Since the early 1970’s the Ravalli County family planning program has provided critical health services for low-income men and women in the Bitterroot. For decades, thousands of clients have relied on the public health department and their supportive staff for services they would otherwise not have been able to afford or access. For many, this program is their only option for basic health services such as annual exams, pap exams, pregnancy and STD testing, and contraceptives. The program, which currently serves 465 clients, with 88% living in poverty, also focuses on education, nutrition and counseling. With nearly 40 years of operation under its belt, the program will cease to exist as a public health benefit as county commissioners question the need for family planning.
The family planning program is funded with Title X dollars, federal grant money distributed by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services. For the program to continue, the Ravalli county commission must sign a task order to simply accept the $39,000 which has a been routinely approved for decades. Providers will be laid off and the program will end if the County Commissioners refuse to sign the order before the program runs out of operational funds on August 8th.
So what might the community look like without the family planning program? A middle-aged woman who once could have gotten a confidential and free lifesaving cancer screening, would not now. A young male who worries about a possible STD infection, might go untreated – possibly risking his own health and that of others as well. And the young recently laid off teacher and mother of two, who is unable to afford contraceptives, now has no local family planning care. The unemployed and underemployed picking up the pieces and living day to day in this battered economy will now have one more thing to worry about. Denying our citizens access to basic preventative care and testing will undoubtedly have a catastrophic impact on public health in the valley which will ripple throughout the community.
As county citizens, we rely on our local officials to provide public health services for those who are in need. We expect them to seek out and support opportunities that enhance our quality of life, not strip them away. The commissioners need to consider the health of all county citizens in this decision. Defunding the family planning program takes away from critical services for low income citizens and creates an even greater public health risk in our county. By turning away Title X money and eliminating this vital service, the commissioners are turning their backs on our friends and neighbors. As citizens and taxpayers, we must call for more from our elected officials. To voice your support for family planning in the Bitterroot, please contact your commissioners at email@example.com and if possible attend the August 4th meeting at 2 pm.
Kate Duggan, Bitterroot Community Coordinator
Montana Women Vote