Supporting the Sexual and Reproductive Health Workforce during COVID

February 10th, 2022 | Viewpoint

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In our 40 years of providing training and technical assistance to sexual and reproductive health providers, we’ve had to shift more than once to meet emerging, often urgent, needs: administration changes with different priorities, the Zika epidemic, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

While sexual and reproductive health services (such as family planning) can be paused, they cannot remain so for long without long-term consequences. In the spring of 2020, the Reproductive Health National Training Center (RHNTC) had to determine how to support family planning providers and teen pregnancy prevention programs, who needed to continue providing high-quality services under extraordinary circumstances. Reflecting on the past two years, a few key strategies were central to the RHNTC’s response.

First, we contacted the providers. Then, we listened.

We heard that Title X providers were struggling to keep up with constantly changing recommendations while continuing to provide services and protect staff. Teen pregnancy prevention organizations were struggling to adapt in-person programs and services to virtual spaces quickly. Youth and adults were experiencing virtual burnout, collective trauma, and facing unprecedented challenges.

Lastly, we responded. We shifted our work to provide up-to-date COVID-19-related training and resources, exactly what our sources were telling us they needed, including:

The pandemic has not affected all communities equally, and we are well aware of the differential consequences that under-resourced and communities of color experience in general. Recently, we released a video on addressing the social determinants of health in family planning, essential to providing holistic and culturally responsive care. Our team remains committed to keeping racial and health equity central to our work and all our responses.

Our investment in building relationships and flexibility continues to be crucial, as Title X providers and teen pregnancy prevention programs continue to face challenges related to new variants, surges, and staff retention. Of course, we hope that these challenges will diminish, but we will continue to adapt to emerging needs as necessary. We will build upon what we have learned about the importance of our relationships as we support the providers and organizations we respect so much.

Family planning and teen pregnancy prevention provider spotlights:

Written by Jennifer Kawatu, Jennifer Ayers, and Katelyn Flaherty Doré

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