DOVER — In one month as a nurse with Planned Parenthood of Delaware last year, Jayne Mitchell-Werbrich saw startling displays of regulatory and patient oversight.
Over the past year she has lobbied for the organization’s reform, searching for answers.
“This is about patients and their lives are at risk,” Ms. Mitchell-Werbrich said.
Ms. Mitchell-Werbrich sat with fellow nurse Joyce Vasikonis during a public hearing of mostly GOP legislators organized by Sen. Robert L. Venables Sr., D-Laurel and Gregory F. Lavelle, R-Sharpley, to discuss the state of Delaware’s Planned Parenthood clinics.
Ms. Mitchell-Werbrich said the organization’s staff had been operating under reckless procedural guidelines — from dispensing incorrect birth control and facilitating “meat market-style, assembly-line abortions.”
“It’s not just about abortion, it’s about the entire culture,” she said.
The state’s Division of Public Health, through the Department of Health and Social Services, and Division Professional Regulation have performed unannounced, on-site surveys of the Planned Parenthood in Wilmington after hearing claims against the institution. Though the first visit, in August 2012, did not substantiate any claims, a visit on April 15 found many safety and sanitary violations.
In a letter sent to the organization, the Division of Public Health documented issues such as 111 expired supplies, unpackaged sterile gloves and dilapidated cabinets. The letter, signed by Public Health Director Karyl T. Rattay, mandated the organization submit plans for the needed corrections within 10 days after receiving the notice.
The plans will be monitored by the division, and will include unannounced inspections, the letter stated.
“Over the past year, various scheduled and unscheduled internal and external reviews were completed at our health centers and have helped ensure that we are meeting our rigorous standards,” Ruth Lytle-Barnaby, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Delaware, said in a statement. “Like all high-quality health care providers, if we become aware of any deviation from these standards, we take swift corrective action.”
The findings in the survey were immediately rectified, she said.
In her statement, Ms. Lytle-Barnaby was also quick to dispel the rumor that Planned Parenthood of Delaware had closed under the weight of unfavorable allegations.
“Our doors have always remained open; we are providing our full range of services, and all of our staff are highly trained and meeting our promise of quality care,” she said.
Amelia Auner, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Delaware, said the institution had halted elective abortion surgical procedures March 30, but they were due to staff transitions and unrelated to the DPH’s investigation. The organization is still providing reproductive health care services such as sexually transmitted disease testing and birth control administration.
After the April site survey, the elective abortion surgical procedures resumed May 22.
Ms. Vasikonis said she would like to see increased regulations for the organization, including outside accreditation by an independent medical institution. Currently, Planned Parenthood accredits itself every four years.
“How can you say whether you are doing [work] right or wrong, when if you say you are doing something wrong it may impact on your bottom line and how much money you make,” she said.
Two years ago, Sen. Venables attempted to pass legislation which would implement a mechanism to monitor abortion clinics such as Planned Parenthood, that required DPH to oversee and inspect the licensure of the facilities. However, he said the bill was met with much criticism and failed to be released from committee.
“I think that if the legislation [SB 45] had been [passed] two years ago we wouldn’t be here; these things would have been put in place,” the senator said.
The legislation had a $171,195 fiscal note attached with it to account for two full-time positions, a compliance nurse and administrator, as well as supplies and contractual services.
“I think it’s well worth it,” Sen. Venables said, adding he would consider re-introducing the legislation back during this legislative cycle.
Though she appreciated the nurses’ testimony, Rep. Andria L. Bennett, D-Dover, said she would have liked to see more outreach to lawmakers in the Democratic caucus.
“Legislators would have made it a point to be here,” she said.
Sen. Colin R.J. Bonini, R-Dover South, said the legislature has a responsibility not only to follow up on the medical side, but to analyze what went wrong in terms of oversight. He admitted he was aghast when he heard the testimony from the former nurses, and praised their courage.
“I really want to make perfectly clear this is not about abortion,” he said. “This is about poorly informed patients not getting the minimum standard of care they deserve.”
Even after witnessing less than sanitary conditions during her 10 months as a nurse at Planned Parenthood, Ms. Vasikonis said she believes abortion should still be legal and readily available in affordable ways.
“I don’t want to see that go away, but they need to be managed appropriately,” she said.
Staff writer Jen Rini can be reached at 741-8250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow DSNJen_Rini on Twitter.