MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Friday was Planned Parenthood’s last day serving clients out of the Muskegon County Health Department.
“I think it’s important for people to have access to health care at lower rates,” said Megan Tallent as she stood in the parking lot of the health department on Apple Avenue.
Tallent is not a Planned Parenthood client herself, but she’s worried about how the population it serves will be impacted.
“Especially young people, who aren’t necessarily educated on the type of birth control options that are out there.”
Planned Parenthood said Friday it wants to maintain a presence in Muskegon, but the agency has yet to find a new location.
For now, it’s directing the 1,500 clients it serves yearly to locations in Grand Rapids and elsewhere.
Muskegon County Commissioners voted in April to evict Planned Parenthood at a standing-room-only meeting where hundreds of people lined up to speak, many focusing on abortion — a procedure Planned Parenthood did not perform in Muskegon.
“It wasn’t directed at Planned Parenthood in any way,” said Kathy Moore, referring to the health department’s push to end the agency’s lease.
“It could have been any organization in our clinical space.”
Moore, Muskegon County’s public health director, pointed out there are two other federally qualified health care centers in Muskegon County that serve uninsured and under-insured people: Hackley Community Care Centers and Muskegon Family Care.
“We’re not trying to take clients away from Planned Parenthood, but if (clients) prefer to stay in Muskegon we do want to give them options,” Moore said in an interview Friday afternoon.
Moore said the health department will expand its offerings and provide most of the services Planned Parenthood did, though it will not perform pap smears or IUD placements.
The department will also take over testing clients for sexually transmitted infections, a service it had paid Planned Parenthood to perform.
“Effective Monday, July 1st, Public Health will expand clinic hours for STI testing and treatment services to provide at minimum, the total number of annual client visits reported by Planned Parenthood for calendar year 2018,” Moore wrote in a June 12 memo to the county administrator.
“We will accept walk-in and scheduled appointments daily from 8:30 a.m. – 3:45 p.m. and accommodate requests for earlier or later appointments if needed.”
The ability to better serve clients at high-risk for sexually transmitted diseases was one of the county nurses’ stated reasons for pushing to end Planned Parenthood’s lease.
“The STD nurses’ argument was they would be able to expand STD services,” Moore said in an interview Friday afternoon.
Muskegon County has some of the state’s highest STD rates, consistently ranking among the top three out of 83 counties for rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea.
“Sometimes there is one person who’s sleeping with eight people, so the potential for it to spread is so much higher,” Moore said.
The county’s public health nurses also voiced concerns about safety.
“They were giving immunizations in cubicle workspaces that were too small… They would put the tray on their lap,” she said.
Moore said she felt it was her duty to bring the nurses’ concerns to the county commission for consideration.