Another staff meltdown at a Planned Parenthood affiliate

By Dave Andrusko

On June 23, when we wrote about the canning of the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, PPFA’s largest affiliate, the lengthy list of angry particulars included abusive behavior, racism, and financial mismanagement. Tucked away was what might have been the coup de grace for CEO Laura McQuade: the comments of Elise Higgins, a former lobbyist in Kansas for Planned Parenthood Great Plains [PPGP], which McQuade had headed before moving East.

Higgins said “that concerns the New York affiliate is raising about McQuade’s behavior are identical to those the staff experienced here.

“There was a massive amount of staff turnover during Laura’s tenure,” Higgins said. “Laura frequently yelled at staff both in private and in meetings with their peers and belittled and ridiculed.

“The way that displeasure was voiced created a culture of fear.”

Lo and behold another story about internal chaos at PPFA popped up yesterday–and it was at Planned Parenthood Great Plains, the very same affiliate that McQuade had left in 2018.

This time the staff charges—at least as compiled in a story written by KCUR’s Dan Margolies—did not include “systematic racism.” Rather in a story about massive buyouts, we read about “chaos” and a “toxic work culture” and deep resentment over “pay inequities.”

The reader has to work her way through the excuses—the effect of the pandemic, which, while probably true  came after and on top of all the other pre-existing problems. Here are just a handful of the grievances  Margolies heard from staff.

* “At a tense ‘town hall’ meeting via Zoom conference call in late June, employees sharply questioned PPGP President and CEO Brandon Hill about the moves and criticized pay disparities within the organization. .. .

Discontent at the organization had already been brewing before the pandemic. An employee satisfaction survey taken last year revealed widespread unhappiness among rank-and-file employees, who complained of a lack of transparency, pay inequities and a top-heavy management structure. …

Luz Ortiz, who worked as a PPGP educator in a satellite office in Kansas City, Kansas, said the separation offers to employees were driven as much by the results of the employee satisfaction survey as by the pandemic.

“I kind of feel like they were just trying to get rid of all the external affairs people because we have been very vocal about how unsatisfied we have been,” Ortiz said.

[Rachel] Ulanowski recalled a time when Hill, addressing employees’ complaints that they were overworked, underpaid and under a great deal of stress, said that “everyone just needs to be sedated.”

The squeaky wheels did not the grease. They got the buyouts.

*Speaking of that 2019 employee survey, “only 39% responded affirmatively to the statement, ‘The environment at this organization makes employees in my work units want to go above and beyond what’s expected of them.’ 

“Of course, the pandemic has dealt a really debilitating blow to Planned Parenthood. … But it’s my hypothesis that there are a lot of things that contributed to the financial hardship, one being a toxic work environment,” said Alex Aguilar, an employee in the development department who accepted the severance offer.

*Turnover has been enormous. “The organization has experienced a high rate of employee turnover – as many as half its nearly 150 employees left in the past year.” Margolies goes out of his way to say problems didn’t begin when Hill took over in February 2018. That was the point the former lobbyist had made when McQuade was ousted. 

“But Amanda Steele, PPGP’s director of development for two years until she left in September, said she wondered if Hill recognized ‘the chaos and toxicity that manifested itself’ at PPGP.”

These two revealing scenarios are independent of what has been written about for the past few years, beginning with when the national office ejected its new President after less than a year. Her “fault”? Leana Wen demonstrated insufficient tunnel vision. She actually thought Planned Parenthood was in the business of providing real health services for women, not promoting abortion at all costs.

Then there was the 2019 piece written by Margaret Brady which asked, “Why Are So Many Employees Leaving Planned Parenthood?” The reasons again included an obsession with the bottom line and less than sterile working conditions. Speaking on condition of anonymity, ex-employees at one clinic talked of

clinic managers that wanted to use plastic drinking cups for urine samples and had stopped providing doctors with sterile gloves. The staffers said they’d also been told to start charging women extra for IV sedation during abortions. The higher price would mean some patients either had to postpone their abortions to save up more money (resulting in a more costly termination later in pregnancy) or suffer through without sedation.

In 2018, PPFA was accused of mistreating pregnant employees!

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Remember this the next time PPFA tout’s  its “concern” for women.