on Long Island. And we hadn't had the same level in the Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, which are two centers in the Mid-Hudson Valley that are open. We've seen kind of consistent engagement by protesters and then the further you go upstate there- it gets a little spottier. I think they're still bringing people in, specifically to protest from out of state. And they happen to also believe that people who don't believe in the pandemic, right? There's an alignment there.

What happened in the in, the centers in terms of staffing and all of that kind of stuff affected by COVID?

Because of the significant downturn in our patient volume and in our fundraising dollars. We did some layoffs in early April, and then another percentage of our staff is still on furlough through the end of June and we're trying to figure out now how can we, how can we bring as many of those back? How can we get our patient volume to a point that it's stable enough to bring additional staff back? So we're still in that phase of understanding what the long term future of the organization looks like. We are still losing even with the the layoffs and the furloughs, about a million dollars a month. Again, not different than other, I mean, community health care providers in New York State had been hard.

And then you said layoffs and furloughs about can you give me numbers, or percentages, or roundabouts there, please?

Sure. We did do permanent layoffs of 15% of the staff, across the state. And we furloughed another 15%

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