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‘I feel heartbroken’: Jacksonites concerned about future of women’s health care

From left to right, Jennifer Dant, Jessica Baker and Michele Tassel, who shared their stories about struggling to find women's health care in Jackson.
Courtesy photos
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KHOL
From left to right, Jennifer Dant, Jessica Baker and Michele Tassel, who shared their stories about struggling to find women's health care in Jackson.

This fall, access to women’s health care in Jackson got a jolt. Three-decade institution, the Women’s Health and Family Care clinic, announced it’s closing later this month, citing rising costs as the region experiences a crisis of affordability.

It’s the second women’s health center to close this year in Jackson, leaving just one major OB/GYN clinic left in town.

Some doctors say they plan to resume services in the new year, but it leaves a gap — especially since the Women’s Health and Family Care clinic was also the only abortion provider for a large swath of the Mountain West.

Several women have reached out to KHOL about how they are feeling right now on the state of care in Jackson, some who have said they have had to change OB/GYNs several times over the past few years, and that there are wide impacts to women’s health.

JENNIFER DANT: When I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, it was in March of 2022. And then just a few short months later, they actually closed their doors.

Jennifer Dant, who works in hospitality, says cervical cancer is preventable through annual exams. She’s a former patient of Jackson Hole Care for Women, which officially shut down earlier this year.
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KHOL
Jennifer Dant, who works in hospitality, says cervical cancer is preventable through annual exams. She’s a former patient of Jackson Hole Care for Women, which officially shut down earlier this year. 

Women’s health is now so crucial for me after my diagnosis, and then it just really takes you down this rabbit hole of like, okay, well, what does accessible health in general look like here in Jackson? And so you kind of start to spiral about like, is this the right place for us to stay forever, to grow up, to start a family and to grow old together?

RYAN MAYE HANDY: I am currently 30 weeks pregnant, and I’m due to deliver at the end of January.

It was like several weeks of extraordinary stress and worry. And in that window, I started doing a lot of research about the OB care options in Wyoming to figure out where else I could go. I considered going to Lander. I considered other places like Riverton. Would it be worth that kind of drive? If my choice was between Idaho Falls and Lander? Which would I pick?

Jessica Baker, a professional skier and mountain guide, says she has been going to Dr. Giovannina Anthony at the Women’s Health and Family Care clinic for about 15 years. Baker isn’t sure what she’ll do next, since Anthony is still figuring out how she’ll continue to provide care in the community.
Courtesy photo
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KHOL
Jessica Baker, a professional skier and mountain guide, says she has been going to Dr. Giovannina Anthony at the Women’s Health and Family Care clinic for about 15 years. Baker isn’t sure what she’ll do next, since Anthony is still figuring out how she’ll continue to provide care in the community.

JESSICA BAKER: I’m still grappling with the news. I’m sure there are other women like me who are like now what? And what do we do?

So, the relative size of our town, I think we have a decent support system — or did. But, it’s still a small pool. And you know, when you first find out you’re pregnant, you’re looking for the right person, and you don’t want just anyone. You want to go with someone that sees your vision. And now that we’ve reduced our options, it’s going to be very limiting for women. And I don’t even think it was that broad prior.

DANT: When I heard about this, I just started crying.

I just felt really heartbroken for all the women in Jackson and for so many women that work in the hospitality industry. So many of my peers in the industry don’t have health insurance, and they just don’t have the means to pay for their visits.

Ryan Maye Handy, an urban planner, says just as she discovered she was pregnant after an embryo transfer early this year, her OB/GYN — Dr. Mary Girling — announced she was shutting down her practice.
Courtesy photo
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KHOL
Ryan Maye Handy, an urban planner, says just as she discovered she was pregnant after an embryo transfer early this year, her OB/GYN — Dr. Mary Girling — announced she was shutting down her practice.

I’m just worried that a lot of my peers won’t have their annual Pap smears and won’t be screened for HPV or cancer.

HANDY: It’s also like, I need my IUD taken out and I can’t get in to get an appointment, or I’d like to go on birth control, but I can’t get in to see anyone.

Amongst my female friends, we talk about OB and gynecological care all the time, like I’m in a book club with some women and we usually talk about our access to gynecological and OB care.

It’s just like this constant source of stress that just hovers over women’s care, whether it ranges from, you know, dealing with your period to getting pregnant.

Michele Tassel, who works in the service industry, says she has seen more than three OB/GYNs in her 4.5 years in Jackson. She’s currently a patient of Dr. Katie Noyes, who is moving to St. Johns with the closure of the Women’s Health and Family Care clinic.
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KHOL
Michele Tassel, who works in the service industry, says she has seen more than three OB/GYNs in her 4.5 years in Jackson. She’s currently a patient of Dr. Katie Noyes, who is moving to St. Johns with the closure of the Women’s Health and Family Care clinic.

MICHELE TASSEL: It’s difficult when you have to continuously keep moving around appointments or keep moving doctors and you’re not able to establish relationships.

I hate to say that I don’t have hope, but I don’t have a ton of hope. Obviously, women’s health care is kind of under attack right now in a number of different places.

It’s a big force with people trying to determine what we should and shouldn’t be doing with our bodies and what health care is available. And then also, you know, with the rising cost of just being able to operate in the community.

BAKER: It’s more than just the checkup. It’s more than like the physical act of getting your annual or, you know, delivering your baby. It’s like emotional, spiritual, physical support.

DANT: What we need to do as a community is come together and put these resources out there, because I don’t think that women’s health is a lost cause in this town. I just think that we need more encouragement and just to have these resources made available to everyone.

Resources for women’s health

Gros Ventre OB/GYN, the remaining clinic in town, is taking new patients starting in February.

Two providers from the soon-to-close Women’s Health and Family Care clinic — Dr. Katie Noyes and Dr. Laura Vignaroli — will continue their work at St. John’s starting in February.

OB-GYNs, Dr. Giovannina Anthony and Dr. Doug George, say they hope to continue providing services in 2024 through private practices, and an Alpine nurse practitioner is stepping up to try and fill gaps.

Noyes also said there’s dozens of primary care providers that can provide more basic care.

“Family medicine doctors, family nurse practitioners, internal medicine doctors do annual preventative wellness care with breast exams and Pap smears all the time,” Noyes told KHOL. “They don’t need an OB/GYN surgeon to take care of their regular women’s health care.”

According to Noyes, there’s still a shortage of people who can deliver babies, address more complex issues and provide abortions. She said she’ll resume providing medical abortions next year — if it’s still legal.

The state’s abortion bans are being challenged in the courts, and a decision could come as soon as Dec. 14.

At the minimum, there’ll be a six-week gap with no in-person providers in Jackson, potentially impacting people across Western Wyoming and Eastern Idaho.

In the meantime, she said people can get care through justthepill.com. A clinic in Casper, an over four-hour drive from Jackson, will be the closest in-person provider.

Hanna is the Mountain West News Bureau reporter based in Teton County.
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