Shelby County Commissioners Refuse To Hear From Planned Parenthood

Local News
Shelby County Commissioners will decide Monday whether to follow the terms of a contract and give Planned Parenthood money for a free condom program. Local 24’s Mike Matthews says this could end up costing a lot of money in court.
 
Note to Shelby County Commissioners. Wear your best clothes Monday. A lot of people will be looking at you.
 
Mark your calendar for Monday. People jammed into a commission meeting room Wednesday, to show support for commissioners to pay $110,000 for Planned Parenthoods Free Condoms For Memphis program. Its been going on for about four years. Supporters say they give away roughly 50,000 condoms every month. 
 
In years past, there’s been little or any debate on this issue. This year is different. Supporters of the program say it’s politics. Even though this has nothing to do with abortion, or any of the so-called controversial Planned Parenthood programs, some say politics is getting in the way of public health.
 
Will Batts is from the LGBT group Out Memphis. “We are the number one city in late diagnoses of H-I-V,” he says. “It means people don’t have the information they need until it becomes too late for them.” Batts goes on to say, “We need to do a better job. Taking away resources is not the way to do that.”
 
The Planned Parenthood issue was not on the committee agenda, but commissioners could have done, what is called an add-on. They would need a two-thirds majority vote to do it. They did not get it. Commissioners were asked to put the item on their agenda. They needed a two-thirds majority vote to do it. They didn’t get it.
 
“I would say this,” Commissioner David Reaves told the audience. “It would be easier to add this on the meeting on Monday.” His idea was not received well by the crowd which began to boo.
 
The four commissioners whose votes kept the issue from being discussed where David Reaves, Terry Roland, George Chism, and Heidi Shafer. All conservative Republicans, and that didn’t surprise Planned Parenthood’s Ashley Coffield, who says politics is all over this decision.
 
She says the condom program is critically important. “If we stop providing those services,” she says, “… there would be a big impact on public health in our community. We’re providing 50,000 condoms a month to nearly 100 locations throughout Shelby County.”
 
If commissioners don’t provide the group $110,000, they might be found violating a state contract.
It could end up costing more than $400,000. That doesn’t bother Commissioner Terry Roland. “I’d rather face judges down here,” Roland says, “… then face the Master upstairs, you know? At the end of the day, that’s how I have to make my decision.”
 
There were seven commissioners who voted in favor of putting the item on the committee agenda. If those seven vote in favor of Planned Parenthood Monday, the agency will get the money to continue the condom program. 
 
Monday’s meeting starts at 3:00 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Office Building on North Main Street in downtown Memphis.
 
Coffield released the following statement to Local 24, regarding her remarks to commissioners: 

Good morning. My name is Ashley Coffield, and I’m the CEO of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

I’ve brought with me today 1,541 petitions from individuals who support Planned Parenthood’s Free Condoms Memphis program and are concerned about the county’s actions with regard to this program and the public’s health.

Free Condoms Memphis reduces health inequality in our region through a wide-scale condom distribution program and public health campaign.

According to the CDC, condom distribution programs increase condom use, reduce HIV and other STIs among at-risk groups; promote delayed sexual initiation or abstinence among youth; and are cost saving as a result of eliminating future medical care costs for HIV infections.

Planned Parenthood has been a contractor with the county for condom distribution since 2013 and our history shows a clear record of success; success that the county has recognized during site visits, progress reports, and continued support for Planned Parenthood’s management of the program.

Since 2013, Planned Parenthood has distributed 1.7 million condoms in Shelby County. We’re currently distributing about 50,000 per month.  We do this through a network of nearly 100 distribution locations. We’ve grown from 46 locations at the end of our first year to 95 locations today. These locations are the kind of places people visit regularly, such as barber shops, nail salons, tattoo parlors, bars, night clubs, churches, health clinics, and government and social service agencies. Small businesses distribute many of our condoms; in fact, our top three distribution locations are small businesses.

One way we stretch the funding for Free Condoms Memphis is effective use of volunteers. Each month, we organize a condom packing night that involves up to 20 volunteers who spend 2 hours packing and organizing the month’s condoms for distribution. This effort would take one staff person approximately 40 hours to complete.

In October 2016, we responded to an RFP issued by Shelby County government. In November 2016, we received an award letter from the county. In December 2016, we received a contract from the county, which we signed and returned. It is now February 1, and we have no executed contract from the county for 2017. While the funding and contract remain in limbo, we continue to distribute condoms and incur costs.

Since November, we have relied on Shelby County government to follow through on the funding grant it had awarded to us. We have employees and infrastructure that we must maintain to ensure the success of the program.  There are harms to public health if we stop the program. And there are harms to our reputation if we stop since small businesses, non-profit organizations, and colleges and universities are relying on us to continue.

In short, we urge the county not to play politics with public health.

I know we have disagreements about abortion rights, but there is a time and place to have those discussions.  I don’t think our disagreements should get in the way of us working together to improve the health and well-being of our community, especially when we all can agree that a program is working well.

Thank you.

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