The Many Failures of Management at Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York

A vote is taking place this Thursday and I approve of it wholeheartedly. This vote is not for President or any other elected official. On Thursday, September 25th, Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York employees will be voting to unionize. This is a courageous step taken by employees to ensure that they get a fair deal from their employer and that their patients are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

I look forward to hearing the results of this vote, but let us take a step back and examine how this happened. On January 1, 2014, Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York merged into one entity as a cost saving measure. This is not entirely unusual, but this shifting of personnel put non-union Planned Parenthood in contact with coworkers who were already part of a union. These non-union employees soon discovered that they were making in some cases 25% less than their union counterparts.

Around the same time, as an indirect result of the merger, there was a management shift. These new managers had the goal of serving MORE patients rather than serving their current patients better. The more patients you serve, the more money you make. The most noticeable way Planned Parenthood Western New York attempted to institute this new goal is by booking MORE patients without appropriately increasing the number of staff to compensate. The unintended consequence is that some patients were forced to wait for three hours or more in a Planned Parenthood waiting room to have their OB/GYN visit. How could this happen you may ask? Women will understand this better than men, but I will try my best to break it down in a way that everyone understands.

Women of modest means do not have regular access to medical care and Planned Parenthood provides many of the services a woman would need to ensure her good health such as STI and pregnancy testing, exams and the like. A woman could be coming into a Planned Parenthood branch for a routine yearly exam which should take a short amount of time. However, during the exam it is discovered that the woman has a sexually transmitted infection or is pregnant. The more complex the visit, the longer it takes and for many women the results of their visit will have an insurmountable impact on their lives. This pressure forces patients to wait in some cases for three hours before ever seeing a clinician.

For women of modest means this had a huge cascade effect on their lives. It’s not inconceivable that some women who could not afford to take the day off of work for a doctor’s appointment went to Planned Parenthood prior to their work shift or during their lunch hour only to discover themselves stuck in an overbooked waiting room and given substandard, rushed care during their visit. This became a recurring problem at Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York locations after the merger. Patients felt they were being mistreated and those that could find alternate care did so. The waiting rooms that were previously overbooked quickly became vacant.

Planned Parenthood responded, but not in the way that you might imagine. They held an office meeting informing their employees that branch locations would be extending their hours to provide more opportunities for patients to book appointments and have their OB/GYN visits. Each employee was forced to choose three schedules out of a list of selections to determine which office they worked at and when. The concept is not without merit, but how Planned Parenthood followed through with the concept is horribly misguided. Each employee had to choose a schedule with an evening shift. If a patient near the end of the day had a visit with complications the employees would be forced to remain at work for as long as the patient remained. Employees ended up leaving Planned Parenthood at 10pm only to return at 7am the next morning for their next shift.

This new scheduling did not take into account part-time employees who were forced to chose full-time shifts or quit. Many quit as the part-time employment was necessary so that these employees could fulfill personal obligations like caring for aged family members or their young children. This is the major flaw in the new scheduling initiative as it never took into account the employees, their families and the obligations these employees may have had outside of work.  The new scheduling took effect and was a failure. Patients, who never requested extended visit hours, never took advantage of the new times and the scheduling was later modified removing many of these extended hours. Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York never admitted their mistakes.

Clinicians and other medical personnel recognized they were working for an employer that did not care about them and began finding other employment. Clinicians do the bulk of the medical work at Planned Parenthood locations and there are currently not enough clinicians to staff all of the Planned Parenthood branches in central and western New York. These employees alternate between branches and if one calls in sick locations have to close for the day again depriving patients of quality healthcare. Imagine a patient of modest means and no access to a vehicle visits a Planned Parenthood to terminate her pregnancy only to find out that the location has closed for the day and that the patient may be forced to travel to Greece, Batavia, Canandaigua or some other location in order to receive her medical care. This is a horrendous breach of trust that could have very long term implications for patients who lack access to quality healthcare.

In a last ditch effort to deride the union vote, Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York sent all of its employees a letter warning them about joining the union using many of the false scare tactics that anti-abortion activists use to vilify the organization. They should be ashamed of their actions over the last year and recognize the poor decisions they have made are responsible for the union vote.

Ladies and gentlemen of Planned Parenthood, I encourage you to vote your conscience and I wish you the best of luck in saving the organization that you love and work for.