The Reproductive Health Access Network is a community of clinicians from all over the United States, and while we have always connected with our Network members virtually through newsletters and listservs, the heart of our work has been in bringing clinicians together in person. These in-person gatherings serve as touchstones for our Network members, whose daily lives are so busy that they can feel disconnected from other primary care clinicians providing reproductive health care in similar settings. These meetings also serve as opportunities for training, strategizing, and reconnecting with old friends and co-conspirators who fight alongside each other to expand and protect access to reproductive health care, despite mounting opposition. Like many of our Network members, the RHAP Network team also feels reinvigorated and revitalized when we are able to attend Cluster meetings, or go to conferences and meet people in person.
COVID-19 has presented the Network staff with a unique set of new challenges. The pandemic has driven us into our homes, canceling conferences and travel, while our clinicians are on the front lines – working in the hospital, providing telemedicine for 8-10 hours a day, continuing to go into the clinic to provide abortion care and other reproductive health services, and so much more. We’re trying to be mindful of the balance between asking too much of our Network members and giving them opportunities to continue the reproductive health care work that they feel so connected to. As a team, we’ve had to reevaluate and reimagine how we can continue our work to expand access to reproductive health care and support clinicians without the critical element of face-to-face gatherings.
We know that for many Network members, connecting with like-minded peers and offering spaces for support is what helps them stay motivated. With threats to abortion access such as Executive Orders banning abortion procedures, the challenges of telemedicine abortion, and the June Medical Services v. Gee decision looming, it is more critical than ever that clinicians come together as a community to remain inspired and motivated. In mid-March, we started hosting regular virtual “RHAPpy Hours” for our Network members. These open-ended spaces now happen at least once a week, and all Network members are welcome to call in. On a personal note, participating in these national calls has provided me with a new level of insight into the diverse range of experiences, workplace settings, and backgrounds that our Network members have.
Living in New York City has made it harder for me to envision what life is like for people in other states right now. More than anything, this crisis has underscored for me the critical importance of the Cluster model and on-the-ground organizing. We’ve always taken direction from those in the Clusters to inform our programming, and as such, every Cluster is a truly unique community unto its own, with goals and priorities that fit the needs of the Cluster members. This is now truer than ever, as the experience of COVID-19 varies so much depending on where people are. One of the silver linings of being fully virtual is that I now have the opportunity to participate in Cluster meetings that were previously inaccessible – I’ve recently “attended” my very first Idaho, Montana, Southern California, and Oregon Cluster meetings. My appreciation for the work that our clinicians are doing has only grown, whether that be treating COVID patients in New York City or Chicago, providing abortion services in Arizona to patients driving from Texas, offering the necessary primary care services that patients continue to need despite a pandemic, or any number of the different types of care that our Network members provide their patients with every single day.
Seeing for ourselves the strength of our Cluster leaders and the communities that they foster has been a new source of inspiration and learning that has helped inform how we think about the Network moving forward. It may be a long time until we can all come together in person, but in so many ways, this pandemic has forced us to reshape how we provide each other with the human connection and support that is now more necessary than ever.