UPDATE April 20, 5:24 p.m.: Planned Parenthood approached Pioneers Memorial Hospital (PMH) concerning a transfer agreement, according to PMH CEO Larry Lewis.
“We did not follow up with them,” said Lewis. “We didn’t say no. We didn’t say yes, either. It’s difficult for me to understand why they would push so hard to be in a county that has this strong of an opinion against it.”
EL CENTRO – Plans for opening a Planned Parenthood (PP) health clinic in El Centro have apparently hit another snag as El Centro city planning staff are questioning the group’s current application and occupancy requirements following a fire department inspection.
According to Frank Soto, El Centro’s assistant community development director and building official, Planned Parenthood’s application for a certificate of occupancy has asked for a less restrictive building code, but after inspections of the facility were performed, it became obvious the group had plans to treat more patients, thus requiring a higher occupancy code and major renovations to the existing building.
“The ability for patients under various states of consciousness to get to safety in the event of fire or other emergencies is the main issue here. It’s all about the patient’s safety,” said Soto.
Planned Parenthood (PP) of the Pacific Southwest has been attempting to obtain a certificate of occupancy from the city of El Centro, a requirement to open a reproductive health clinic. Owned by the city, El Centro Regional Medical Center is governed by a board of trustees established by the El Centro city council to make hospital decisions on behalf of the city. El Centro is one of the only cities in California that owns a hospital.
Planned Parenthood has already purchased property located at 1095 South 4th Street in El Centro, but the subject of an abortion clinic in the Imperial Valley has created a stir among many concerned citizens, faith-based groups, and businesses. Currently, there are no abortion clinics located in the Imperial Valley, and it is illegal to get an abortion in Mexico, which is just a few miles south of El Centro.
With Imperial Valley being a predominately rural farming area, it has been surmised that Planned Parenthood hopes to get the majority of its clients from Mexicali, a larger metropolis with a population of well over one million.
In February, the El Centro Regional Medical Center (ECRMC) board of trustees voted in closed session to give Planned Parenthood a transfer agreement, a contract that would allow the abortion clinic to transfer patients to the hospital for medical care in instances of complications from abortions. But in a fallout after the closed meeting, two members resigned from the hospital board over the closed session vote.
City council meetings over the last couple of months have had hundreds of concerned citizens attending with spokespersons commenting during public comments expressing their objection to an abortion clinic in the Valley and questioning the legality of the closed session vote for the transfer agreement.
Following is Soto’s, full statement concerning the group’s application:
“Planned Parenthood submitted plans back in October of 2014 to remodel an existing building to use as a clinic,” said Soto. “The plan designer classified the use of the clinic as a B occupancy, which has a less restrictive code requirement as opposed to other classifications. A B classification allows for a clinic to perform outpatient and ambulatory care for five or fewer patients. During the course of the plan review by the city’s plan examiner, that classification came into question as the plans showed that a potential for a higher patient count existed which would actually classify the use as an I-2.1. This classification has more restrictive code requirements that include the installation of a fire suppression system. This was brought up to the attention of Planned Parenthood’s plans designers and additional information was requested of the designer to support the reasoning for a B classification. Apparently, the additional information was provided and the City’s plans examiner was convinced of the B classification. However, during a fire inspection in March by the fire department, it was found that there was a combination 16 patient beds. This far exceeds what a B classification allows. The ability for patients under various states of consciousness to get to safety in the event of fire or other emergencies is the main issue here. It’s all about the patient’s safety. Plan Parenthood must submit revised plans that classify and comply with the code requirement of an I-2.1 classification. All existing construction must be brought up to code compliance with this classification’s building and safety code requirement and pass the final inspection before they are given the certificate of occupancy, which would then allow them to open their doors for business. At this point it is unknown what Planned Parenthood’s intensions are, however, they have been given options including making an appeal.”
Following several articles published by this newspaper concerning the transfer agreement and public protest against the establishment of an abortion clinic in the Valley, Planned Parenthood released the following statement to The Desert Review:
“Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest is working with our legal counsel and the City of El Centro to ensure that the Certificate of Occupancy is issued. The new Planned Parenthood health center in Imperial Valley has met all of the requirements and passed the numerous inspections required in compliance with the building plans, which were reviewed and approved by the City of El Centro in December 2014. It is our position that any further delay in issuing the Certificate of Occupancy and approving the Fire Safety Inspection Request is an unlawful attempt to restrict us from opening. The current action taken by the City of El Centro is discrimination against women and their right to reproductive health care. We are concerned that the El Centro City Attorney, City Manager, Fire Chief, and other key officials are not following the law regarding occupancy and fire inspection standards for health clinics of this kind. Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest will pursue and resolve these issues so we can open the health center and provide affordable, high-quality reproductive health care to the community.”
El Centro Fire Chief, Ken Herbert, said he met with the construction manager for the Planned Parenthood project.
“We met with the construction manager for Planned Parenthood Tuesday, April 14, on some changes that they may make to comply with our requirements for an I Certificate of Occupancy or make changes to comply to a lessor classification,” said Herbert. “They must comply with requirements for an I Certificate of Occupancy classification or change to a B Certificate of Occupancy classification. We answered their questions about code requirements for the different occupancy classification groups. There are a lot of variables. One factor affects another factor, etc. We reiterated what the process is and what they had to do. They need to get with their design team and pick their best option. It is their decision on how they are going to comply. There is more than one way to achieve compliance. As far as the classification, it has to do with the number of procedures that could potentially occur at the same time and the number of patients that would be in recovery. The condition of the patient drives the Certificate of Occupancy classification. For example, the typical pediatric doctors offices are not doing surgical procedures. They are just seeing sick kids. Most of those would fall under a B occupancy classification. If you are doing outpatient surgery on sick children, once you exceed the capabilities to do five surgeries or have five patients in recovery, then it changes to an I classification. The code requirements for an I classification are more restrictive. Planned Parenthood wants the I Certificate of Occupancy classification. The existing design of the facility does not meet the I classification.”
In an attempt to get a picture of the Planned Parenthood facility at 1095 South 4th Street, The Desert Review was told to leave the premises by an armed guard as pictures were being taken. Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest was called to question the expulsion. According to the group’s head of security, they do not allow anyone on the property to take pictures.
Cita Walsh, vice president of marketing and communications of Planned Parenthood said that Planned Parenthood owns the property that encompasses their proposed facility and the restaurant.
“We don’t allow reporters to be on our property,” said Walsh.