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NC Planned Parenthood gets new president

March 31, 2012
By CHRIS MORRIS - Staff Writer (cmorris@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

The new president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the North Country lives in Lake Placid, and she says she enters the job at a time when the nation's health policies are dramatically shifting.

Betsy Brown was appointed to the position on March 19. She succeeds Kathie Wunderlich, who retired last year.

Planned Parenthood of the North Country provides health care, education and advocacy services in Clinton, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. The organization operates seven health centers across the region, and serves more than 13,000 clients annually with reproductive and sexual health services.

Article Photos

Betsy Brown
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)

Brown, 55, began her career in health care as a volunteer, helping with family planning on a student hotline in college. She went on to serve with the Peace Corps for two years in West Africa, and later worked in family planning in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and the former Soviet Union.

Brown returned to the Adirondacks five years ago to live and work. She spoke to the Enterprise on Friday at Planned Parenthood's Saranac Lake office. The following includes excerpts from that interview.

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Adirondack Daily Enterprise: You're coming into this job at a time when Planned Parenthood and women's health is clearly in the national spotlight and dominating much of the political discourse. What are your thoughts about entering this job at this time?

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Betsy Brown: Women's health has always been an important issue and it will continue to be an important issue. Joining Planned Parenthood now, for me personally, it's a wonderful time for me because the commitment of the team, the work that we do - it's never been more important. People need services, preventive health services, counseling, education, and Planned Parenthood offers that package of services. It's great to be part of a national movement, a federation, that serves people in need.

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ADE: With all of the discussion about women's health happening in the media and in politics, do you see any challenges or do you have any concerns about the job?

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BB: I've been working on family planning and women's reproductive health since the 70s, when I started with Peace Corps. Many of the issues have been discussed and looked at from multiple perspectives for a long time. I don't foresee real issues related to me, the work, the team, the mood.

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ADE: Not to harp on the matter, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds to me like you're almost detached from that political dialogue.

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BB: Planned Parenthood (and) the affiliates provide services, we're a health services organization first and foremost, and an educational organization. The organization has been here through many, many elections and changes in perspectives. ... That's not to say that the political discourse this year, in an election year, is not very high, but that's not the focus of our work in this affiliate.

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ADE: Tell me about where North Country Planned Parenthood is as an organization - its standing, its footing in the community.

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BB: Planned Parenthood reachers, in this region, over 13,000 clients. ... We have thousands of recipients, teens and others, who have benefited from the education programs. We have seven health centers. We cover territory that spans from Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence (River). And that's about 17 percent of New York state. We're meeting a huge need. Rural health has never been more important, issues of access are extremely important, affordable health care is extremely important, particularly in these very hard economic times. I believe our challenge is to continue to meet the needs, and to be open to new ideas.

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ADE: Speaking of challenges, what are the big challenges that Planned Parenthood faces in the coming years?

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BB: Like many service institutions, we need to look ahead at how people like to receive their services. ... That's one challenge: to listen to the population and enlarge, or expand, or reframe how we process people. The other challenge, of course, is the addition of new services, the addition of new users. Depending on what health care system is put in place, there is the potential for a large number of additional beneficiaries. The challenge is also to engage men ... because men's reproductive health needs are also very, very important. To be able to touch them, bring them into the program, reach them through services and education programs, that's been a challenge around the world.

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ADE: How do you go about dispelling the myths about Planned Parenthood?

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BB: I think the main way to dispel them is to continue to present what Planned Parenthood's mission is. Planned Parenthood is one of the largest provides of preventive health services in American. Planned Parenthood is an educational organization, it's a community outreach organization, it's a nonjudgmental health services organization. That's what Planned Parenthood is. I think we just need to get our message out. One in five American women have gone to Planned Parenthood at some time in their life. It's a huge network of service providers, clients and recipients.

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ADE: In your experience, working in women's health and family planning in the U.S. and internationally, was there a moment that cemented your love of what you do?

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BB: When I was overseas, I worked with an affiliate in Liberia. Here they were, they had come through civil war, they had some of the worst health indicators in all of Africa. And that affiliate was a lifeline in that community. They had programs like income generation for women, they had an extensive method of bringing people into their tent and providing services. One of the memorable moments at the end of my time in Liberia, my three years there, they had a 'gowning' ceremony: they placed a tribal gown on me. That was in 1983; that affiliate is still going today. That same community spirit has helped carry them through.

 
 

 

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