Mass. Planned Parenthood Welcomes M.D. as New CEO

First Physician to Lead a State Planned Parenthood Office

BY ROBYN ALIE
MMS PUBLIC HEALTH MANAGER
Jennifer Childs-Roshak, MD, MBA
Jennifer Childs-Roshak,
M.D., M.B.A.

Jennifer Childs-Roshak, M.D., M.B.A., was named president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts last fall, becoming the first physician to direct a Planned Parenthood in the United States. The position brings Childs-Roshak full circle in her career: it was her experience after college working for the U.N. Fund for Population Activities and volunteering for Planned Parenthood that inspired her to go to medical school and become a family physician. Childs-Roshak spoke with Vital Signs about her new role.

You are the first physician to lead a Planned Parenthood organization. What do you think you, as a physician, bring to the role?

One advantage for me is having trained as a family physician, where a lot of the training is very systems-based, and around the health of the family unit. It’s a perspective that really resonates with our population and our work in family planning.

One of my priorities for the organization is to connect the dots between the health care, education, and advocacy work. It’s a lot of what physicians are doing every day on a one-on-one basis — we provide medical expertise and often advocate for patients to get the care that they need.

What are the challenges for Planned Parenthood?

One of our biggest challenges is the perception that we’re a one-trick pony, only providing abortion services. While that is critical for women’s health, [as is] having the ability to make decisions about your own reproductive health, people are not aware that we provide the wide breadth of services and great access. We have terrific patient experience scores, and are looking for ways to collaborate to help physicians manage their patient population.

Most people are unaware of the majority of the services we provide. We see over 30,000 patients per year for well women exams, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, and overall access to family planning.

We’re the experts in birth control. We provide long acting reversible contraceptives (LARC). These are the best way to prevent a pregnancy, short of abstinence. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended LARC as first line birth control option for teenagers. They’re safe, very cost effective, and super effective for preventing pregnancy. We talk about family planning.

If you have a chronic medical illness, LARC are more reliable than a birth control pill and interact with medications less often. We also have same day and walk-in access. If you see your rheumatologist and you’re going on an immunosuppressant and need birth control, you can get the IUD the same day. It’s a real value-add for patients, and for physicians who want to refer their patients for easy access and affordable care.

What is the population you serve?

We definitely have a total cross-section of society. Different ethnic and socioeconomic mixes. We have seven health centers across the state. At [one of our facilities], up to 20 percent of our patients are men. We have a lot of patients who as identify as LGBTQ. I’m proud that patients do feel comfortable coming to see us, to get the preventive care they may otherwise avoid. This is a nice complementary service [for PCPs].

We take commercial and public insurance, self-pay, and sliding scale. And for those who can’t afford it, we have Title X funding that covers birth control at no charge for women. This is what’s being fought in the national arena.

We do not turn people away who come in looking for preventive services, reproductive and sexual health care. We’re not in the primary care business; we want to collaborate with primary care. We’re there for their patients when they need us, but certainly are sending people back to their primary care physicians.

What kind of advocacy and education do you do?

We do a lot of advocacy work. The Healthy Youth Act would require, in schools that choose to have sex education, the sex education class be age appropriate, medically accurate, and comprehensive.

There’s a patient confidentiality bill that impacts all clinical practices, and requires insurance companies to minimize the amount of information on the explanation of benefits And we’re really trying to get some traction around a telemedicine bill.

Education is very important. We have a number or award-winning programs around sex education, a lot of which pull in parents to talk to their kids about sexual health.

What else should physicians know?

As a physician, I’ve seen what happens when people can’t access care. If there’s anything that is a barrier to fellow physicians’ patients, they should think of us as a partner, and as an expert in family planning, providing nonjudgmental, compassionate care. No question is too sensitive for our staff. They’re very well trained. Our confidential consultation and referral hotline is open to anyone with any question about sexual or reproductive health.

To the extent that clinicians have a voice in their kids’ schools, patients’ schools, and can advocate for age appropriate, medically correct, comprehensive sex education programs, there’s a lot of need for that. Sex education is not mandatory. Some school systems have nothing, some have abstinence- only programs — some of those schools have the highest rates of teen pregnancy.

Physicians are leaders in their communities and can be advocates for smart public health policies by helping connect the dots between personal health and public health. We have the power as clinicians to make a difference.

Were security issues a consideration in accepting this position?

The safety of the patients and staff are a top priority. We have some of the highest security — a lot is a result of the 1994 shootings at Planned Parenthood in Brookline. Unfortunately, all practices have to think about this. It’s an unfortunate reality for society in general. I’m not worried about it personally, I’m confident in our security measures. On our patient surveys, we never have comments about security. It looks and feels just like any other medical office. It’s always comments about how well cared for they are.

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