Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom, Health and Human Services: Good morning. I’m Anne Williams Isom, and I have the pleasure of being the deputy mayor for Health and Human Services. And I was just thinking this morning that in the midst of all of the things that one has to deal with in New York City and the challenges, we still have to focus on health.
And the health of New Yorkers is one of “the” most important things. The mayor and I were at a fentanyl summit this morning where we have people from all around the nation who are struggling with the issue of fentanyl coming together to give us ideas about how we get through this.
Fifteen months ago, following the Dobbs Supreme Court decision we had a press conference right here outside on the steps of City Hall with hundreds of people, with the mayor and many others including myself who spoke personally and passionately about reproductive health care and access to abortion services for those in need.
We are gathered here today to talk about additional action the city is taking to stand up for reproductive rights. Before I turn things over to the mayor, let me acknowledge the people who are standing with us today.
Along with the mayor, we have Dr. Mitch Katz, president and CEO, NYC Health + Hospitals. Dr. Marisa Nadas, Reproductive Health Clinical Lead at H + H; and a number of other, I will call them the Dream Team and superstars from H + H including Dr. [Wade], Dr. Wendy Wilcox, [Efraim Karrem,] Dr. Stasha O’Callaghan, Dr. Adrienne Bingham, Mikaela Malo, Alexa Gingerella, Princess Ward and Dr. Stephanie Rand.
And of course, we also have with us Wendy Stark, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York here today. We have a few elected officials who are here with us as well. Assemblymembers Rajkumar and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein. With that, I would now like to turn it over to Mayor Adams.
Mayor Eric Adams: Thanks so much, deputy mayor. We were all over the city today.
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: All over. [Laughter.]
Mayor Adams: And really to the entire team that’s here and that shows the coming together of advocacy, government and our healthcare professionals as we deal with an issue that is dear to many of us, and that is women’s health rights and their gender. We say that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights. They go hand in hand.
This announcement today is so important. Fifty years of settled law in personal freedom were…those rules were under attack when the courts overturned Roe vs. Wade, and we immediately stated from day one we were not going to sit on our hands or sit back and just say woe is me, we said why not me. Why can’t we as a city find ways to shore up the rights that women deserve not only in this country but throughout this entire city and state.
Access to safe, legal abortion care is the cornerstone of public health, in New York City it will always be. We will not stand idly by as these attacks continue and the far right seeks to strip our citizens of their basic rights. Because we know that restricting access to abortion is simply about controlling women’s bodies, their choices and their freedoms, we’re going to stand up and have a united front to push back on that.
After the decision, we immediately signed six bills into law that ensured that reproductive rights and freedoms are protected in New York City. We launched the Abortion Access Hub to confidentially refer callers to abortion care; and, in a first in the country, we rolled out no cost medication abortion care at the city sexual health clinics, becoming the first Health Department in the country to do so.
Today I am proud to announce another first for our city government: access to abortion care will now be available through telehealth visits provided by New York City Health + Hospitals. Beginning this week, people in New York City seeking abortion care will be able to speak to a New York state licensed healthcare professional by video or by phone from the comfort of their home– a tough decision is made in the comfort of your environment in your home.
And if you are clinically eligible, that provider would be able to prescribe abortion medication that will be delivered to your New York City address within days. The service will be available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week through New York City Health + Hospitals Virtual Express Care service. This is an important step forward of using technology to deal with the major demand on those who are looking for access.
In New York City, we’re never going to stop fighting for a woman’s right to choose, that care that she needs and the right for all families who are involved. Our telehealth services are offered in over 200 different languages, and we serve patients regardless of their ability to pay. Abortion access should never be limited by language or one’s ability or their income to pay.
Our role is simple: to hold and to help New Yorkers make the choices they need safely and without discrimination. Really proud of this moment, a significant moment, again, of matching technology with the demand and the needs. Great job to all involved, and particularly to our deputy mayor and the entire Health + Hospitals team. Thank you very much.
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: Thank you, mayor. I was sitting here thinking that as the daughter of a midwife an as the mom of, I was going to say two daughters, but I should include my son in that, too, I’m very proud to be raising them, they’re grown, here in New York City where we have access to things of this sort.
And to add briefly to what the mayor said. Nationwide, according to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 50 percent of abortions are now occurring with the use of medication, showing the importance of what we’re doing here in the largest city in the country to provide accessible reproductive care through a method…through telehealth which allows New Yorkers to connect with their providers quickly and to discuss their healthcare trajectory.
