Twenty-million dollars is one heck of a gift and it goes a long way.
Planned Parenthood North Central States recently received a $20 million donation from MacKenzie Scott, a billionaire philanthropist and novelist.
The regional Planned Parenthood, which includes Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska, has over 100,000 patients a year. Minnesota is home to 18 clinics and more than 70 percent of the region’s patients.
Primarily known for providing sexual reproductive healthcare, the organization’s services include birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy testing and cancer screenings, among other things. Abortion makes up only three percent of their total services but almost 100 percent of any controversies surrounding the organization.
“It’s (abortion) a small part of what we do … but it’s a very important part of what we do,” said Sarah Stoesz, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States.
Who does Planned Parenthood serve?
Planned Parenthood serves the underserved with a big focus on equity. Unlike many other healthcare institutions, its services funnel through insurance in a way that tries to bring patient costs as low as possible, according to Stoesz.
“We are very focused on equity. That means that we keep our prices to patients as low as we possibly can. And we slide our fees to zero, as much as we possibly can for people who need it,” Stoesz said.
Prior to the Trump administration, Planned Parenthood received federal funding through Title X. Title X is the country’s only federally funded family planning program, created in 1970 to provide affordable contraception and resources. Organizations receiving Title X funds include specialized family planning clinics, county health departments, and other non-profit health care centers providing reproductive health care at no to little cost. Government funding, like Title X, individual donations and philanthropy like Scott’s, make Planned Parenthood’s services more affordable and equitable, Stoesz said.
Across the nation, 30 percent of Planned Parenthood’s patients identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of color. In Minnesota, two-thirds of patients are at or below 200% Federal Poverty Level, defined as an annual income of $53,000 for a family of four.
One focus of Planned Parenthood is eliminating racial biases in healthcare, which can plague a patient’s experience and prevent them from getting the care they need. Stoesz pointed to examples in reproductive health, where providers may make assumptions about people’s lifestyles and, through that assumption, may recommend a certain treatment over another because of their bias.
“This is a very serious structural problem inside the healthcare system in the United States of America, it is widespread, and it is deep, and it is very serious and it is impacting the health and wellbeing of people in this country,” Stoesz said.
$20 million gift
The donation was an unrestricted gift, with just one requirement of sending a yearly impact report. Planned Parenthood North Central States hasn’t allocated the money to anything specific yet, according to the regional CEO. But she said a good amount is likely going to go towards more staffing and increasing capacity.
“Her (Scott’s) representative did communicate that she was impressed with our commitment to health equity in this region, and that was the reason that we were selected for the gift,” Stoesz said.
Scott also donated $275 million to Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the national organization.
Because of its removal from Title X during the Trump administration, Planned Parenthood began to rely more heavily on philanthropy, Stoesz said. In a typical year, it raises around $16 or $17 million. Next year, it aims to raise $18 million for general operations.
Just recently, under the Biden administration, Minnesota reentered the Title X program, bringing $2.9 million to the center. This funding comes at a time when the organization is recovering from the pandemic’s financial hardships.
Planned Parenthood struggled to keep up with the rising costs for providers, which resulted in its health centers not being fully staffed, leading to longer wait times and decreased accessibility for patients.
“It’s very difficult for us to keep up with those increasing costs because we don’t pass them on to our patients, compared with other healthcare providers who do pass costs on to their patients,” Stoesz said.
Specifically, the clinic is having a hard time maintaining people who provide support staff functions, like registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and medical assistants, said Sarah Traxler, the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood North Central States.
“Part of it is that people are burnt out on healthcare,” she said. “That there are necessary increases in salaries for folks who do those support staff and a nonprofit is not always capable of paying that.”
Added strain onto Minnesota’s Planned Parenthood
Scott’s gift comes at a time when women’s reproductive rights are at risk in the nation, which puts additional stress on the organization, Stoesz said.
This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, in which Mississippi is asking the Court to overturn the long-standing precedent of Roe v. Wade.
Depending on the decision, some states in the north-central region may lose access to abortion. North Dakota and South Dakota are at risk because the decision could make abortion illegal in those states.
Planned Parenthood in Minnesota has been preparing for that possibility, investing in additional physicians, other clinicians and infrastructure to make sure it can take in expanded numbers of abortion patients. The organization has also been developing a patient navigation system to help patients find transportation and lodging if they need to travel out of state for their abortion.
“We don’t want anyone in America to not be able to have an abortion because they cannot afford it or because they face logistical barriers to getting to a clinic,” Stoesz said.