The words “Planned Parenthood” stir a lot of emotions in the United States.
It’s because it’s the name of the large nonprofit organization with headquarters in New York City that has, in some people’s eyes, an advocacy approach to health care. At now more than 100 years old, the organization has more than 600 health care centers nationwide. And many of them offer contraception, sex education and abortion services, a historical sticking point between religious conservatives and progressives. The organization regularly makes headlines, recently for withdrawing from the federal Title X funding program to avoid complying with abortion counseling rules mandated by the Trump administration.
Clark County is home to the Vancouver Health Center, a small office within a strip mall on Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard, a part of the Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette affiliate that covers Oregon and Southwest Washington. Staff there see protesters outside of the office at least once a week.
Inside are 13 employees who must continue working despite the outside pressures. Southern Oregon native Catherine “Cat” Dole, 31, is one of them. She graduated from Oregon State University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in public health. Initially starting with a job at the Beaverton, Ore., Planned Parenthood, she moved to North Portland in 2015. Inside the Vancouver Health Center are colorfully painted walls and signs that read “resist” — referring to those who fundamentally disagree with the work she and others are doing.
“It’s emotionally taxing for sure. I think we have a pretty good culture in Planned Parenthood of knowing the work that we do is emotionally taxing and understanding that you kind of need to be able to give people the space to process that,” said Dole, the center’s assistant manager for the last three years. “I think of myself as an activist in that I want to make sure I share my education with others as it relates to a belief in health care for all. I think it takes a lot of patience sometimes with the pushback we receive. All of the people around me believe in the mission, and that is to provide care no matter what — and nonjudgmental care.”
Last year, the Vancouver location recorded 8,301 patient visits. Staff performed 7,957 tests for sexually transmitted infections, 413 Pap tests (for cervical cancer) and 390 breast exams, according to numbers provided by the affiliate. And the need is growing, Dole said. To accommodate more visits, they recently rolled out telemedicine, a way for people to talk with clinicians via video versus an in-person visit.
“We see a lot of people here. The physical building that we’re in right now can’t accommodate a whole lot more. So we would either need to expand or offer Saturday hours. That’s projected just because the demand is here,” she said. The Columbian caught up with Dole to learn more about her job.
Tell me a bit about your day to day.
A lot of what I do is kind of flow master. I sit in the nurse’s station and I manage patient schedules, clinician schedules, making sure that patients are being seen in a timely fashion. One of the challenges in this health center is the demand. We’re one of the only providers in Clark County that are accepting new Department of Social and Health Services Apple Health patients, the state Medicaid program. For people who can’t get in with other providers, we’re one of the only ones who can get people in within the week. I also do phlebotomy.
What else is going on here?
We saw over 8,000 patients here last year. A lot of that is contraceptive type visits. We offer contraceptive visits, consults where we talk about all of your birth control options; we offer everything from implant, IUD, Depo (Provera shot), NuvaRing, pill, condoms. And a lot of what we do is counseling people of what the best birth control option is for them. We do pre-vasectomy consults. We offer PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) medication, which is prescribed for people who are at high risk of contracting HIV. And we offer medication abortion at this health center.
What is the need you’re seeing in Clark County?
One of the needs of Clark County in comparison to some of our Oregon offices is there is a pretty large Spanish-speaking community here. Our health center has three interpreters on staff. One of our goals is to make sure that those patients can be seen and make sure they get the same care that everyone else can.
I’ve heard of clinics enduring protests or even employees receiving death threats. Do you experience that here?
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We have protesters. Our protesters typically show up on the same day every week and they’ve been doing that for a long time. For the most part they’re harmless. They stand across the street with their signs. They have freedom of speech. They’re mostly respectful. There are a couple protesters that I’ve needed to call law enforcement for in the last year or two. I do think there has been an increase in agitated protester activity in the last couple years, but I feel safe coming to work every day.
Is there a topic that you’ve learned more about through your work here?
Yeah, I’d say there are many things. There is a very inclusive culture at Planned Parenthood, and one of the things I’ve learned so much around is trans(gender) care. Some of our locations have started to provide hormone therapy. Even doing this work day in and day out, you would think you would know a lot about these things, but this was actually an area where a lot of misconceptions were cleared up for me. I was just sitting there like, “Oh my God, I’m learning so much.” That’s been really valuable, and that’s one of the things I hope we can share with our community too.