STD, teen pregnancy rates decrease in Nassau’s ‘high risk’ communities

According to the newly released 2014-2017 Nassau County Community Health Assessment, STD and teen pregnancy rates in Nassau County’s “high risk” communities have decreased. Among the nine communities categorized as high risk – Roosevelt, Hempstead and Uniondale – had the highest teen pregnancy rates in the county in 2008.

According to the report, teen pregnancy rates in these communities have decreased from 85 to 48 per every 1,000 females between the ages of 15 to 19. This is still,  county officials have said, “a pregnancy rate over four times those of the rest of the country.”

Rates of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis have also decreased by noticeable amounts, in part because of the work done by Planned Parenthood of Nassau County (PPNC), the largest provider of family planning and reproductive healthcare on Long Island.

Education is essential

Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, Hempstead, NY
LIR Photo Credit: Sierra Ortega

Planned Parenthood of Nassau County runs education programs in three of the communities the Department of Health has labeled as “high-risk” – Hempstead, Roosevelt and Westbury. These education programs use nationally tested, evidence-based curriculum. Both Planned Parenthood and Nassau County health reports have shown that since implementation of this curriculum, Roosevelt has seen a 30 percent decline in teen pregnancy and Hempstead a 17 percent decline.

Sarah Miller, vice president of Education and Public Affairs at PPNC, has attributed the success of these programs to their focus on women’s empowerment. “If women don’t have control over their reproductive health and lives then they don’t have control over anything.”

Many of these programs place a special focus on youth and young adults. “For the most part we are going to be the entry place into the health care system for young women,” said JoAnn Smith, president and CEO of PPNC.

Many of the students from area colleges and universities take advantage of the services Planned Parenthood offers for simple reasons. “It’s cheaper,” said Sarah, a patient of Planned Parenthood student at Hofstra who requested that only her first name be used. “It’s easy and…they don’t ask questions.”

Health care access

The Nassau County Department of Health reports that access to quality healthcare is expanding, and that is part of the cause of the dramatic shifts in pregnancy and STD rates. However, populations that need to take advantage of these resources often don’t, despite the increased availability.

“Having no insurance or [being] unable to afford co-pays and deductibles prevents residents from accessing medical treatment” the Nassau County heath report reads. The number of uninsured in the county is estimated to be 14.1 percent, according to the 2014-2017 County Community Health Assessment.

Several officials cited the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as an essential component in the strategy to improve women’s health on Long Island. Smith said that the ACA “will ensure that women will have access to the quality care they need regardless of whether they can afford it or not”. Over 200,000 people have enrolled in the New York State healthcare exchange as part of the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act.

Pro-life point of view

Not everyone is sold on the effectiveness of Planned Parenthood’s programs and advocacy.  “As far as I know, Planned Parenthood is offering them an abortion,” said Mary Ziesig, NY State Regent for Catholic Daughters of the Americas, who can often be found in front of the Hempstead PPNC branch protesting the organization’s work. “I come here is because I’m praying that those women… will have a change of heart. That they might choose life for their child.” Pro-life advocates all across the country have voiced similar concerns over, what they perceive as the expanding power of Planned Parenthood.

As originally reported in the conservative news blog NewsBusters, groups like Students for Life in America and the Christian Defense Coalition have claimed that the passage of the Affordable Care Act will increase the number of abortions performed in the country and make Planned Parenthood a “$2 billion industry.”

Providing support

Smith called this type of attitude “ideological zealotry that is very frightening.” In fact, only nine percent of what Planned Parenthood does in Nassau County is abortion-related. That number is only three percent nationally.

“We really practice prevention,” said Smith. “We help our patients practice it. It’s an economic issue…providing preventative healthcare is far less expensive than paying for those medical costs down the road for unintended pregnancies or for breast cancer or for cervical cancers.”

Despite questions about Planned Parenthood’s moral standing, the organization is a useful tool to address very real public health concerns. “This is not rocket science,” said Gwen O’Shea, the president and CEO of The Health and Welfare Council of Long Island. “Health care institutions need to be working in partnership with community based organizations…to be able to get patients the care that works for them.”

Sarah, a Hofstra University student, is certainly glad to have access to Planned Parenthood. “You never know what kind of decisions you’re going to make in your life so I feel like I enjoy the fact that it’s there to help me out if I decide to make the wrong decision.”