"People come in here all the time and can't believe what they're seeing," said Rene MacLeod, manager of the Mountain View Planned Parenthood clinic. "'What's that old guy doing here?' they'll ask. Or they'll see a whole family with father and kids and they'll say 'What are they doing here?'"
Planned Parenthood clinics, like most community clinics in California, are seeing more patients during these economic hard times -- more patients without insurance and more patients without much money. And Planned Parenthood clinics offering primary care services, like the one in Mountain View, are seeing more new patients seeking primary care.
"We don't have capacity to see them all, and it's really hard sometimes," said Christina Lokke, regional director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which has 33 clinics and 46 satellite sites in 40 counties in Central California and Northern Nevada.
Mar Monte, the largest Planned Parenthood affiliate in the country, reports an almost 10% increase in the number of primary care visits so far this year.
MacLeod said the Mountain View Planned Parenthood clinic is proud of its diverse mix of patients.
"We really consider ourselves the community clinic, period. Not just for reproductive health issues, but for all health issues. It's a great way to operate a clinic, but it's getting harder and harder with more and more people looking for care without insurance," MacLeod said.
"Even in clinics that don't have primary care, we really focus on family health," Lokke said. "We see our task as going beyond just the traditional Planned Parenthood role of reproductive health."
Increased Visits "Across the Board"
Planned Parenthood clinics throughout California report greater patient loads over the past several months.
"We're seeing it across the board -- at clinics with and without primary care," said Kathy Kneer, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, which represents nine separately incorporated Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state.
"We think most of it's economy related," Kneer said.
Planned Parenthood clinics began exploring the possibility of offering primary care services in the 1990s when California launched Medi-Cal managed care plans.
"It's been about 10 years for some of our clinics now," Kneer said. Although demand is rising for primary care services, Kneer said it's not likely Planned Parenthood clinics without primary care already in place will move in that direction.
"It's very hard to switch from reproductive care to primary care," Kneer said. "It's a whole different delivery system. Plus, there's lots of national talk about health care reform, and we're watching that carefully trying to figure out where we can fit in the bigger picture."
Planned Parenthood Visits Up Nationally
Although there are no statistics compiled yet to determine the extent of the increase, Planned Parenthood clinics across the country report increased traffic over the past several months, according to Tait Sye, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
"There's no question we're seeing increased traffic at most clinics, and many clinics report an increase in new patients as well," Sye said.
Of the 97 Planned Parenthood affiliates in the country, about 10 offer primary care services, Sye said. "Among those that do have primary care, they've definitely seen a rise in new primary care patients."
Sye, like Kneer, attributes most of the increased traffic to hard financial times.
"Most of our patients are low income, most of them are women and most of them see Planned Parenthood as their basic health provider, whether the clinic officially offers primary care or not," Sye said. "In hard economic times, community clinics that cater to low-income and non-insured patients tend to get busier. And that's definitely happening at our clinics."
Mar Monte's Wide Swath
The Mar Monte Planned Parenthood affiliate has 15 centers offering primary care services, eight of them in the Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz areas. The others are spread across the affiliate's wide geographic region, which includes the Sacramento area, parts of the central valley from Stockton to Fresno and Bakersfield, the Monterey coastal area and parts of Northern Nevada.
"We've seen about an 8% increase in total patient visits for this fiscal year (beginning July 2008) compared to the same time period last year," Lokke said.
"This is a big percentage jump compared to the past few years. Additionally, this fiscal year we've seen a 9.5% increase for primary care visits," Lokke said.
MacLeod predicts patient numbers will continue to increase as long as the economy declines.
He's not alone.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund, a progressive think tank, estimates 14,000 previously insured Americans join the ranks of the uninsured every day as a result of the country's economic slump.
"At our clinic alone, we're seeing two or three of these people every day now," MacLeod said. "People who maybe have a little too much income or property to qualify for Medi-Cal but not nearly enough to pay for health insurance on their own, coming in sick or injured. We go on a sliding scale for payment, we're non-profit and we're much more affordable than other clinics or hospitals out there. But even saying that, a lot of people just can't manage even a little fraction of what their payment should be."
MacLeod said, "These are young, educated, healthy people for the most part and there are going to be more and more of them as this recession goes on."