Health clinic sees growing clientele

VNA's Family Planning service fills void left when Planned Parenthood lost funding

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— Since quietly opening six months ago, the Visiting Nurse Association's Family Planning and Women's Health Clinic has seen a growing clientele.

"We haven't really been out there advertising, because we don't want people to stop going to Planned Parenthood," clinic family nurse practitioner Laurieann Perry said.

But the agency does provide the least expensive family-planning and women's health services in Steamboat Springs and does receive referrals from Planned Parenthood, Perry said.

More than 50 people have gone to the clinic at least once since it opened in July, she said.

Officials now have put out fliers to let people know it's there.

The VNA Family Planning and Women's Health Clinic was established after public dollars to support affordable health and reproductive choices in Colorado were taken away from Planned Parenthood.

Last fall, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment financed an independent audit to determine whether Planned Parenthood was separating its privately funded abortion services from its cancer screening and family services, as required by law to receive state funding.

The audit found that Planned Parenthood's family-planning segment charged below-market rent to its branch providing abortions, which was in violation of the law.

After stripping Planned Parenthood of the funding, the state looked to other public health entities to fill the void. In Routt County, it asked the VNA of Routt County to start the service and pick up the funding, which is worth $130,000 annually.

"It's our aim to reduce unwanted pregnancies," VNA Director Sue Birch said.

The clinic supports the state's stance on abstinence, then provides proper information about birth control. It has no connection to abortion clinics, Birch said.

"These dollars are not used for abortions. We tell (clients) what their resources are and then let them make their own decisions," she said.

The clinic is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday at the VNA office in Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Physical exams, birth control, pregnancy tests and sexually transmitted disease tests are provided.

The clinic also provides confidential treatment and counseling to teen-age clients.

"In all of Routt County, there are quite a few teen-agers who are (sexually) active or who are thinking about being sexually active that need some counseling," Perry said.

Most of the clinic's clients are around 20 years old.

"I get lots of people here for STD testing. It's interesting. It is a transient community," Perry said.

On average, five people a week come in for STD testing. Of those with positive test results, the most common disease is chlamydia, she said.

According to Planned Parenthood, chlamydia is the most commonly reported sexually transmitted bacterial infection in the United States, is easily treated. However, because the majority of people who have it exhibit no symptoms, most people are unaware they have the infection. Left untreated, it can cause health problems including infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Colorado Department of Health statistics show the number of STDs reported in Routt County is similar to state trends.

In 2002, 18 new cases of chlamydia were reported, one case of gonorrhea and one case of AIDS were reported in Routt County.

In 2001, 20 new chlamydia cases were reported.

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