An old red auto garage on Bush Street and Van Ness Avenue may soon have a new purpose: pap smears, gonorrhea testing, and family planning. Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading provider of sexual and reproductive healthcare, has filed conditional use change request — the first step in many to take over the space for what it hopes will be a “flagship” clinic in San Francisco.
Planned Parenthood currently has two locations in the city. The one it’s best-known for is in a tan, nondescript building at 1650 Valencia St., where patients can receive STD testing, birth control, pap smears, breast exams, pregnancy testing, and more. Less well-known is the Planned Parenthood at the Wohlford Family Clinic at the Good Samaritan Family Resource Center in Potrero Hill.
But this new location at 1522 Bush St. offers the organization the opportunity to expand its reach, and better treat the constant flow of patients that come through the Valencia Street branch’s doors each year. “Our health center serves the highest volume of patients of all 20 Planned Parenthood Northern California sites, and demand continues to grow month over month,” says Miriam Gerace, director of communications and marketing for Planned Parenthood of Northern California. “Patient volume has increased 50 percent overall in just the last three years.”
This growth is good — it means more people are getting access to safe, affordable health care — but the Valencia Street staff are struggling to keep up. According to Gerace, the average wait time for an appointment is six days. (Full disclosure: I visited the clinic last December for a post-election IUD, and my appointment was 90 minutes behind schedule.)
And the need is not diminishing. In the 2017 fiscal year, the two Planned Parenthood locations assisted 10,000 clients over 17,000 visits. Gerace estimates that 7,500 women will receive contraception through the San Francisco clinics this year, 1,000 will receive cervical cancer pap smears, and 900 will get breast exams.
In addition, the clinics will conduct 26,000 STD tests, 6,000 of which will specifically test for HIV. And, this is fun — San Francisco County has the highest rates of gonorrhea in the entire state. It’s doubled in four years. But 16,000 people will be tested for the disease at Planned Parenthood, and of those, it’s estimated 400 will receive treatment.
The 15,000-square-foot garage space at 1522 Bush St. would enable Planned Parenthood to do all the above, and more. It’s also centrally located — just north of Hayes Valley, and only one block west of Polk Street. “We wanted our flagship location to be pedestrian-friendly, with ample bicycle parking, and easy access to Muni and BART lines,” Gerace tells SF Weekly. “We expect that this central location will reduce the booking time for appointments and increase our visit capacity by 20 percent. Our combined health center and adjacent service space will expand from 4,000 to 11,000-square-feet, and our health center will have a private entrance to protect our patients and staff from intimidation and harassment.”
While the location is convenient, it’s not in an area that underserved: The Women’s Community Clinic at 1833 Fillmore St., which offers all the same services as Planned Parenthood for women-identified individuals, is only six blocks away.
This dream Planned Parenthood location is still a ways off. On Thursday, the Planning Commission will review its request to building’s zoning from an auto shop to a medical facility. And there will no doubt be a slew of community meetings, fundraisers, and renovations that will need to take place if this plan is to become a reality. Gerace says it’s expected to be a three-year plan, hopefully with an opening in 2020.
But the hard work that Planned Parenthood is putting in now to make this happen could have a long legacy. “We will double down in San Francisco, and continue to protect health care and education so that every person can decide on their own personal path to a healthy and meaningful life,” says Cynthia A. Gómez, Ph.D. and Chair of the Board of Trustees. “A flagship location that we design and own will establish a true home for us, and a bright beacon for health, rights, and justice for future generations.”