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Crisis pregnancy care returns to Forest Park

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The new prenatal center opened Jan. 2 in the former Mercy Health offices (shown here) at the Forest Park Square strip center at Kemper and Winton Roads. Courtesy photo.

ENLC, Healthy Beginnings team up in area at high risk for abortions

By Gail Finke

A new partnership between two area pro-life powerhouses will bring affordable medical care to pregnant women in one of Greater Cincinnati’s neighborhoods where abortions are most common.

Beginning this month, Dayton-based crisis pregnancy center group Elizabeth New Life Center (ENLC) and Cincinnati-based pro-life medical provider Healthy Beginnings will be sharing offices in a Forest Park strip center. Two of the four ZIP codes that abortion businesses report as having the highest abortion rates in Hamilton County are located in or near Forest Park.

But no crisis pregnancy center or clinic has operated in the neighborhood for several years, said ENLC Executive Director Vivian Koob. While she and Healthy Beginnings Executive Director Sherri Lawson wanted to team up – both organizations do ultrasounds and require similar offices, and neither could afford to operate in the high-rent area fulltime – after several years no Realtors had found them suitable space. So they looked for themselves.

Healthy Beginnings provides affordable prenatal care for Cincinnati-area women like this client, shown with her daughter. In the Forest Park venture, Healthy Beginnings and staff from Elizabeth’s New Life Center crisis pregnancy centers will alternate days in the same office space. Courtesy photo.

“Sherri mapped it out and we took a whole day,” Koob said. “And a Mercy Health space we had seen before was available. Mercy Health had moved into a larger space up the street, but their old space was already set up for medical use, as close to perfect as you could expect.”

“It was almost a miracle,” said Lawson. “The spaces available tend to be in big office parks, set back far from the road and not good for a crisis pregnancy center, or in shopping strips, which require a huge build-out” to convert to medical use. “We’re talking $80-$100,000,” she explained. “But this was ready to go.”

Located in Forest Park Square at Kemper and Winton Roads, in between a Chinese restaurant and a mobile phone store, the new Women’s Center is also across the street from Winton Woods High School, is highly visible from the road, and on a bus line. The two organizations will work out of the suite on alternate days, so women coming for pregnancy tests and ultrasounds when ENLC staff are at work can make appointments for medical care the next day.

“It’s important to get care as soon as possible, because the earlier the prenatal care begins, the more likely it is to have a healthy birth,” Lawson said. For that reason, the pro-life medical practice will begin seeing mothers before they are registered for Medicaid, if they have no insurance and have to enroll in the government program.

Staffed by Tri-Health midwives and nurse practitioners, as well professional sonographers and dieticians, Healthy Beginnings was founded in 1993 as one of the only area prenatal practices that would accept Medicaid. Its current medical director, Dr. William Polzin, is the director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati and a staff physician in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, as well as MFM co-director of the Cincinnati Fetal Center. He has held the volunteer position with Healthy Beginnings since 2003.

Healthy Beginnings staff will work at the Women’s Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Lawson said, while ENLC volunteers and sonographers will work on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Healthy Beginnings gets nearly all its referrals from area crisis pregnancy centers, which it works closely with. In Dayton, ENLC operates a prenatal clinic, but Koob said that working with the Cincinnati clinic in an underserved area was a natural choice.

“We’re following God’s lead,” she said. “We go where the opportunity presents itself.”

Koob has led ENLC since its beginning, merging with several other crisis pregnancy centers and providing steady leadership in a ministry that often has a high turnover. “I truly feel it’s God’s call, my vocation, to be here,” she said.

But Koob adds that she doesn’t rely on God’s Providence – she works hard at professional skill. “We were very fortunate early on to learn about the Mattill Family Foundation, which provided strategic planning training. Now I go out and teach other pregnancy centers about how to set measurable goals for employees and metrics to measure efficiency. I was a rehab supervisor for th state of Ohio for years before I began that, I knew how to do a lot of those things.

“We rely on that and God’s guidance,” she said. “I like to pray, ‘be a lamp unto my feet’ – but that’s about as far as I can see!”

Lawson Said that Healthy Beginnings has a similar approach to business and ministry. While many of the medical professionals who volunteer their work at the clinic have ministry experience – the two dieticians also do prison ministry – the board is expanding training to deal with women at risk for abortion. “We’ve always relied on the pregnancy care centers to do that,” she said, “but we want to give our staff the Heartbeat training used by the clinics, because we see the women every month, and then every week. It’s a myth that a woman makes a decision for life or for an abortion once during her pregnancy. Her circumstances can change. We want our staff to be able to look for red flags, and to know what to say.”

Both ENLC and Healthy Beginnings operate largely on donations (procedures at Healthy Beginnings are only partly paid by insurance or Medicaid) and most of the staff volunteer as a ministry. While many secular people feel suspicious about crisis pregnancy care as coercive, Koob and Lawson are witness to the truth that thousands of women need their care – and their love.

“We just added prayer boxes in all our waiting rooms, and on the first day we had four prayer requests,” Lawson said. “We don’t condemn women. We say, ‘there’s a God who loves you and cares for you.’ It’s what our world’s dying to know.”

The Forest Park Women’s Center will open its doors on Jan. 2. On March 1, the two organizations will hold a joint Open House. Bishop Joseph R. Binzer will bless the venture, and a protestant minister will offer prayer.

Vivian Koob (left) and Sherri Lawson worked together to find a Forest Park location their organizations can share. Courtesy photo.
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