SITKA — Sitka’s Planned Parenthood health center on Lake Street will be closed at the end of January and moved to a smaller location because of funding cutbacks, officials of the reproductive health organization announced this week.
Planned Parenthood said the smaller Sitka health center, at a location that has not yet been selected, will reopen in February, and offer services through “telemedicine.”
The office will be staffed, but not by a certified nurse practitioner.
Patients will be able to visit the health center and speak with a nurse practitioner via “secure video conference,” Planned Parenthood said.
The Sitka clinic mainly provides access to birth control and will continue doing that, said Clover Simon, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman in Alaska. Still, the downsizing of the clinic will mean less in the way of reproductive services for the Sitka clinic’s estimated 270 annual patients. Sitka patients will not be able to have their blood pressure measured or have a pap test, and testing for sexually transmitted diseases could be reduced at the Sitka clinic.
“We’d been holding out hope we’d be able to expand things in Sitka, but we had to face reality,” Simon said. “There will definitely be less access for some women. We’re going to try as hard as we can to fill that gap, but the reality is it’s going to cause hardship for some women. And that’s unfortunate.”
The Sitka clinic has been using telemedicine for at least the last year, Simon said.
The Sitka clinic operates part-time and has had trouble finding certified nurse practitioners to staff it, the organization said. Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Soldotna has faced the same issues, Simon said.
Testing for some sexually transmitted diseases will still be available when the Sitka clinic re-opens, but the extent of the testing will depend on whether or not the clinic staffer is certified to draw blood. Tests for diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia, which require only a urine sample, will continue, according to Simon. The downsizing of the Sitka clinic comes as Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, which operates facilities in Washington, Idaho and Alaska, is dealing with state and federal budget cuts.
The organization announced that three smaller clinics in Washington would be closed, with patients transferred to nearby facilities.
Kristen Glundberg-Prossor, a Seattle-based Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, said the organization has had its federal funding cut and lost some funding from Washington state, which is dealing with a budget crisis.
She said some of Planned Parenthood’s larger centers in Washington state had previously subsidized smaller clinics, like the one in Sitka.
But funding cuts and changes to Medicaid have reduced the volume of patients at some of the larger clinics, and the effects have trickled down, forcing closings in Silverdale, Forks and Oak Harbor and the downsizing of the Sitka clinic.
Both Glundberg-Prossor and Simon said Planned Parenthood would like to expand telemedicine in Alaska, bringing services to smaller communities where none currently is offered.
“This restructuring is an opportunity for Sitka to be the pilot for a new and more efficient care delivery model for PPGNW (Planned Parenthood Greater Northwest) rural service areas,” Planned Parenthood said. “Our hope is that this model will enable PPGNW to reach many new patients through Alaska and other remote areas of the great Northwest.”