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County Cuts To Gillette Reproductive Health Clinic Could Cost Patients

Catherine Wheeler

Gillette Reproductive Health is located in a nondescript building surrounded by many other doctors offices, pharmacies and the hospital. Not many people in the community know it's there or what exactly they do.

"We had a physician say once that we were the best kept secret in town. And we're like, "Wait! We don't want to be a secret! Like anyone who needs us can come and use us,'" said Julie Price Carroll, the clinic's executive director.

But that best kept secret became a headline story when the Campbell County commissioners did not approve the clinic's $35,000 funding request after three of the five commissioners indicated they did not want to fund the clinic with county tax dollars. That's after questions surrounding abortion services and referrals rose to the surface in late April.

Gillette Reproductive Health mostly serves people, women and men, who are uninsured, underinsured or who have really high deductibles.

"So a lot of the things we do are wellness exams, pap smears, breast exams, clinic breast exams, STD testing and treatment, UTIs, sports physicals," Carroll said.

The clinic even started providing more general services, like diabetes care, because they are seeing a growing need in the people they serve, she said.

The subject of abortions, referrals and emergency contraception was initially brought up in a question and answer document that goes along with the funding application process, said Campbell County Commission Chairman DG Reardon.

"A couple of the commissioners were concerned that Gillette Reproductive Health supported abortions, recommended abortions or provided information as far as abortions go," he said.

Those questions and concerns made their way to social media, causing heated community-wide discussions about what the clinic does and doesn't do.

But the clinic's executive director Carroll wants to be clear.

"Gillette Reproductive Health has never performed any abortions, and no medical referrals have ever been given at Gillette Reproductive Health." she said.

At several points, the clinic attempted to clear up any concerns with commissioners in person and over the phone. Carroll even invited those commissioners who were unfamiliar with the clinic to visit and tour the office. However, those visits did not change anyone's minds enough to reconsider the funding request this year.

The non-profit clinic has been the recipient of Campbell County Optional 1 Percent tax funds off and on since 1999 but continuously funded since 2010, according to county officials.

"The county money was direct patient money. What people would have to do is if they lived in Campbell County, they would have to give me different documents to prove they're in need or whatever and they'd pay $25 for a well woman exam," Carroll said.

Two of the commissioners who were not in support of funding the clinic this year previously voted in support of the budget which included funding for Gillette Reproductive Health in the 2019-2020 budget.

The clinic's board president Wendy Gauntner said the cut may have a huge impact.

"The moral conservation or the philosophical conversation derails us from providing services in our community. And in this case, the money goes nowhere else but to basic wellness exams," Gauntner said. "The bottom line is without this funding, $25 wellness exams, become $145 wellness exams. Period. That's what happens."

Carroll said if they can't replace that funding, the price of those exams could even go as high as $250. She said she is concerned for all of the patients who may not be able to afford this service, especially the women in this economic downturn who may see this as another thing they can go without.

"When we are, as women, have children and our children are needing something, whether that's tennis shoes for school or a fee for an activity, we women sacrifice ourselves so we're going to give that money. Whatever little bit we may have, we're going to give that to our children or the events. We're not going to take that and spend it on ourselves through medical care," she said.

Commission Chairman DG Reardon, who supported funding the clinic, agreed the community will feel the impacts of the cuts to this service, and that includes other medical providers.

"Something's going to give. If they don't have the funding, they won't be able to provide the service. Some of those things will end up at the hospital for emergencies and those types of things. And whether that's paid for or not, that's up to the hospital. And it could be one of those things where it's never collected by the hospital," Reardon said. "So there will be some of that. Most of that will be things that just don't get taken care of."

That could likely drive up costs at the hospital, too. Gillette Reproductive Health Board President Wendy Gaunter said the effects have the potential to play out at a more personal level too.

"As we start to hear those stories from our neighbors and our friends and maybe even experience it ourselves, I'm wondering if this conversation of blocking money to help folks get affordable healthcare might change a little bit. Because all of sudden it's people we know who need this clinic, who need to have access to affordable health care," she said.

Reardon said he's taken the board's overall decision as an opportunity to encourage the community to support the clinic. To kick it off, Reardon donated $500 to the clinic as a private citizen.

Carroll, the clinic's director, said while they haven't made any decisions about how they'll be handling the drop of funding, so far they've received around $11,000 in donations from the community to help replace the loss.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at ccwheel11@uwyo.edu.

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