HEALTH

Tanya Atkin­son’s road to boss of Planned Par­ent­hood of Wis­con­sin.

Milwaukee Magazine - - Content - BY MATT HRODEY

TANYA ATKIN­SON was pro­moted to CEO of Planned Par­ent­hood of Wis­con­sin in Fe­bru­ary, at a pre­car­i­ous time for the or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides re­pro­duc­tive health ser­vices rang­ing from STD and can­cer screen­ing to birth con­trol and, at cer­tain lo­ca­tions, abor­tion. Chal­lenges in­clude an ef­fort to “de­fund” the or­ga­ni­za­tion, backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, which means bar­ring gov­ern­ment-funded in­surance pro­grams such as Med­i­caid from re­im­burs­ing patients who use Planned Par­ent­hood clin­ics, of which there are 21 in the state, serv­ing about 60,000 men and women each year. Amid such strife, it helps to have a sense of hu­mor, which hap­pens to be part of Atkin­son’s skill set.

HOW DID YOU GET HERE? When I was younger, I grew up on a dairy farm, and there were times when health care was a real chal­lenge. I re­mem­ber see­ing my par­ents sit­ting with their heads in their hands, won­der­ing how they were go­ing to man­age med­i­cal bills. I re­ally con­nected with this or­ga­ni­za­tion that tries so hard to pro­vide health care to those fam­i­lies who might be strug­gling fi­nan­cially.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON

THE GLOBAL GAG RULE BAN­NING U.S. FUNDED IN­TER­NA­TIONAL OR­GA­NI­ZA­TIONS FROM TALK­ING ABOUT ABOR­TION? That harms women across the en­tire globe. Un­der this ad­min­is­tra­tion, there’s a lot at risk. Women’s health is at risk. Men’s health is at risk, and it’s not just a Planned Par­ent­hood is­sue.

YOU HAVE THREATS TO YOUR FUND­ING FROM CONGRESS AND THE PRES­I­DENT, AND PO­LIT­I­CAL CHAL­LENGES AT THE STATE LEVEL. DO YOU FORE­SEE A DAY WHEN

YOU COULD BE LEG­IS­LATED OUT OF EX­IS­TENCE? Planned Par­ent­hood is go­ing to be here to pro­vide health care no mat­ter what. Politi­cians who op­pose women’s health care would like you to be­lieve they’re hurt­ing Planned Par­ent­hood, but what they’re re­ally do­ing is hurt­ing

women and fam­i­lies. We’ve had to close five health cen­ters in Wis­con­sin due to leg­is­la­tion that blocked fund­ing, and no other provider has stepped in to pro­vide this ba­sic care.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE “SIDE­WALK COUN­SELORS” AND PRO­TEST­ERS WITH BIG SIGNS? “Side­walk coun­selors” is a very gen­er­ous term. The folks that are stand­ing out­side of our health cen­ters in­tim­i­date our patients, ha­rass our patients, shame our patients, and there is no other form of health care where we have to walk through that kind of sham­ing and ha­rass­ment to ac­cess very, very ba­sic health care, very com­mon health care.

YOU’RE A CO­ME­DIAN? I am, but I don’t do it as of­ten as I used to. I used to be pretty full time on the road. I loved the small places up north. They were amaz­ing be­cause the peo­ple were so wel­com­ing. They also were very good about giv­ing con­struc­tive feed­back in the mo­ment. That joke doesn’t fly, lady.

DOES YOUR PRE­VI­OUS PRO­FES­SION FIG­URE INTO WHAT YOU DO NOW?

It does. I’m pretty good at read­ing a room and sens­ing when things are go­ing south. Then I can use a joke to break up a bor­ing meet­ing.

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