— from Alison Shaw —
Alarmed by a recent increase in teen pregnancy and lack of local access to affordable, confidential, reproductive health care on Orcas Island, concerned members of the community gathered in 2009 to examine this problem. The primary needs were for financial assistance plus confidential on-island medical care. What arose as a solution was the Island Reproductive Health Initiative (IRHI) whose core mission is to help prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies for uninsured or under-insured teens and young adults on Orcas.
Through the dedicated work of several founders, including Jean Henigson, a fund was raised to reimburse the Orcas medical clinics for their costs in providing office visits, counseling, contraceptives and specific lab tests for patients who could not otherwise pay for such care. With generous help from community donors, IRHI established a fund within the Orcas Island Community Foundation. A unique billing system was designed with Orcas clinics to protect the identities of patients. And since 2010, when IRHI began, through December of 2016, IRHI covered the cost of reproductive health care for 195 individual patients, including 493 office visits, 231 lab tests, and hundreds of months of oral or injectable contraceptives.
IRHI has evolved into a full-fledged program run by volunteers under the steadfast leadership of Jean Henigson. Teen volunteers are trained as peer advocates in the High School to assist their peers in finding reliable, local resources for accurate reproductive health care information and help. IHRI volunteers help support school and community sexual health education programs. IRHI also maintains discreet boxes in several public locations around Orcas that contain free condoms and a card about IRHI-funded services.
IRHI now faces 2017 with two big challenges. First, if the Affordable Care Act is rolled back, there is a great possibility for an increase in uninsured people. In anticipation of such an increase, IRHI stands ready to counter the challenge with sustained support for reproductive health care .
Secondly, with Jean Henigson’s retirement in 2017, IRHI will lose the impeccable guidance and determination of its most active volunteer and founder. However, IRHI is fortunate to have highly qualified and passionate new volunteers who are joining seasoned leaders, including Alison Shaw and Greg Ayers, M.D., to continue the work of fundraising, guiding the teen reps, supporting medical services, maintaining the condom boxes, and supporting sexual health education efforts.
IRHI will continue to look to the Community Foundation for its valued advice and assistance, and it has also begun a new collaboration with the Orcas Community Resource Center. Both these organizations promote awareness of IRHI, and thereby connect people on Orcas with its program.
IRHI looks forward to continuing its service to the Orcas community in the coming years. At the same time, we look back with deep gratitude to the many people who conceived the program and the generous donors who helped launch it. We give our very special thanks to Jean Henigson, without whom IRHI would never have survived its infancy and become the program it is today.