Former employees saw problems coming at Planned Parenthood Golden Gate

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This week's announcement that Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) was severing ties with Planned Parenthood Golden Gate (PPGG) came as no surprise to some former employees, who have for months been trying to sound the alarm that the chapter was being mismanaged, had major financial problems, and was in a steep decline that could threaten important reproductive care services that low-income women rely on.

A former PPGG employee with knowledge of the organization’s internal affairs described a longstanding pattern of financial mismanagement when former president and CEO Dian Harrison was at the helm. There was widespread concern about spending on expensive marketing campaigns and lavish functions, the person said, and a high level of employee turnover and discontent.

Warning signs of financial difficulties surfaced at least a year ago. Dan Cohen, a spokesperson of the Packard Foundation -- a major donor to PPGG -- told the Guardian that Packard awarded PPGG a 12-month, $30,000 “organizational effectiveness” grant, which will expire in September. The grant “allows an organization to select a talented, external provider to help them think through some of these challenges,” Cohen explained. The Packard Foundation also awarded a 3-year grant for general operating support for $800,000, which will also expire next month.

Another former employee told the Guardian that she would love to discuss internal problems, but was made to sign a confidentiality agreement upon leaving the organization.

Therese Wilson, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Golden Gate -- who took over PPGG when Harrison left last year on medical leave -- did not return repeated calls seeking comment.

An internal PPGG document provided to the Guardian displays the agency’s on-hand cash reserves as compared with other affiliates, suggesting that the reserve ratios were at or below the minimum required by the national Planned Parenthood federation for all but one year from 1998 to 2007 -- and well below that of other affiliates of similar size. That is a key requirement for meeting accreditation standards.

When we asked Elizabeth Toledo, a PPFA representative, about this apparent pattern she said she could not comment because she had not seen the documents. She also said the accreditation reviews were confidential. “Understanding the true financial picture for health care providers takes a very in-depth evaluation,” Toledo said. “PPFA and PPGG were working together over the last few years to resolve fiscal challenges."

Despite delays at the state level in awarding nonprofit funding and the loss of support from the national organization, Toledo and a union representative for PPGG employees both said they believe the clinics will continue serving patients under a different name.

“They plan to stay open, and employees are planning to stay,” said SEIU Local 1021 representative Sarah Sherpun-Zimmer, who has been a union rep for PPGG employees for the last two years. “Folks are really happy working there and they feel like it’s going in a good direction.”

PPGG operated eight clinics, which will lose their Planned Parenthood accreditation Sept. 3, effectively severing their ties to a trusted entity that thousands of low-income women rely upon for birth control, abortion procedures, and other forms of reproductive health care. PPGG operates clinics in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Sonoma, Marin, and Mendocino counties, serving about 55,000 women per year.

Roughly 92 percent of the clients they serve live at or below the federal poverty line, according to PPGG’s 2008 annual report.

Planned Parenthood affiliates Mar Monte and Shasta Diablo are in the process of hatching plans for taking over some of the eight affected clinics or otherwise growing their own operations to cover any gaps in service area, according to Toledo. She said neighboring affiliates are in a position financially to be able to cover a wider territory and added that they have been in “expansion mode,” adding new clinics over the past couple years.

“It’s unusual to have a disaffiliation,” she said. “But it’s not unusual for national committees to have a reallocation of service area. That part is well-practiced.” Toledo added that “Every effort possible will be made” to ensure continuity of care.

Nima Maghame contributed to this report.

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