BENNINGTON — The Bennington clinic of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is among five clinics being closed by the women’s reproductive health care provider as of Sunday, June 12.
Clinics in Hyde Park, Middlebury, St. Albans and Claremont, N.H. are closing, affecting a total of 12 employees, Nicole Clegg, senior vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said Monday.
The closures were made necessary for a number of reasons, including reduced government funding, difficulty finding employees, changes in providing women’s health care and preparation for the likely overturning of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision preventing unreasonable restrictions to abortion access.
“When we were talking about sustainability and our commitment to manage this moment — and the likelihood of Roe being overturned — we had to take all these things into consideration and come up with a plan that allows us to be around for the long term,” Clegg said.
The Bennington clinic, which is open three days a week, serves 672 patients for a wide array of reproductive health services, including abortion services, Clegg said. Those services will be expanded at the region’s clinics remaining open, Clegg said.
The next-closest Planned Parenthood clinics in Vermont are in Rutland, Brattleboro and White River Junction. To the west in New York are clinics in Troy, Albany, Clifton Park, Schenectady and Queensbury.
The Brattleboro clinic provides referrals to other clinics that provide abortions, but does not currently provide the service itself.
Clegg said the company has begun personal and public outreach to let its patients know they can still access reproductive health care, and where. “We’re having direct conversations with each impacted patient. Either that’s through letters, or conversations making sure everyone is aware and understands what the options are.”
On its website, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England said “providing high quality, dependable care is at the heart of our mission. That is why we are announcing a plan that will allow us to best meet the needs of our patients, now and in the future, while managing the many challenges we are facing in this moment.”
“We were facing significant deficits for at least the next three years,” Clegg said of the fiscal picture. She explained that’s in part a result of reduced government funding — including the New Hampshire Executive Council’s vote to defund Planned Parenthood, and smaller than expected Title X federal funding coming to Vermont.
It also reflects changes in the way women are accessing reproductive health services, she said.
With the impact of COVID-19, the advent of telehealth, and the ability to prescribe birth control for a year at a time and IUDs that remain effective for years, there was less demand for in-person services. But at the same time, knowing that the court’s action to overturn Roe is likely imminent, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England wanted to assure its survival.
With regard to changes in women’s health care, Clegg noted that cervical cancer screenings, which used to be annual, are now recommended for every three to five years, and that testing and treatment kits for sexually transmitted infections are now available by mail.
“Telehealth is a big shift,” Clegg said. “It’s more convenient and attractive. [Our patients] don’t always want to go into a heath center … it can meet people’s schedules, and there’s a convenience factor that wasn’t around five years ago.”
The clinic is referring patients to local providers including the Bennington Free Clinic at Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services, Southern Vermont Women’s Healthcare, Southwest Vermont Medical Center’s obstetrics and gynecological practice, and Women’s View Midwifery.