Choose When project making impression on Northwest Colorado | SteamboatToday.com

Choose When project making impression on Northwest Colorado

The program only started in April, but Kathleen Wasserman said the community's response to the Choose When project has been more than she could have imagined.

"The fascinating thing about Choose When is that it didn't seem to matter if people were liberal or conservative; they were in favor of the program, because it reduces the need for abortions, it reduces unplanned pregnancy and it reduces the number of women and children who are on public assistance," Wasserman, one of the program’s organizers, said.

The program uses private funding to give women access to long-acting, reversible contraception, or LARCs, including intrauterine devices, or IUDs, and hormonal implants. It is targeted to help women who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford adequate insurance.

The idea is to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies in Northwest Colorado through the use of LARCS, which are thought to be the most effective methods of contraception, because they do not depend on patient compliance.  She said the devices can be removed when the woman is ready to start a family.

"I'm very pleased with the way things are going," Wasserman said. "We had planned to provide about 100 LARCs for the end of the year, and we are going to be very close to that."

It is the first initiative by a group called Focus on Women, which started with Wasserman and a few friends talking about women's issues and grew into a steering committee of 10 that holds forums and addresses problems with action.

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"Focus on Women is a loosely organized group that allows women to come together two or three times a year to hear a speaker talk about what the issues are in town right now, "Wasserman said. "Hopefully, it will be an incubator other projects like Choose When. The idea is to  provide local solutions to problems. The enthusiasm we have gotten from women in the community on Focus for Women is terrific. It has really been well-received."

About 200 people showed up for the group's first meeting in March, and more than 80 attended the second, which was held Sunday. But, so far, the group’s success has been tied to it's first initiative.

Choose When has already raised $200,000 that will be used to give women better access to LARCs. The group currently works with  Planned Parenthood and Northwest Colorado Health in Steamboat Springs to provide the services, but also hopes to expand to other providers in the future and provide services in other surrounding counties, as well. She said the support has helped make the grass-roots, community-oriented program a reality. She added it empowers women to take control of their lives and to plan — to chose— when they want to have children. Preventing unplanned pregnancies from sidelining young lives, she said, gives women a chance to thrive and have their children when they are emotionally and financially ready. 

In the first two months of the program, Choose When has provided 17 LARCs and expects to provide more than 100 by the end of the program's first year. Wasserman said the money that has been raised should be enough to cover the LARCs, which can cost in the neighborhood of $1,000 but last between three and 12 years..

Wasserman said the program is based on the successful Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a program that ran from 2009 to 2014 and provided long-acting, reversible contraceptives to women free but ended when private funding came to an end.

During that program's run, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative saw a 48-percent decline in the birth rate for women age 15 to 19 and a 58-percent drop in teens giving birth for a second or third time. Additionally, the abortion rate fell by 48 percent in women age 15 to 19, and infant enrollment in state food assistance dropped by 26 percent.

Wasserman said she expects similar results in Northwest Colorado, but acknowledged those kind of numbers will be harder to pin down. 

"There are some things that we can't measure. For example, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative used statewide figures for abortion and for teen pregnancy. The state does not keep statistics  on a regional or ZIP code basis," Wasserman said. "Our ability to document, for example, the drop in the abortion rate in Northwest Colorado just isn't there, because we don't have a place to go to get those numbers. But, we can do it, anecdotally, from health care providers in the area. What we will be able to track are the number of clients that use the program and the demographics of those clients. Right now, most of those clients are between 20 and 26 years of age, and, right now, literally every one we have served comes from a family whose income is less that 35,000 a year. So, we know we are serving the population that we were targeting when we started — people who make too much for Medicaid but can't afford adequate insurance."

Wasserman believes Choose When is off to a solid start but said the program will need more donors in the future. She said she expects Choose When will provide services to an increasing number as women hear about the program through word of mouth. However, she expects those numbers to level off at some point.

She also expects Focus on Women to continue to take on other challenges and pursue solutions.

To learn more about the organization or make a donation to support Choose When visit choosewhen.org.

"It all started with a group of women saying, 'Wait a minute; this is a problem we can fix',” she said. "We were all interested in doing something to help women, so we went to Planned Parenthood, we went to Northwest Colorado Health and we talked to other local non-profits to find out where there was a need. This is the one problem that kept jumping up and down and raising its hand. Everywhere we went, people kept talking about the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, which went from 2009-14, and that it was really good. … They told us they could really use it again."

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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