‘We were an island of care’: Steamboat Planned Parenthood abruptly closed last week
Nonprofit is reallocating resources to New Mexico amid ‘shifting landscape’
The abrupt closure of Planned Parenthood’s location in Steamboat Springs last week has forced as many as 500 local patients to look elsewhere for services.
Officials with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains said the closure of the clinic in Steamboat was for a variety of reasons amid a “rapidly changing landscape” for women’s healthcare.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, and it was done with a lot of care and thought and thinking about priorities where we are needed,” said Whitney Phillips, Chief Operating Officer for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. “We had been there a long time with a lot of history and relationships.”
The Steamboat location was one of 13 in Colorado and had been open since 1972. The closest other clinics are in Glenwood Springs, Boulder or Fort Collins. Patients with appointments on the books received phone calls to inform them of the closure, which was effective Friday, Sept. 16. Other patients will be sent a letter, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains officials said Tuesday, Sept. 20.
While Phillips said a lot of thought went into the decision, it came as a shock to those working for Planned Parenthood in Steamboat when they were first told of the decision a week before the clinic was set to shut its doors. Rather than help facilitate the closing of the clinic, Steamboat’s Health Center Manager Kelly Clapsaddle Subr chose to resign, according to her resignation letter obtained by Steamboat Pilot & Today.
“When I was given the news about (the center) closing, my (regional operations manager) actually said to me ‘I hope this brings you some relief,’” Clapsaddle Subr wrote in the letter. “The disconnect of that statement is indicative of the disconnect between upper management and the patient-facing folks. How could I be relieved? This is the community I grew up in. Access is being stripped away, and we were an island of care for people.”
As recently as the day before the center closed, Planned Parenthood officials told Pilot & Today that they were still seeing patients in Steamboat and they would inform the community of any changes. It wasn’t until Pilot & Today asked again on Tuesday, Sept. 20, officials confirmed that the clinic had already closed.
Locally, Planned Parenthood officials are referring their patients to UCHealth Women’s Care Clinic at Yampa Valley Medical Center, South Routt Medical Center in Oak Creek and Northwest Colorado Health, which has offices in Steamboat and Craig.
Phillips said their landscape has shifted dramatically, which required shuttering the Steamboat clinic.
“We have to really evaluate where we are needed,” Phillips said. “Right now, we are needed in other communities. We are like other nonprofits; we make sure we are putting our resources where we are needed most right now.”
Phillips said maintaining sufficient staffing levels also was a concern for the clinic on 11th Street in Steamboat that previously was staffed by a nurse practitioner four days a week.
Planned Parenthood officials said they believe other providers in the Yampa Valley are sufficient to cover the services they had provided, and they note that medical abortion pill access can still be provided through the overall Planned Parenthood organization.
The Planned Parenthood clinic in Steamboat provided medical or pill-facilitated abortions but did not handle surgical abortions.
Phillips said resources would be reallocated, including expanding services to clinics in Albuquerque and southern New Mexico, which is seeing an influx of patients for their services — many of them from Texas. When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year, a 1925 law making the procedure illegal in Texas went back into effect.
The nonprofit also officially closed a southern Colorado clinic in Alamosa last week, though it had been temporarily closed for months because of staffing changes.
Nurse Practitioner Jamie Lindahl worked at Planned Parenthood in Steamboat for 26 years until early August. Lindahl said she was disappointed that patients will be losing the option of the specialized clinic that has been in Steamboat for five decades.
“It’s going to impact people. It’s really unfortunate. After 50 years, I think we are losing a wonderful resource,” Lindahl said.
But the closure will likely be more difficult for those in the LGBTQ community, who often find if difficult to find a provider that is knowledgeable and supportive of their identity, said Chelsie Holmes, chair of Yampa Valley Pride.
A survey Yampa Valley Pride conducted this summer showed that nearly 40% of respondents said it was very or somewhat difficult to find a provider locally that was knowledgeable and supportive of their identity, and another 30% said they have never tried.
“Planned Parenthood was repeatedly mentioned throughout both the survey and the roundtable (conversation that followed) as the exception to the rule — the most LGBTQ friendly health care provider in town,” Holmes said.
Planned Parenthood was also the only provider locally that provided gender-affirming care such as hormone replacement therapy, Holmes said, adding that patients will now be required to travel to the Front Range.
Holmes said she was frustrated about how the closing has been communicated, and the lack of any opportunity to preserve the care Planned Parenthood provides locally. She said her trust in the organization has been “completely eroded.”
“If I had known a month ago this might happen we would have organized to try and stop it from happening,” Holmes said. “It’s just really irresponsible to me to not even involve the local community that will be the most impacted in this decision, or even give them the opportunity to express how it would impact them.”
Both South Routt Medical Center and Northwest Colorado Health provide women’s health care through primary care physicians, but do not have gynecologists on staff. Both facilities accept all level of patients from uninsured to private insurance.
Ken Rogers, district manager at South Routt Medical Center where Planned Parenthood has referred some patients, said the closure is “unfortunate,” but the Oak Creek facility is one of the organizations ready to help out.
“That’s an organization that has been an essential service in the valley for a long time. We hate to see it go away,” Rogers said. “We’ll do everything we can to help those who need care.”
Northwest Colorado Health is currently able to take new patients and welcomes any women in need of services, according to senior director of marketing and development Suzi Mariano. The wait time for appointments at Northwest Colorado Health is currently about two weeks, Mariano said.
Services at Northwest Colorado Health include confidential appointments for individuals of all ages to discuss sexual health and family planning, including birth control such as long-acting reversible contraception. Other services include sexually transmitted infection screenings, treatments and education, and pregnancy tests. The services are available to anyone regardless of ability to pay.
Holmes said there are efforts underway to increase the amount of providers in Steamboat that queer folks feel comfortable seeing. One thing Yampa Valley Pride is doing is trying to come up with standards for what an LGBTQ friendly provider is, and strategies to get more local providers to meet those standard.
“All I can really say to the queer community here is hang in there,” Holmes said. “Things are in progress.”
Suzie Romig also contributed to report.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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