The mayor also talked about access that will be available to patients and how we’re tackling access barriers for many who struggle to get visits with their providers. A person, it could be due to challenges in transportation, mobility or other disabilities and/or just in life circumstances. Ultimately, this action will once again meet people where they are by providing another method for them to seek the healthcare guidance they need in a timely manner.
We all witnessed the power of telehealth services through the pandemic, and H + H’s Virtual Express Care is an enduring tool to connect with patients. Now let me turn it over to Dr. Nadas to say a few words.
Dr. Marisa Nadas: Thank you, Mayor Adams and Deputy Mayor Williams Isom. Good morning. My name is Marisa Nadas. I’m an OBGYN physician with New York City Health + Hospitals. I oversee our family planning services, and I’m the associate medical director for Virtual Express Care.
I was supposed to have an older brother. My parents were expecting a baby boy, their first child, in the mid 1970s. Seven months into the pregnancy, my mom was diagnosed with a stillbirth. Devastated, she turned to her doctor for what to do; and still to this day, she talks about the care she received that day as kind and compassionate, as she ended the pregnancy very differently than the way she had planned.
Today across the country people are struggling to find that same compassionate care for both abortion and miscarriage alike. The fear connected to pregnancies that end before their time is pervasive, and doctors and patients often are unable to follow the safest and the kindest path. I myself have two daughters and a son, and they currently have fewer rights under our federal government then their grandmother did.
It is the history of my family and it is the future of my family that leads me to provide full spectrum reproductive healthcare including abortion care. I am so proud to work for New York City Health + Hospitals, our city’s public healthcare system where we recognize that healthcare is a human right and where we serve everyone regardless of immigration status or ability to pay, and today we’re building on that with a new service, our Telehealth Abortion Service.
Abortion care is essential healthcare. This new service complements the incredible work that we are already doing across our system to provide comprehensive reproductive healthcare including abortion care. It is integrated into our obstetric and gynecologic services at all of our hospitals, and we’ve had the opportunity to expand this care in many directions thanks in part to the critical funding that was made available by Governor Hochul.
Through this new service, patients in New York City can speak to a provider about their pregnancy, receive counseling on demand from the comfort of their home. If a patient chooses a medication abortion and is medically appropriate, then they can receive that medication by mail within a few days. They can access this new service on the Internet at expresscare.nyc, and they can also call our phone number at (718) 360 8981.
The Covid-19 pandemic showed us that expanding healthcare delivery via telehealth can decrease inequities in access. It ensures that there are no delays in care and it also overcomes some of the barriers such as the cost of travel and child care. This is particularly relevant to our patients seeking abortion care, because most people seeking abortion care are already parents and many are living on low incomes. As a physician, I want all of my patients to have access to care when they need it and wherever they need it.
Over the past few months, I’ve worked with the providers who are on the other side of these calls. I can tell you that this is who I would direct my sister, my daughter, my cousin to. They are experienced, committed and compassionate providers who are ready to support our patients on their reproductive health journey. Our team looks forward to serving you. Thank you.
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: Thank you so much, Dr. Nadas. You make me proud to be a New Yorker, and we share, apparently, two daughters and a son, so we have to connect on that.
Next I’d like to bring up Wendy Stark from Planned Parenthood to say a few words. So glad to get to finally meet you in person. Thank you so much for all of your advocacy and all of your support. Let me invite you up, Wendy.
Wendy Stark, CEO, Planned Parenthood for Greater New York: Good morning, and thank you for being here today. Today is truly an historic win for abortion access in New York City, and I applaud New York City Health + Hospitals for taking this really important stride in telehealth abortion services. Now New Yorkers can access critical abortion care from the comfort of their own homes and without worrying about barriers to care like transportation or significant time off of work. And that is indeed helpful on the path to equitable access and equitable health outcomes.
When we make abortion care more accessible, we empower individuals to make the best decisions for themselves, their families and their futures. Abortion is healthcare, as Dr. Nadas said, and it should be available to all who need it without delay or difficulty. Thank you to Mayor Adams, to Deputy Mayor Williams Isom, Commissioner Vasan, Dr. Katz and the teams at Health + Hospitals for making this possible and for being such incredible partners in the fight for abortion rights and access.
I’m thrilled to share with you that alongside this historic announcement from Health + Hospitals, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York also launches our Virtual Health Center this week. Health services from contraception— including emergency contraception— to gender affirming hormone therapy also under attack in our country so horrifically right now will be accessible to New Yorkers across the state with the touch of a button. Our trusted providers are here as well to care for and support you where and when you need it.
