Family Planning Association takes over services


FARMINGTON — Provision of family planning and health services won’t change as Western Maine Community Action’s program, Family Planning/Health Services, transitions and Family Planning Association of Maine assumes operation of it Friday.

After 45 years of providing the program, WMCA staff, present and past, gathered with Family Planning Association staff Wednesday in Emery Community Arts Center to remember and celebrate the health services provided to women of all ages and limited incomes.

Due to strategic changes in care delivery, Family Planning Association has decided to not renew contracts with four subcontractors, including WMCA in East Wilton and programs in Presque Isle, Bangor and Ellsworth as of June 30.

WMCA requested an earlier transition for Feb. 1.  Family Planning Association will assume operation of the health centers in Farmington, Lewiston, Norway and Rumford.

“WMCA and the Family Planning Association have been working together to assure for a seamless transition with no interruption of family planning services for the women and teens of these communities,” Nancy Audet said in a statement.

WMCA staff for the Family Planning/Health Services Program have been hired by Family Planning Association.

Changes in health care provision, many made in response to passage of the Affordable Care Act, have caused Family Planning Association to make changes “to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving health care environment that emphasizes access, efficiency, consistency and value,” Audet said.

So much has changed, yet there’s so much to do in the way of family planning. Thirty years ago Maine had the highest teen pregnancy rate, now it’s the lowest, explained George Hill, Family Planning Association chief executive officer.

“We’re here to honor the legacy of this program,” Hill said. “This is not a decision we take lightly and it is not about the quality of services the agencies have provided. The agencies have done a great job with the available resources.”

It was a bittersweet moment shared by staff and leadership as WMCA ends 45 years of service, the heart of what has been family planning programs locally, F. Celeste Branham, WMCA board president, told the gathering.

The success and longevity she attributed to the people who contributed to the health and well-being of women of all ages and limited means.

“We celebrate today current staff and staff of the past whose compassionate care and clear competencies improved so many lives,” she said.

She acknowledged that staff worked with dwindling resources, long hours and moves and changes in space.

“You toiled for others, even when you didn’t know whether the program would continue,” she said.

Branham recognized two of the longest serving members of the staff, two nurse practitioners, Sarah Hayes and Sue Eastler.

Following President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, community action agencies developed, including the Franklin County Community Action Council in 1965, board member Ellen Grunblatt said of the organization’s history.

“Family Planning was one of the earliest initiatives,” she said. “The first family planning clinic in the state opened in Strong in 1967.”

Family Planning offices opened in Lewiston, Rumford and Norway in 1973 and became Tri-County Family Planning.

“Services initially oriented toward helping rural families control the size of their families, then became involved in preventing teen pregnancy,” she said. “Both of these issues are deeply related to preventing poverty, consistent with WMCA’s mission. Family Planning efforts contributed substantially to Maine’s status as a national leader in prevention of teen pregnancy.”

Women’s health issues, including making cervical and breast cancer screening more available in these rural counties, addressed concerns about limited access to these services, she said.

“A broad emphasis on reproductive health for men and women in the late 1980s and ’90s included winning grants to develop STD screening and treatment and anonymous AIDS testing,” she said.

WMCA Health Services has been a leader in these, she said.

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