Martha's Vineyard Family Planning: What it does and who it serves
Family Planning of Martha's Vineyard moved to its new location on 517 State Road in mid-April - and they haven't skipped a beat. "Even with the move, we've managed to keep our numbers steady," says director Patty Begley. On average, the clinic sees 150-190 patients a month. As sexually transmitted diseases occur in both genders of all ages, it is consoling to know that the community, from the vantage of Family Planning, is educated and making use of the resources available to them.
Based on data compiled from the 2006 calendar year, the clinic's patient breakdown is as follows: 91 percent female, 9 percent male; 93 percent white, 7 percent other ethnicities; 79 percent English speaking, 18 percent Portuguese speaking, 1 percent Spanish speaking, and 1 percent other.
Begley says these numbers accurately represent their current patient breakdown, except that the male numbers are on the rise. More male patients, ages 20-24, are coming to Family Planning for STD testing and condoms. Jenny Shubow is the clinic's trilingual translator and plays a very important role aiding Spanish and Portuguese speaking patients.
Family Planning is known for providing a confidential haven for minors and young people in need of pregnancy and STD testing. They also provide a sliding scale payment system, making them a refuge for the underinsured and uninsured. Still, Family Planning is serving more of the Island population than these demographics. Betsy Edge, a clinic counselor explains, "We don't just serve the uninsured, we serve everyone and see a broad range of ages [...] I was just updating the chart of a woman born in the '30s." The age statistics are as follows: 19 percent, ages 14-19; 25 percent, ages 20-24; 17 percent, ages 25-29; 12 percent, ages 30-34; 8 percent, ages 35-39; 8 percent, ages 40 and up.
An insured female patient in the 50-plus age range attends the clinic and is thrilled with the service she receives. She uses the clinic to fill in the holes of her regular Island doctor's testing. "My regular doctor doesn't do pap smears," she explains. "My experience there is fabulous. Even though the reason for my visit was narrow, they took a whole person approach. They advised me as to what else a woman of my age should be looking for. I want to support them and their medical mission."
Photos by Lynn Christoffers
Family Planning has recently instituted the rapid HIV test and Gardasil vaccination program (available to patients ages 18 and up). The rapid HIV test is a highly sensitive blood test taken through a finger prick with accurate results in 20 minutes. The Gardasil vaccination protects against the four most common strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a leading cause in cervical cancer.
This vaccination is an important addition to the services the clinic provides. Ms. Begley notes, "Last summer we saw a lot more herpes and this year it's warts." Genital warts can be caused by two of four HPV strains that the Gardasil vaccination protects against.
The primary purpose of most visits is to acquire birth control, most popularly, oral contraceptives, commonly known as "the pill." "I've been doing this for almost 25 years and the shift to practicing safe sex is huge," Ms. Begley says. "Young people have grown up with this idea now. They have a healthy mindset about condoms."
An ongoing controversy is when to stop using birth control. Says Ms. Begley, "Its always intriguing to me how people decide that their main partner doesn't have anything. There seems to be no standard methodology for people deciding when their relationship is safe." It is a comfort to know that Family Planning is there to provide means of contraceptive as well as advice and testing.
The entire staff is cross-trained. You may be checked in, examined, and counseled by the same person. The women rotate between all clinic duties. They have made themselves at home in their new space and have made it a welcoming for patients too. In the waiting room the chairs are brown leather and rust colored, floral pillows lie on the comfortable couch. It feels like a Vineyard living room rather than a clinic waiting room. The walls are painted an olive green and many of them, including in the examination rooms, are adorned with beautiful quilts crafted by Ms. Edge.
Ms. Begley explains, "Confidentiality is at the forefront of everything we are doing. On an Island it's even more important that people feel safe; we do ask very personal questions."
The staff exudes warmth and professionalism, a combination that fosters positive patient relationships. Ms. Edge adds, "We have the luxury of when patients need an hour, we find a way to give them an hour. We get to have a long-term relationship with them. We see some patients for their annual and monthly to pick up pills." Of the Island community Ms. Edge says, "They are certainly a well educated population and they know how to access care."