Family Planning Council gets a new name and wider mission

Melissa Weiler Gerber leads the renamed agency. AccessMatters
Melissa Weiler Gerber leads the renamed agency. AccessMatters
Posted: June 11, 2014

Forty years after the Family Planning Council of Southeastern Pennsylvania was created, it is working to reinvent itself, complete with a new name: AccessMatters.

Executive director Melissa Weiler Gerber announced the rebranding Monday night at a news conference and cocktail party at the 1700 Market St. offices of the retitled council.

The group administers public funding for reproductive health services in the region, channeling money to 25 providers - hospitals, health centers, and clinics - that serve more than 120,000 mostly low-income clients.

But, as Gerber explained, the funding and scope have steadily expanded to include LGBT services, HIV/AIDS programs, and more. (The tagline of AccessMatters' new logo - a stylized A and shadowy M - is "transforming access to sexual and reproductive health.")

"We wanted a name that covers the full breadth of the work that we do," said Gerber, and "positions us for our future."

About 75 representatives of the network of providers that get money through AccessMatters were on hand. They oohed with pleasure when the slide with the new name was displayed, then clapped enthusiastically.

Jane Shull, executive director of Philadelphia FIGHT, said, "I think it's a good name and an important theme. It does better reflect the big menu of things they do."

Dayle Steinberg, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsyvlania, said, "It's good to see the organization is forward-thinking and adjusting to the changing health care environment. The name works for me."

Rebranding is a marketing strategy that conjures images of big companies, popular products - and some debacles. But any entity that wants to endure now needs a long-term strategy, with self-promotion.

"I think almost every health organization is rebranding now to try to ensure quality" and develop an identity, said Julie Rabinovitz, CEO and president of the California Family Health Council. "We've considered renaming ourselves, too."

Gerber, a Princeton graduate, lawyer, and former head of the fund-raising coalition Women's Way, initiated a strategic planning process not long after she took the council's helm in 2010.

It was desperately needed. The council was operating in the red. Federal Title X family-planning funding was under renewed political attack, even though the law expressly forbids coverage of abortion. Adding to its troubles, Gerber's predecessor, Dorothy Mann - known during her 33-year tenure for her vision and brash style - helped another nonprofit compete for the Title X grant that has been the council's lifeblood.

The rival, Philadelphia Health Management Corp., failed in its bid. This year, the council's $5.2 million Title X grant - $300,000 less than in 2009 - is only 40 percent of the total budget.

Still, the rechristened agency has a balanced budget and "is in the best financial position we've been in in years," Gerber said.

How can that be?

"We've been reinventing our business model and diversifying our funding stream," she said.

Besides bringing in a potpourri of state and federal grants, her workforce of about 50 is selling its expertise, and teaching insurers and private medical practices how to keep patients linked to care - no easy feat with, say, impoverished teenagers and HIV patients.

She noted "one other exciting recent development. We're one of only three organizations in the country to receive a [federal] grant to . . . work with health departments across the country" on preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.


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