Contraceptive Choice Center staffers celebrate "Thanks, Birth Control" Day
For women concerned about immediate access to affordable birth control, the Contraceptive Choice Center, or C3, offers a solution. Located at 4533 Clayton Avenue in the Washington University Medical Center, C3 is a clinic that provides affordable contraceptive options and gynecology services.
What started as the Contraceptive Choice Project—a Washington University research study that ran from 2007 to 2011—has grown into a fully functioning clinic. Since its opening two years ago, C3 has served a little over 2,000 patients, and new ones continue to be accepted.
Like Planned Parenthood, the Contraceptive Choice Center provides sexual and reproductive health care for all genders. This includes birth control, well-woman examinations, pap smears, breast exams, STI testing, emergency contraception, pregnancy testing, and even UTI screenings.
Each patient who visits C3 receives full contraceptive counseling, during which a staff member provides information about all reversible methods of birth control—everything from IUDs, arm implants and Depo shots to condoms. The counseling is significantly more thorough than many women may be used to. That's intentional — a service that came out of the research study that first launched the clinic.
"What we learned in the research study was that there was still a need for additional providers in the area who did complex contraception— meaning providing all methods at all times— and provided access to the methods," says Meghan Proehl, C3's social worker. " We wanted to see if what we learned in the research model could be translated into a real-world clinic setting."
Patients can leave the clinic with their preferred method of birth control on the same day. They can also choose to enroll in the current research study, which began January 2015 and is scheduled to run until December 2019. However, participation in the study is not a prerequisite for obtaining services.
Essentially, C3 provides the same preventative care as a gynecologist. The main difference: C3 does not provide obstetrical care, so patients with pregnancy-related needs are referred to an OB provider.
The cost of services is dependent on income and family size at the time of the visit. Patients with insurance are welcome, but because C3 receives federal funding, they are able to offer services on a sliding fee scale, which means low-income patients can receive services for free or at a reduced cost. For those without insurance, an on-staff “insurance navigator” helps patients sign up for an insurance plan, Medicaid, or the Uninsured Women's Health Services Program, based on their eligibility.
Although C3 offers services similar to those of Planned Parenthood, it cannot serve as a substitute. With Planned Parenthood at risk of being defunded, C3 absolutely could not make up for its loss. “There’s such a need for [providers] in St. Louis that the loss of any provider is going to be a really big hit," Proehl says. “In terms of volume, we absolutely cannot take Planned Parenthood’s influx."
When it first opened as a research facility, the Contraceptive Choice Project’s services were limited to birth control and STI testing. Since becoming a clinic, however, the Contraceptive Choice Center has been able to provide the full range of services and receive Title X funding, a federal program that funds family planning and reproductive services for both low-income and uninsured patients.
The center also receives funding from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid services through an Innovation Awards grant. That three-year grant should last until fall. When the grant funding is up, C3 hopes to seek additional funding elsewhere or transition to a self-sustaining model. For now, their goal is to see as many women as possible until they reach capacity — which might be as many as 10,000 patients.
The Contraceptive Choice Center does its best to be accessible. Appointments are usually available within two to three days of calling. In addition to daytime hours, they have evening and weekend hours for those who work during the day. There is a full-time Spanish speaker on staff, and they offer language services for anyone who doesn’t speak English or Spanish. C3 can even mail out transit passes to ensure that the patient is able to get to the center. “We’re here, we’re available, we’re accessible,” says Proehl.