Planned Parenthood announced it will close its Newport Health Center on Feb. 24, leaving patients in the area to find alternative places to obtain affordable reproductive care and other health services.
However, the closure will not affect abortion services because the Newport clinic did not provide them.
The closest Planned Parenthood clinics are in St. Johnsbury and Hyde Park, each about 45 minutes away.
Kai Williams, senior vice president of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said in a statement that the organization faced challenges delivering care to Newport that were exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Because of limited resources and the national crisis for reproductive health access, we’re reallocating our resources,” she said.
Pressed for details about those challenges, spokesperson Eileen Sullivan said via email that the challenges were “complex and often linked to one another, including difficulty recruiting and retaining staff, low patient volume, facility needs, and financial sustainability.”
Planned Parenthood plans to expand the hours its St. Johnsbury clinic is open and add a medication abortion program in the future, Williams said. The Newport facility provides abortion referrals but does not perform the procedure on site.
Newport clinic patients also can obtain some services via telehealth, including birth control, emergency contraception, HIV services and general health care, according to an announcement on the clinic’s website.
Brian Chaput, a previous patient of the Newport clinic, said the closure of Planned Parenthood would be a particular burden for people without transportation, such as young people.
“My concern is for the low-income people who don't have easy access to driving an hour, round trip two hours, never mind the time that they’re going to spend there,” he said. He found it concerning that Planned Parenthood appeared to have a “lack of understanding, or lack of appreciation, of the situation.”
“Have you ever driven through Eden in the wintertime?” he said. “Imagine yourself as a teenage girl accessing their services, trying to find someone to take them (to St. Johnsbury) without their parents knowing?”
Chaput is also concerned about the need for discretion and a nonjudgmental environment, particularly for young people and LGBTQ+ individuals. He’s referred young gay men to Planned Parenthood to get PrEP medication for HIV prevention without worrying about discretion.
“With the people at Planned Parenthood, that’s what they work with all day, so nothing shocks them,” he said. “It's just a much more comfortable situation.”
North Country Obstetrics and Gynecology, an offshoot of North Country Hospital, provides some reproductive care services, including surgical abortions, according to the Planned Parenthood website.
Dr. Peter Stuart, a member of the practice, said it could probably accommodate the patient load of the Newport clinic, but the clinic was able to cover a different segment of the population because of its affordability and discretion.
“If my 16-year-old daughter wants to get birth control pills, and she doesn't want me to know, she could go to Planned Parenthood and pay $5 for pills. It doesn't go on anybody's insurance so we never find out,” he said. “If somebody comes to my office, then it will go on their parents’ insurance, right?”
Planned Parenthood also has birth control samples and baskets of condoms on hand for people who need them, he said, which his office does not provide.
Stuart plans to meet with Planned Parenthood in a couple of weeks to see if there are any options for North Country to help those patients, although it’s “very preliminary,” he said.
“When I spoke with people at Planned Parenthood, I said, ‘Our role is to take care of the community, right? So that's how we look at this. However that is, we would like to do that,’” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Dr. Peter Stuart's surname. Additionally, based on incorrect information on the Planned Parenthood site at the time, an earlier version of this article wrongly indicated that abortion referrals and LGBTQ+ health services are not available online. Those services are available via telehealth.
Don't miss a thing. Sign up here to get VTDigger's weekly email on Vermont hospitals, health care trends, insurance and state health care policy.