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Pierce County Reproductive Services faces uncertain future

April 24, 2008

A major provider of reproductive health services for UW-River Falls students and Pierce County’s working poor faces an uncertain future.

Last fall, the staff at Pierce County Reproductive Health Services learned of county plans to demolish the Ingram Center, the building in which they are housed, last fall, but are not yet sure when and where their office will be relocated.

“If [Pierce County Reproductive Health Services] closes and they can’t find another space in town, that’s going to be a major concern,” Alice Reilly-Myklebust, UWRF Student Health Services director, said.

Through student fees, UWRF contracts with Pierce County Reproductive Health Services to provide students with certain tests and safer-sex supplies.

Students can receive pregnancy and STD tests, pap smears and exams, emergency contraception and genital wart treatment without having to pay out-of- pocket at the time of their visit. The office also offers students birth control in pill, patch or injectable form and over the counter safer-sex supplies like condoms, at a reduced price.

Additionally, women who meet certain criteria can enroll in the Wisconsin Family Planning Waiver Program and receive additional services through that office.

“A lot of female students qualify for the program,” Reilly-Myklebust said.

The waiver program helps participating students pay for some services not covered by Student Health Services’ contracts with area medical facilities.

As one example, the waiver program would cover additional tests needed if a student’s pap smear turned up cell abnormalities, Reilly-Myklebust said.

To qualify for the program, women must be between the ages of 15 and 44, with a household income less than or equal to 185 percent of the poverty level as determined by the federal government, according to the Web site of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Planning.

The River Falls Medical Clinic, where students may have to turn for reproductive health care before the new office is set up, offers students most of the same tests at no cost for the visit, and provides qualifying students access to additional services through the Wisconsin Family Planning Waiver Program. However, the clinic doesn’t offer students discounted birth control or over the counter safer-sex supplies.

“I think the impact will be felt [in the community],” Ellen Butts, a nurse practitioner at Pierce County Reproductive Health Services said.

Pierce County Reproductive Health Services sees about 2,100 patients for a total of 8,000 visits each year.

Students make up between 35 to 40 percent of the patients. Since the office is run by the county, the rest of the patients tend to have incomes low enough that they qualify for waiver programs or Medicaid to help them pay for their visits.

Staff at Pierce County Reproductive Health Services will keep patients up-to-date on where they can go to receive affordable care before the new facility is ready, Butts said. The county may even be able to arrange for a temporary location so staff can continue administering some of their services while between offices.

No final decision has been made about the new location of the Pierce County Reproductive Health Services Office, and no definite timetable for the move is set, Pierce County Public Health director Caralynn Hodgson, said.

Sophomore Ash Miller said she thinks that it was a “pretty dumb” move on the part of the county to decide to move ahead with the demolition without first having prepared a new office for Pierce County Reproductive Health Services.

Having access to affordable reproductive health services is especially important for students “because college students are very promiscuous,” Miller said.

Pierce County Reproductive Health Services had not received a formal eviction notice as of April 15.