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New St. Louis Planned Parenthood CEO plans ‘statewide needs assessment’ to expand care


When Yamelsie Rodriguez takes over as the new president and CEO of the St. Louis Planned Parenthood facility, “nothing is off the table” for how she plans to expand services and “protect” Missourians’ reproductive care. 

Rodriguez, the chief operating officer for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, will begin leading the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri (PPSLRSWMO) Monday. She said she has “three pillars” that make up her leadership goals for the facility: protection, expansion, and improvements. 

Yamelsie Rodriguez, St. Louis Planned Parenthood CEO and president

“When I talk about expanding the care we provide, I talk not only about expanding and supporting access to abortion care, but also to a wider range of family planning services,” Rodriguez told The Missouri Times during a press call Wednesday. “For so many people, we are the sole provider of care, and it is important to Planned Parenthood to have a holistic approach to the care we provide.”

Rodriguez said she plans to meet with PPSLRSWMO’s “clinical leadership” to conduct a “statewide needs assessment” to identify other services the facility — Missouri’s lone abortion clinic — can provide. She noted the clinic already provides contraceptives, birth control, and HIV prevention drugs. 

“There’s a lot more we can do to meet the needs of our patients, and that includes expanding the scope of our work to serve the transgender care community and looking at other possibilities to expand our care into some of the limited primary care services,” she said. 

Rodriguez joined PPSLRSWMO at a time when Missouri is embroiled in several legal battles with the state over access to abortion services. The St. Louis clinic, in particular, is in the midst of a dispute with the state over its licensing. The case is set to be heard by the Administrative Hearing Commission in October. 

And in May, Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed HB 126 into law — one of the more restrictive abortion bans in the nation. It bans abortions after eight weeks and includes “nestled” components — designed to withstand legal challenges — with restrictions at 14, 18, and 20 weeks. It is set to go into effect Aug. 28 and does not include exemptions for rape or incest victims. 

Given the differences in “climate” when it comes to abortion access in Illinois compared to Missouri, Rodriguez said she was initially apprehensive about taking the job. 

“I’ll be honest, when I first learned about the CEO job opening at [PPSLRSWMO], I thought to myself, ‘you have to be crazy to do this job in Missouri.’ Having watching the fight from right next door … why would anyone want to wade into that?” Rodriguez told reporters. But it was her 12-year-old daughter, she said, who convinced her to change her mind.

“When I talk about expanding the care we provide, I talk not only about expanding and supporting access to abortion care, but also to a wider range of family planning services.”

“As a woman, a mom, an immigrant, and a Latina, I can’t simply accept the fact that my daughter’s generation is growing up in states around the country, including Missouri, with fewer rights than I had growing up in Puerto Rico,” she said. “Call me crazy, but I can no longer sit on the sidelines watching how politicians chip away little-by-little our fundamental right to control our bodies, and therefore, our destinies. There’s no place I’d rather be right now than in the trenches with a staff, patients, and supporters of [PPSLRSWMO] whose courage, strength, and grace inspire me every day to keep fighting for help, equity, and reproductive justice.” 

Rodriguez, who studied industrial engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, has more than 15 years of experience in health care and management, Planned Parenthood said in a news release. In Illinois, she managed a team of 220 people; in St. Louis, the team is about 150 individuals, a spokesperson confirmed. 

“Yamelsie is a strong advocate for women’s healthcare and brings passion, experience, and a core belief in our mission to provide high-quality health care to our patients,” Linda Locke, the board chair of the St. Louis Planned Parenthood, said in a statement.

Last month, the St. Louis Planned Parenthood promoted Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an OBGYN, as its chief medical officer, a “first of its kind” position. 

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have filed a lawsuit in attempt to block the abortion bill from fully going into effect later this month. The joint complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri accused state officials of having “engaged in a target campaign against abortion” for years.

Parson, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, and Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Director Randall Williams are named as defendants in the suit.