The fight for women's health rights is a never-ending battle but we have come a long way, Debra A. Farmer, President/CEO of Westside Family Health Center told attendees at WFHC's recent Lunch & Learn in recognition of National Women's History Month.
Speaking before a group of more than 50 attendees at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica on March 21, 2012, Ms. Farmer drew a picture of women's health from the Middle Ages to present day during her presentation, "Trending Women's Healthcare.'' (Click here for full remarks.)
"The 1970s were a remarkable time for the empowerment of women,'' she said. "The fledgling women's movement experienced rapid growth and success during the decade. In 1970, a 35-cent, 136-page booklet was published by 12 Boston feminists. The booklet resulted in the Boston Women’s Health Book Collaborative and, in 1973, published the seminal Our Bodies, Ourselves. Women and practitioners across the country hailed the new book of first person stories and experiences. Women were encouraged to learn more about their bodies, to take an active interest in what they were experiencing and to talk about issues with other women…and their physicians,'' she said.
"It was under this environment that a group of prominent social justice activists, community leaders and women mid-level practitioners founded a small storefront clinic [in Santa Monica] known as the Women’s Health Care Project. Focused on empowering women to take an active interest in their health and in educating them about their bodies, the Women’s Health Care Project provided non-judgmental care during a time of great uncertainty and unrest. The focus was on the woman – not on the provider, not on the disease, not on the condition – but the woman. What did she need to take an active role in her health?''
Nearly 40 years later, the Women's Health Care Project is Westside Family Health Center.
"Yet," Ms. Farmer added, "our focus remains women and girls – nearly 3 out of every 4 patients are female. 8 out of every 10 employees are female [including both of WFHC's physicians]. We are proud of our heritage. We are what and who we are today, because of the women who came before us. The women leaders of our future will remember their roots and proudly carry on our legacy.''
Among WFHC founders and early supporters in attendance were Patricia Greenfield, Pamela Leeds, Linda Lucks and Barbara Yaroslavsky.
The event was sponsored by Raymond James and Lisa Detanna, Senior Vice President, Investments. Courtney Kershaw attended on behalf of Raymond James.
Other attendees included community leaders, WFHC's community partners, Lisa Parker of the Welk Family Foundation, Veronica Lopez, WFHC board member, and Joan Goldsmith and Stephanie Negriff who serve on WFHC's Fundraising Committee.
In addition, WFHC's Mobile Medical Unit staff was on hand providing health screenings.
Ms. Farmer's speech was met with enthusiastic applause afterward with attendees remarking on her depth and passion.
"My college professors would be proud at the amount of research I did for my talk,'' she said later. "However, if I had added the proper footnotes, references and attribution I'd still be up there speaking a week later,'' she quipped. "I had a lot of help and I thank them all.''
She put a spotlight on today's issues during her remarks. "It’s easy to focus on Planned Parenthood, the Susan B. Komen Foundation, and the Avon Walk for the Cure - they're the big organizations out there doing what they do – some very well, others not so well. However, remember when Planned Parenthood’s funding is threatened so is ours. When Susan B. Komen says they only want to pay for providers who do the actual mammogram, remember we are the ones who provide the case management and support for breast health clients. We are the grassroots organization in your community doing the work. We don’t have big advocacy arms. We do it ourselves through trips to Sacramento and DC, calls and emails. We don’t have big direct mail campaigns. We find personal contact works best for us. So, when you think about supporting the headline names, remember your own community and who is providing the services.''
What lies ahead for women's health?
"I wish I knew where women’s health care is going,'' she said."It is very frightening at this moment in time and, unfortunately, it is very real. People who care must be active, they must take a stance and they must vote. We think we are covered in California, but by not paying attention, not advocating and not voting, citizens in other states are now suffering the consequences. Draconian measures pass when we do nothing...I hope you go back to your work, home, school or activity and think about Westside Family Health Center, the positive impact we have on the women in our community and consider supporting us and learning more about us. Remember, stay involved. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We must be vigilant and we must speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.''