For a growing number of Minnesota pregnancy help organizations “medical” doesn’t just mean ultrasound anymore.
When asked why so many centers are expanding their medical offerings, Vaunae Hansel, president of Elevate Life—a network serving pregnancy centers in Minnesota and western Wisconsin—cited the movement’s desire to provide women with hard-to-access care.
“When our clinics can offer holistic, natural wraparound services such as free prenatal care on site by pro-life doctors and nurses, FEMM (Fertility Education and Medical Management), lactation support and consultation, and well-baby home visits, we are able to meet the needs of women in a life-affirming way,” Hansel said.
She added, “Many of the women we serve are struggling with lack of adequate housing, financial support, insurance, and support systems.”
The level of need can vary from one community to another, however, so the medical models chosen by Minnesota centers vary significantly.
At TLC of Hastings, for example, ultrasound, pregnancy testing, and STI testing still top the list of medical offerings, according to executive director Andrea Kullmann. But in the last two years her center introduced Baby Café (lactation consultation), Brighter Beginnings (in-home visits with new parents), a fatherhood program (mentoring), and miscarriage support.
In-house prenatal care removes pregnancy obstacles
According to Clare Catton, client advocate at Options for Women St. Croix Valley in Oak Park Heights, her clinic began providing prenatal care 10 years ago, when “it became clear that being able to offer prenatal care could alleviate one of the main stresses women were going through.”
“We were seeing a lot of women without medical insurance,” she said. “In Minnesota if you are pregnant you can be covered for that. But there's still the time it takes to apply, be approved, and get your card.”
Providing a free, comprehensive prenatal clinic staffed by familiar professionals removed some of the women’s obstacles to continuing their pregnancies.
This center’s prenatal clinic, as well as its Abortion Pill Rescue® care, are provided by a nurse, three volunteer family practice physicians, and a registered diagnostic medical sonographer. The rest of the center’s staff supplements the medical services by addressing patients’ other needs, such as health coaching, parenting education, and obtaining housing, insurance, drug abuse treatment, and more.
Using a similar model, Jennifer Meyer, executive director at Options for Women East in St. Paul, said her clinic also chose to offer prenatal care seven years ago to assure continuity of care.
“We found that it was really hard after you do that pregnancy test, you do that limited ultrasound, and then…what?” she said. “The more things they need, if we send them out for it, it just doesn't happen.”
“By providing prenatal care, we're saying, ‘You've come here, we have built a relationship of trust with you, and if you choose life, you can stay with the people you’ve already connected with,’” Meyer said.
For these patients, the same doctor they see for prenatal appointments in the clinic will deliver their babies at one of the nearby hospitals.
All services provided in the Options for Women East building are free of charge. And Meyer’s team sees to it that those services keep evolving to meet patients’ needs.
For instance, after five patients in a row failed their three-hour glucose tests, staff nurses trained to provide gestational diabetes counseling—another service their uninsured patients could not obtain otherwise.
Looking ahead, Meyer keeps a wish list of future services in mind, including non-stress testing and biophysical profiling for pregnancy situations of concern.
Co-located medical clinics provide whole-family care
Another popular model of medical care incorporates an independent family medical practice housed within a pregnancy center.
For example, the new First Care Pregnancy Center being built in south Minneapolis will include office space for a Community Care Clinic. There Dr. Robert Larbi-Odam will provide both prenatal care and regular medical appointments for entire families, a boon to struggling parents.
Executive director Tammy Kocher said of this collaboration, “We are so excited to be partnering with Community Care Clinic. They are going to be offering a full-service medical clinic, including prenatal care, right in our building."
Similarly, Dan Saad, executive director at Guiding Star Wakota, said his center “is currently seeking a medical provider to have a satellite office out of our facility.”
There, too, the patients will be women and their families. Even now, in their temporary home, his center provides a child-watch area, where children can play while their parents have appointments.
In Saad’s soon-to-be-built 9800-square-foot facility, he said, “We anticipate a full range of services provided by board certified MD, OBGYN providers. In addition to medical providers, other ancillary services are being added and expanded, such as doulas, mental health, and lactation consulting.”
The first place women turn for their medical care
Within Elevate Life, Hansel said, “Our goal is to help our affiliates become the first place a teen or a woman of childbearing age looks to for medically accurate, natural holistic women's health. We are helping them envision a future that includes life-affirming services which address all the needs of women during their childbearing years.”
Hansel’s affiliates include five centers working toward certification with the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, aided by best medical policies and procedures available from Elevate Life.
For directors like Meyer, providing this level of medical care aligns perfectly with the heart of pregnancy help.
“This is how we can show that pro-life piece,” she said. “When we hear the old argument, ‘You just save the baby, you don't help the woman,’ we know better.”
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