Today we are one step closer to building in New York of reproductive freedom for all, and I’m so proud and grateful to be in this work with all of you to celebrate this critical step forward for reproductive health access in New York City. Thank you.
Mayor Adams: We’re going to take a few on topics on this.
Question: So, one thing I’m curious about, I mean, this would be delivered to people’s residence. And I’m just kind of inferring, like outside of the state, people, you know, there are anti abortion people who’d say, you know, what’s to prevent people from outside of New York City coming and going to their friend’s apartment and ordering these services. Are there kind of legal ramifications you’ve gamed out as far as people coming in from out of state and taking advantage and what that means, if it means anything. I mean, I don’t know if there are legal ramifications, but.
Dr. Nadas: Thank you for that question. So, in New York City Health + Hospitals, we provide care for anyone that walks through our doors, and that is both physically and virtually. This is a service that is designed for the people of New York City; and as we know, the people of New York City are the people of the world that have come to New York City. So, we’re here for anyone that’s here in our city and looking for services.
Question: Hi. Yes, so can you clarify, if you live outside of New York City you won’t be able to get access to this? Can you talk about the decision as to why you did that and then also the cost of all this.
Dr. Nadas: Yes. So, we are a city hospital system that is designed for the people of New York City. If someone calls us from outside the city we will assist them in navigating to care. We won’t be able to prescribe them a telehealth medication abortion, but we will help them to connect to care, so they’re still able to access the abortion that they need.
In terms of the cost, this is something that is built on an already expansive system. We are already providing abortion care and we already have a very robust telehealth service, so we were able to expand the services that we provide with our existing staff and providers.
Question: I just want to follow up on that question. So, if somebody calls in to the number, do they have to then provide that area code, like, their address has to be connected to a New York City address. Is that like all being verified?
And then I wonder, you know, it’s coming back in the mail, somebody could come…first, like potentially see that they’re getting something from Health + Hospitals. Is there something for that if it’s coming, let’s say somebody lives with other people in that home, you know, how does that come back in the mail so that other people who are there aren’t aware of this, what they’re getting back.
Dr. Nadas: So, when people call, we do ask that they attest to the location that they say they’re calling from, and then when they provide an address for mailing the medication, we also verify that address with them and verify that it’s within New York City.
In terms of the receipt of the medication, I think it’s important remember that telehealth medication abortion is not the right choice for everyone. So, the best we can do to protect a patient’s privacy is to offer them the full range of options so that they can make the decision that is best for them.
For some people, a telehealth medication abortion is the most private option because they don’t need to use funds, travel to a clinic, take time off work. For other people, they don’t want to have medication mailed to them and they would prefer to come into one of our facilities to complete their care. I can also say that the medication is mailed using discrete packaging, so there’s nothing that labels it as medication abortion.
Question: Yes, I just want to make sure I’m clear. So, if somebody were to come in from out of state and kind of crash at their friends house…whatever, I didn’t mean to say crash, but you know, or staying with their friend, right, I can have it sent to that address, that’s the address they’re staying. People from out of state could access the service just by dint of being located in the city and having it sent there. Is that right, or am I off…
Dr. Nadas: That is correct. All over the country people are traveling in order to access abortion care.
Question: Can I ask about the fentanyl conference? Did you learn anything today?
Moderator: Let’s stay on topic today.
Mayor Adams: And I know that out of our concern of making sure that we really respond to the off topic questions that we get I believe Deputy Mayor Levy sent out a notice that we’re going to be holding once a week just off topics so you can ask whatever questions what you want. I think we’re going tomorrow, on Tuesday. This would give you an opportunity so we don’t mix the messages. We want to be as clear as possible.
And the DM would be there. We’ll have the DMs, and the DM would be there to go over this important summit. I want to thank her for doing it, and she’ll go over the outcome that’s taking place right now. Okay?
Question: Could you explain that decision? Mayors have always taken on topics and off topics.
Mayor Adams: I’m not sure what other mayors have done. There are things that they’ve done that I wouldn’t do, and there’s things that I do that they wouldn’t do. Right now there’s a mayor called Mayor Adams, and the rule that we put in place so we don’t mix messages is that we’re going to have an off topic, we’re going to bring in our deputy mayors that will sit down.
No mayor in the history of this city has been more accessible, more approachable, more on the ground than I have. And so this is the rule we put…don’t look around at your colleagues, they’re not answering, I’m answering. We’re going to have one day a week so I can do the business of running this very complicated city. And that’s what is done.
October 2, 2023