Catherine Coogan walked into the Family Planning clinic at 8 o’clock one morning this week, fresh from getting her three kids out the door and dropping them off at their respective schools, ready to do battle once again in the fight to keep her clinic open.
She was calm and collected, only momentarily frazzled when she couldn’t find the keys to her office in her purse.
Mrs. Coogan took over as director of the clinic in April and it’s been anything but easy for this registered nurse. But she doesn’t mind, because she’s doing what she loves.
“It’s been a little bit overwhelming . . . but this is really what I want to do, I feel it makes a difference in the community and it’s important to our clients,” Mrs. Coogan said. “I want to continue to provide it and I’ll do what I can to the best of my abilities. Even though it’s a rocky start, I’ve learned a whole lot really fast. I will continue to do that and do what I can.”
As the clinic faces deep federal and possibly even deeper state budget cuts, Mrs. Coogan’s job managing the clinic and taking care of patients is more critical than ever. The clinic provides free HIV testing, pregnancy tests, sexually transmitted disease testing, pap smears and a variety of other reproductive health care to both men and women, serving more than 1,000 year-round and seasonal residents and visitors.
She’s short staffed and just barely level funded, but Mrs. Coogan hasn’t lost her energy or drive, much of which she attributes to her staff.
“Our staff is incredibly passionate and loyal and they love what they do, otherwise they wouldn’t be here,” she said. “I think that they just want to provide services to these people as well as they can and it’s hard to do that when you are understaffed and feel there is the possibility that we will close.
“We feel stuck and we’re doing the best we can with what we have. It’s hard, definitely difficult.”
Mrs. Coogan said if the clinic is forced to close, she fears people, especially teens, will have nowhere to go for safe, nonjudgmental and affordable care.
It’s been both wonderful and tricky, Mrs. Coogan said of her first few months on the job.
“Family Planning has always been in a difficult spot because of funding,” she said. “We rely on state funding, we rely on federal funding and with the economy being the way it is I don’t think we have been in the situation we are currently in, ever.”
Her interest in community health and working with adolescents came in two phases — first as an undergraduate at Boston College in nursing school, and later as a master’s degree candidate for public health at Boston University.
“I was leaning in that direction because I knew I wanted to work in the community as a nurse, rather than being a staff nurse,” said Mrs. Coogan, who is originally from Needham. “I had gone to Ecuador while I was in school at Boston College, working in a poor community and later at a clinic. That sparked my interest in community health.
“When I worked in the adolescent clinic in school, that’s when I figured out I really liked working with teens. They were a nice group and I really seemed to enjoy working with them.”
While in Boston, Mrs. Coogan met her future husband and current Tisbury selectman, Geoghan Coogan. He persuaded her to move back to the Vineyard with him and she began working at the hospital. When Mrs. Coogan was having her first child, former clinic director Patty Begley offered her a part-time job at the clinic.
“It was wonderful because it was really what I wanted to do originally with my degree,” she said. “I got to work with adolescents, I got to work in the community and I got to use my nursing skills. It kind of worked out perfectly.”
She said the clinic fills a niche of providing thorough and accurate information.
“One of the major pieces we provide here for teens is good information about reproductive health and how they can keep themselves safe and their health safe,” Mrs. Coogan said. “Unwanted pregnancy is here and sexually transmitted diseases are here and I think that if we can provide information in a safe forum, that’s one of the most important things we do.”
Budgetary concerns aside, Mrs. Coogan said the clinic is hoping to expand services in the future, such as providing hepatitis A and B vaccines, still at an affordable rate in a safe place.
But she can’t do it all by herself, and Mrs. Coogan relies on support for herself and for the clinic on the Friends of Family Planning. The community organization is hosting its annual art show and sale this weekend, its largest fund-raising event of the year.
“I think it’s going to be fantastic,” Mrs. Coogan said of the art show, which was started by her mother in law, Liza Coogan. “The artists really enjoy it because they know they’re supporting us.”
Friends chairman Miryam Gerson said she hopes sales do better this year than in years past.
“There’s over a hundred Island artists who are represented and it’s just a way of simultaneously supporting the community of artists and supporting Friends of Family Planning,” Ms. Gerson said yesterday. “It feels like a grassroots support at its best for a local organization.
Sculpture, photographs, jewelry, paintings, glass, books and more will fill the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury this weekend, with at least 40 per cent of sales going to the group. Ms. Gerson said some artists decide to contribute bigger percentages, and some donate the entire sale.
Proceeds benefit the many extra needs the clinic may have, such as educational conferences for the staff, a vasectomy reimbursement program for men or helping to purchase the space the clinic is in now to provide a bigger and more private environment.
“As a supporter of the clinic, they provide fantastic reproductive health care and make it confidential and affordable,” Ms. Gerson said. “It’s a gift to the community.”
The Friends of Family Planning Art Show is today through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free.