CITY HALL – The potential ending of Planned Parenthood’s abortion services at its clinic on Forest Park Avenue could have an effect on local health services far beyond abortion, the city’s health director said.
Dr. Frederick Echols, director of the St. Louis Department of Health, made the comment in response to a question from 8th Ward Alderwoman Annie Rice at a meeting Thursday of the Board of Aldermen’s Health and Human Services Committee.
“The impact of closing Planned Parenthood on the public health system in the city of St. Louis will be significant,” the director said after the meeting. “What we’ll have to do is identify other agencies that can eventually help fill that gap for us.”
Missouri has said it won’t renew Planned Parenthood’s license to perform abortions. The group’s license was scheduled to expire Friday, but it requested a temporary restraining order, and Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer heard an hour of arguments Thursday on the request. He didn’t indicate Thursday when he would issue a ruling.
Echols said he was trying to make up for the potential loss of services from the city’s Planned Parenthood clinic.
The health department has started to offer health screenings at a city building at 1520 Market Sreet, but that’s not enough, Echols said. Planned Parenthood tests for a number of sexually transmitted diseases.
“The bulk of their services are not associated with abortion,” Echols said.
Echols’ comments on Planned Parenthood were among a series of statements he made to the health committee in response to questions.
Appointed in February by Mayor Lyda Krewson, Echols is the first medical doctor to fill the post since 2007.
He formerly was director of communicable disease, vector and veterinary programs for the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, chief of communicable diseases for the Illinois Department of Public Health, and a Navy physician.
Echols talked about himself and his job on Thursday in a meeting with members of the health and services committee.
“I for one am glad that we finally hired a (person with) a background,” said 12th Ward Alderman Larry Arnowitz, who chairs the committee.
Echols spoke to the committee about how violence is part of his field.
“Violence is one issue that has been on the public health forefront for quite some time,” he said. “Creating Band-Aids at this stage would be more detrimental.”
Echols also said it was important that people know what’s available from the department.
“There’s a lot of resources that are available in the city of St. Louis, but if people aren’t aware of it, they won’t take advantage of it.”
In addition, he said, the department wants to make sure lead screening is available for children.
Alderwoman Heather Navarro, 28th Ward, expressed concern about what would happen if there was an incident involving the radioactive West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton. That’s several miles upriver from a city water intake.
Also, Echols said, he’s checking on an outbreak of hepatitis A in Missouri and worries that out of 115 Missouri counties, St. Louis ranks 112th in health outcomes.
“Our focus is now making sure our emergency preparedness team is properly prepared,” Echols said. The team is preparing regularly for a disaster, he said. One advantage he mentioned is is an extremely diverse and knowledgeable staff.
He also said that the city’s Building Division did a good job ensuring that buildings set for demolition were free of harmful contaminants that could spread through the air.