Feb. 1 2017 01:32 PM

Government-supported programs offer important services for women

The impact of access to appropriate women’s reproductive health care, for me, is on one hand a professional story and on the other a very real and personal story. The journey to the birth of my granddaughter Ruby, 2 and a half years ago, was not an easy one for my daughter. In fact, it was filled with many years of challenges and heartache. Had she not been fortunate enough to have access to a variety of reproductive health care options, however, the consequences would have been devastating and even life-threatening. Access to appropriate reproductive health care, without hoops to jump through and restrictions, saved my daughter’s life, both emotionally and physically, and allowed her to experience one of the greatest joys of life — parenthood.

Most women have personal reproductive health stories. You may have noticed billboards around Lansing in the last year promoting breastfeeding and women’s health care services. The women you saw sharing their experiences were not models. They are your neighbors, friends and colleagues. They felt strongly enough about women’s health to volunteer for these campaigns and share the powerful and inspiring stories of their experiences. In speaking to these women about their decision to participate, many said that they did so because they were proud to be women and wanted to encourage other women.

“I know a lot of people in the community,” said Crystal Morris, one of the models in the “Your Health Matters” campaign. “I wanted them to know that I go and get my exams on a regular basis and they should too.”

Another model from the campaign, Kathleen Albany, said she liked the statement the campaign made.

“It’s definitely important for women to take care of their bodies,” she said.

Now, more than ever, I encourage you to do what these women did. Speak to others about women’s health, make your voice heard, be an advocate and bring women’s health to the forefront. Your message is unique, and your voice is critical.

The Ingham County Health Department and our Community Health Centers have a significant focus on women’s health, including reproductive health. We provide basic preventive health and annual well-woman visits. More specific women’s reproductive health care services offered by the Health Department include prenatal, obstetric and antenatal care; contraception; anemia screening; testing, counseling and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and HIV; breast and cervical cancer screenings; and breastfeeding support and counseling.

Our Maternal and Child Health Division offers a number of programs specifically focused on ensuring healthy births in women at high risk of poor pregnancy outcomes or infant death. Our programs offer home visits to support new mothers through their pregnancies and during the first two years of the child’s life; education and counseling to promote healthy behaviors before, during and after pregnancy; and inter-conception care focused on spacing pregnancies to ensure optimum health for subsequent pregnancies. They also serve to reduce barriers in access to appropriate care and support throughout the community by providing linkage to a broad array of health care and social services.

These preventive and reproductive services at the Ingham County Health Department are just some of the many benefits covered by health plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or funded by federal grants. While the ACA is not perfect, I have no doubt that women are healthier today thanks to the preventive care benefits it has provided. Since the ACA was enacted, more women receive mammograms, improving early detection of breast cancer. Because more pregnancies today are planned and prenatal care is covered, babies and children are healthier and parents are ready to parent. Abortion and teen pregnancy rates are at a historic low today, and the availability of contraceptives under the ACA is a likely contributor. A healthier population is critical to the success of our communities and country. Despite its imperfections, the ACA has made us a healthier nation.

Right now our politicians are discussing the future of women’s preventive and reproductive health services, including these programs. They aim to dismantle the ACA, and at this time we’ve seen no clear plan for replacement. There is so much at risk. Our community is healthier and stronger today because of the ACA. My family is healthier and stronger today because of ACA. That is my health story. Now, go share yours. That might mean talking to your legislator, speaking up for the services you rely on when your employer is shopping for health insurance plans or refusing to be ashamed when you seek the services you need. What you do, and even the specific message you share, is unique, but there is power in our collective stories. Women’s bodies and health care needs are normal, and they matter to all of us.

Linda S. Vail is health officer for the Ingham County Health Department.