Martha’s Vineyard Family Planning has a small staff consisting of one nurse practitioner, one site manager and two counselors. The office is tucked away along State Road in Vineyard Haven and only open three days a week. And yet the organization helps over 1,000 people a year, doesn’t have a waiting list for appointments, and offers services unavailable elsewhere on the Island.
“We are able to see patients the same week they call,” said Brenda Grandizio, site manager. “We are dedicated to making sure people are getting services as soon as possible.”
The services offered are varied. Recently, the organization received a colposcopy machine, which helps in the early detection of cervical cancer. Since June 2015, the machine has been used for 26 patients after abnormal pap smears. Not all the tests came back positive but without the colposcopy machine the women would have had to travel off-Island for more testing. And in some cases the tests did come back positive, potentially saving a life through early detection.
Last year a young British woman working seasonally on the Vineyard was persuaded by a friend to visit Family Planning for a health exam, and the colposcopy machine revealed abnormal cells. The young woman, identified as Tess, was quoted in the annual 2015 report: “In the UK, women aren’t offered a pap exam until age 25. Because I was only 23 and had no symptoms, I had no idea that there was a problem. If it weren’t for your clinic staff I may have learned about this too late.”
Family Planning is also the only provider and remover of sub-dermal implants for birth control, which it offers along with IUDs and birth control pills. The confidential clinic provides sexually transmitted infection screenings and regular gynecological health exams regardless of ability to pay or insurance. Adapting to community needs, the clinic has started evening hours too, and 30 per cent of its business in the last two months has been done after the traditional work day ends.
The isolation of the Vineyard is a constant problem for health care. It can take months or even years to secure a primary care provider on the Island. Other services, such as abortions, have no on-Island options. While Family Planning will never offer abortions (it is federally funded through Title X), it does offer balanced counseling for women who find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy. In these sessions they outline the options, provide as much information as possible and then refer the patient to the corresponding provider for their decision.
Family Planning also serves men and their reproductive health. On any given clinic day, the counselors will see about 18 to 20 people spanning generations and genders.
“In one day we saw patients from 11 to 71,” said Ms. Grandizio. “We are usually fully booked with a low no show rate.”
In efforts to further connect with the community and spread the word about their services, the clinic plans to work more with the schools and jails to increase health education and share available resources.
Martha’s Vineyard Family Planning falls under the parent organization Health Imperatives, which although headquartered off-Island offers additional services on the Vineyard, including Healthy Families, a program that helps new parents learn how to take care of their children. Parenting issues for young people range from learning to change diapers to issues of child abuse and neglect. These free services are done in the home, which helps the counselors give practical instruction and advice.
“One client was terrified to give her baby the first bath,” said Elizabeth Torrant, who oversees the program.
Ideally the organization likes to begin working with young parents during pregnancy, and continue visiting until the child is three years old. The young people helped by Healthy Families cross socioeconomic status, race and gender, said Ms. Torrant.
“They all need support because none have been parents before,” she said.
In addition to parenting advice, the counselors focus on showing young parents that parenthood does not mean they have to give up their dreams.
“Whether it’s graduating high school or going to college, just because they have a kid doesn’t mean they need to give up on their aspirations,” said Ms. Torrant.
For Family Planning and Healthy Families, the key component is building a trusting relationship with the Island community.â¨ “It’s getting out into the community for me,” said Ms. Grandizio. “We end up becoming patients’ confidants. It feels comfortable here, it’s safe here, and that keeps people coming back.”
To make an appointment at Family Planning call 508-693-1208. For more information about Healthy Family programs visit healthimperatives.org.