"It's bittersweet," says outgoing Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando chief executive officer and president Jenna Tosh over Friday morning coffee. In the nearly three years that she has held the office, previously run by local legend Sue Idtensohn, PPGO has seen immense changes and, along with the usual scream of sidewalk protesters, a fair share of additional controversies. For instance, there were the conflicts that came with opening a new office in long-underserved Osceola County in 2014, and, on a more personal level for Tosh, the need to seek an ordinance forbidding protests outside of homes in Winter Park, where she lives. From the start of her employment, Tosh's home had become a focal point for anti-abortion protesters who were not afraid to invade her personal space, she says, adding that she would have to push through people, with her small child, just to make it into her house.
But that's not why Tosh is leaving. After Jan. 31, Tosh will take over the leadership role for five health centers and two satellite centers in Santa Barbara, California. Her position at PPGO won't immediately be filled, but the organization will continue under a broader management structure that encompasses several other Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state. There is strength in numbers, she says.
"While we, the PPGO board, are sad to see our CEO go, we are proud, as she moves on to a larger affiliate, to be her first Planned Parenthood leadership experience," says PPGO board chair Martha Haynie in a statement. "We have benefited from Jenna's talent, energy and enthusiasm for providing access to healthcare and health education. During her tenure, we expanded access to health services to thousands of Central Floridians, effectively prepared for the Affordable Care Act, and broadened the reach of our community education programs. We know that she will continue to develop as a leader within the Planned Parenthood family, and as such we will continue to have the benefit of her passion for providing access to affordable healthcare to our nation's families.
"This is an exciting time for Jenna, and for PPGO," she adds. "For this transition, the Board plans to enter into a management contract with Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, assuring the continued appropriate oversight and execution of our excellent health centers' operations and programs. During the next few months, the Board will be working to select the best next step for PPGO, continuing our forward momentum to ensure that women and families in Florida have access to necessary healthcare, and that Central Florida can continue to rely on us as they have for the last 20 years."
Orlando Weekly: It's been a brief but tempestuous run for you. What's your broad view of your experiences leading Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando?
Jenna Tosh: I think it's been a great experience. We had a lot of work to do. The first year I was there as CEO we were really focused on making the internal changes that we needed to make for the Affordable Care Act. ... Ultimately making the changes that we needed to make for the ACA to serve more people. The first year was really focused on that. It was really the second year when we started having conversations about reaching out into more underserved areas. Our service area has always included Orlando, Seminole and Brevard counties and people not having health insurance in those areas made it a challenge. ... We knew that we were getting a particularly large number of patients who were traveling over to us from Osceola County. Also we knew from the data that Osceola County was still an underserved community and one of the fastest-growing communities in the United States, so we really felt that was important to have a presence there. In my second year we started to look at ways to better serve the community for education purposes. We were very excited to receive additional funding to expand our partnership with Orange County Public Schools and in the community to provide more evidence-based programs that we know from research reduce teen pregnancies and reduce incidents of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The move into Osceola County definitely came with its share of controversy. Do you think that the increasing progressive base in Osceola – whether it be County Commissioner Cheryl Grieb or Congressman Alan Grayson – had any impact on that transition?
I think what's important to remember is that Planned Parenthood has a presence in all 50 states. There are people who need us in all 50 states. We have generous supporters of our mission in all 50 states. So regardless of political inertia, we are in the places where people need us. And that's our mission. And, Osceola County, you're right, has some very progressive political leadership now, and it did help. We had been in conversations for several months about the need to expand services and we had a lot of support. I think what we saw in Osceola County was a very small and vocal and powerful group that is not at all reflective of the community.
There were a lot of people brought in to fight from outside, correct?
That's correct. We were targeted by a very radical group, whose roots are in Texas, in June just before we opened our [Osceola] center.
The other controversy in your tenure was the Winter Park ordinance, right about when you started in 2012. There was a lot of back and forth on that as to whether it was a free speech issue or not, and the personal became political quite publicly. How did that affect you?
Speaking of the ordinance specifically, I think that ordinances such as the one we now have in Winter Park strike the appropriate balance between free speech and the right to privacy and safety that residents are entitled to. I think that the vast majority of people agree with that, regardless of how you feel about Planned Parenthood and abortion. We should all agree that it's unacceptable to target and bully other people. And it was very personal for me because of the fact that I have a child and I felt a real need to protect him. And I think that the ordinance has done that.
So have there been any incidents since then?
Not since they were arrested.
In the wake of the ACA, has there been an increase in traffic at your two existing Orlando health clinics? I'm aware that Planned Parenthood played a pretty big role in signing people up for the insurance exchange.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando continues to have one of the fastest growing patient populations of all the Planned Parenthoods in the country, and I think a lot of that is driven by who lives here. We have one of the largest universities [the University of Central Florida] and we have a lot of young people and young families. The vast majority of our patients are still young people, women between the ages of 20 and 25. That represents over 70 percent of who we serve. And in terms of the services that we provide, the vast majority are well-woman exams, medical visits, screenings for sexually transmitted diseases, and family planning. We're also seeing an increase in the number of men as a national trend. So men are becoming a larger share of the patients that we serve. At this point about one in every 11 patients that we serve is a man.
What are men coming in for? HIV testing or other STDs?
The full panel. I think that what people know and count on from Planned Parenthood is that we're nonjudgmental. When it comes to screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, you can't find a more credible institution in this community. We also are seeing more patients with medical insurance coming; we've gone from about 12 percent to 30 percent since I started. So that still means that about 70 percent of our patients are uninsured in Florida, and that's directly attributable to the fact that Medicaid hasn't expanded.
The political arm of Planned Parenthood has been directly involved in fighting for Medicaid expansion. You guys are a safety net in your own right. Would Medicaid expansion affect PPGO?
It would. In fact, we did a survey of our patients right now on how many ... really should be covered through Medicaid, and it came out that 50 percent of our patients right now are falling into the coverage gap. So, yeah, like other safety net providers, we rely on a partnership with the state, and it really is heartbreaking to see a family that is shut out by the decisions of the state.
It can get pretty loud outside of your health centers. What's the scariest moment you've seen?
I think that protecting the health and safety of our patients is my aim. And so the thought that anyone would feel threatened or unsafe outside of one of our centers is unthinkable. I think that what's most disturbing to me are the threats to our staff and our providers. And that's why we have an escort program and liaisons who are our eyes and ears and advocates for our patients and our staff.
So, you're leaving at the end of the month. Tell me about where you're going.
I'm going to an affiliate in California. I'm very excited. It's a great opportunity. It's a larger organization, so a bigger reach. There are five health centers plus two satellite locations, so there are seven offices. It's a three-county area. I'm really excited about the opportunity, and it wasn't one that I necessarily planned for, but it's really about continuing my work in a larger organization.
And there won't be a replacement for you as president and CEO, I understand?
At least not initially. I mean, ultimately the decisions about PPGO's future are for the board of directors to decide. But I will say that I definitely personally believe that there are a number of strategic advantages that could be gained by being a part of a larger organization, and so I'm really happy the board is going to take the time to focus on additional collaborations with other wonderful Planned Parenthood affiliates here in Florida.