Once upon a time, a woman with certain needs might call Centre Volunteers in Medicine. If she was looking for services such as birth control pills or other sexual health issues, she could be referred to Tapestry of Health in Bellefonte.
Since June 30, that option has not been available. Tapestry is the direct-service clinic arm of Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania, a private, nonprofit organization operating in more than two dozen Pennsylvania counties. The Tapestry offices in Centre and Huntingdon counties were closed due to what Bellefonte site manager Amy Bolinsky called “a budgetary decision.”
But CVIM executive director Cheryl White had wondered about that decision. As her group scrambled to find ways to provide for the low-income women and men left without reproductive health care, she reached out to government officials to see if there was a way to get help.
In contacting U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson’s office, White said, she was told that Tapestry’s Title X funding had expired. Title X is the federal grant program under the Public Health Service Act that has been providing “family planning and related health services” for more than 40 years.
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“I can see how it would look like that,” said FHCCP Vice President Patricia Fonzi, although she said that isn’t quite how it worked out.
Fonzi said that the organization was going through a periodic reapplication for the Title X funding when the decision was made to close the two offices. She said the process was happening simultaneously, and there was a reduction in the amount of funding the group was to receive, but “that had no impact on our decision.”
FHCCP spent more than half a million dollars providing services to Centre and Huntingdon counties.
White is finding ways to try to keep services coming for Centre County residents. She has increased CVIM’s gynecology services by one day a week. Pap tests, the standard screening for cervical cancer that is part of most annual exams, were done by Tapestry. White said she is picking them up, but has to find money for them in an already tight budget.
Birth control is proving to be the hardest hurdle to overcome.
Tapestry was eligible to provide birth control pills to women at little cost through participation in a government program. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 340B Drug Pricing Program “requires drug manufacturers to provide outpatient drugs to eligible health care organizations/covered entities at significantly reduced prices.”
Tapestry qualified, but CVIM does not, meaning that although one of White’s doctors can write a prescription for birth control, the patient still has to pay full cost for it at a pharmacy.
“There are some that you can get for $9. And $9 might not seem like a lot of money, but for some people, it is,” she said.
Birth control pills are something that have to be taken precisely to maintain efficacy. Missing a day or two because there wasn’t money to pick up the pills isn’t really an option.
“That leaves you at risk of getting pregnant,” White said.
Fonzi said her people continue to reach out to other providers to try and get them to fill in those places where Tapestry’s departure leaves a hole in services, even as they are preparing to pull their final employee out of the Bellefonte office, where records are still being transferred to other doctors or copied for clients.
Soon, calls will be transferred to FHCCP’s Camp Hill location as the number of remaining clients decreases.
“The most challenging are the teens,” she said. “Many are not comfortable with going to a pediatrician, and may not have transportation.”
Until then, White will continue to try to cover the needs.
“I’m hoping someone steps into the void,” she said.