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Betsy Brown, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the North Country. Photo: Chris Morris, courtesy of Adirondack Daily Enterprise
Betsy Brown, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the North Country. Photo: Chris Morris, courtesy of Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Planned Parenthood chief stays on message in time of change

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The new president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the North Country recognizes that she enters the job at a time when the nation's health policies and politics are making headlines. Betsy Brown, of Lake Placid, was appointed to the position on March 19. She succeeds Kathie Wunderlich, who retired last year.

Brown began her career in health care as a college-aged volunteer, helping with family planning on a student hotline. She went on to serve with the Peace Corps for two years in West Africa, and later worked in family planning in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and the former Soviet Union. Chris Morris sat down with Brown at Planned Parenthood's Saranac Lake office last week.

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Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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Betsy Brown enters her new role as president and CEO of Planned Parenthood at a time when women’s health care is in the national spotlight.

Brown says women’s health has always been an important issue, but the discourse has ramped up recently because it’s an election year, “Planned Parenthood (and) the affiliates provide services, we’re a health services organization first and foremost, and an educational organization. The organization has been here through many, many elections and changes in perspectives. ... That’s not to say that the political discourse this year, in an election year, is not very high, but that’s not the focus of our work in this affiliate.

The talk on the election trail doesn’t seem to faze Brown. She says her focus is on providing the best possible care to people who depend on Planned Parenthood. “Women’s health has always been an important issue and it will continue to be an important issue,” she said. “People need services, preventive health services, counseling, education, and Planned Parenthood offers that package of services. It’s great to be part of a national movement, a federation, that serves people in need.

Planned Parenthood’s North Country affiliate serves more than 13,000 people and stretches across a vast region that spans from Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence River.

That region makes up about 17% of New York state.

Brown said, “We’re meeting a huge need. Rural health has never been more important, issues of access are extremely important, affordable health care is extremely important, particularly in these very hard economic times,” Brown said. “I believe our challenge is to continue to meet the needs, and to be open to new ideas.”

Myths about Planned Parenthood have been persistent. Last year, Jon Kyl, a Republican senator from Arizona, famously claimed that abortions were “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”

PolitiFact, an online fact checking site, later debunked that claim. According to Planned Parenthood, 90 percent of its services are preventive in nature, with about 3 percent being abortion-related.

Brown says the best way to dispel those myths is to continue to educate people about Planned Parenthood’s core mission, “Planned Parenthood is one of the largest provides of preventive health services in American,” she said. “Planned Parenthood is an educational organization, it’s a community outreach organization, it’s a nonjudgmental health services organization. That’s what Planned Parenthood is. I think we just need to get our message out.”

Looking ahead, Brown says the organization needs to keep focusing on how to bring its services to people in need.

“That’s one challenge: to listen to the population and enlarge, or expand, or reframe how we process people,” she said. The other challenge, of course, is the addition of new services, the addition of new users. Depending on what health care system is put in place, there is the potential for a large number of additional beneficiaries.”

Brown says engaging more men is also a challenge for Planned Parenthood. She said,“To be able to touch them, bring them into the program, reach them through services and education programs, that’s been a challenge around the world.”

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