The Bessie Smyth Foundation Pty Ltd
A specialist feminist womens health service in transition from a termination of pregnancy service to a pregnancy counselling; abortion information, referral and advice; advocacy; public research and education service
Activity report - Calendar year 2002-2003
Smyth Foundation is a specialist womens health service established
in July 1977 to provide health care and fertility control services to
women and to undertake public research and education promoting womens
Management Structure and Decision-Making
The Bessie Smyth Foundation is a company limited by guarantee and is managed by the Board of Directors all of whom are appointed from the membership at the Annual General Meeting. All decisions regarding policy and practice of The Bessie Smyth Foundation are made by the Board of Directors and those policy and practice decisions are implemented by the Coordinator. Sub-groups and working parties are appointed from time-to-time to carry out specific tasks.
Due to lack of time at the end of 2001, which resulted in no annual report being produced for the 2001-2002 period, the Foundation would like to take the opportunity in this Annual Report to express its thanks to the Board of Directors, appointed at the AGM held in November 2001, for their time, support, experience and commitment to the Foundation during the very difficult period 2001-2002 wherein the then-Board made the decision to sell our business and premises to Marie Stopes International.
A lot of extra time and effort had to be put in by that Board for due diligence processes and to protect the interests of the Foundation. There was also a lot of additional pressure on the then-Board as it consisted of only 4 members (out of a possible 6) - those Board members were: Tessa Boyd-Caine, Suzanne Christie, Suzanne Jamieson and Emma Keene. Their time, support, experience and commitment in the first half of the current reporting period, 2002-2003 is also much appreciated.
The Board of Directors for 2001-2002 were:
In addition, the Foundation would like to thank the current Board of Directors for their similar time, support, experience and commitment to the Foundations original aim to maintain a feminist perspective on fertility control services and the needs of women to access appropriate abortion services and support.
The Board of Directors for 2002-2003 were/are:
The day-to-day operations of the Foundation for the period 1st July 2002 to August 26th 2002, (our last two months of owning and operating The Powell Street Clinic), relied on a core counselling and medical staff consisting of the following:
In the period August 27th to December 19th 2002, the Foundation relied on the work of one casually employed staff person, the former Centre Manager, Margaret Kirkby (for a maximum total of 200 hours between September and December 2002) and the bookkeeper, Heike Obermayr.
In the period February 2003 to June 2003, the Foundation relied on one full-time staff person, the Coordinator, Margaret Kirkby, to develop the service during its transition period and
Heike Obermayr as bookkeeper for approximately one day per month.
As well as undertaking clinical work for The Powell Street Clinic on the clinic days we had during July and August 2002, several staff made themselves available to assist with tasks associated with due diligence processes related to the sale (e.g. developing an inventory of our assets contained within The Powell Street Clinic; an inventory of our consumables; documenting our client numbers for the period July 1999 to June 2002) .
Despite this being a very difficult time for us all, all staff remained focussed on meeting the needs of our clients and ensuring maintenance of standards of care in terms of infection control, in terms of our dealings with the Health Insurance Commission and in terms of our dealings with fellow providers and agencies.
A large amount of administrative work had to be undertaken to meet requirements of solicitors and other consultants employed by the Foundation for this period and for the sale process. Meetings of the members of the Foundation were also convened several times in this period.
During the month of August, as the settlement date became more evident, all staff remained additionally focussed on meeting the handover requirements to the purchasing company, Marie Stopes International.
The last clinic day for Bessie Smyth Foundations Powell Street clinic, was Thursday 22nd August 2002. All staff on duty that day were presented with small gifts to thank them for staying with Bessie through such a difficult period. Below provides an overview of our 25 years of managing a termination of pregnancy service.
OUR PHILSOPHY WHILST WE MANAGED A TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY SERVICE
The Powell Street Clinic was run with a philosophy that it was a SERVICE not a clinic! A service to meet the needs of woman when making a decision about a pregnancy; a service to meet the needs of women for empathic, non-judgemental, supportive care whilst implementing their decision if their decision was to have a termination of pregnancy.
A second element of our philosophy was that no woman would be turned away if she did not have the money to pay for the operation as this was well known amongst fellow abortion providers and womens health and welfare agencies, it would be true to say that Bessie saw a higher proportion of low-income and disadvantaged women because of referral to us by fellow providers and other agencies of such women.
In practical terms, and in fulfilment of our object that we make our services available and accessible to all women regardless of financial means, we wrote off each year approximately $10,000 in fees owed to us by women who had undertaken to pay off by instalment the cost of their operation. We did not want to turn ourselves into debt collectors and we recognised that as women are on lower incomes than men and, oftentimes, had carer and other responsibilities, they were simply not in a position to pay us back even though they wanted to.
In the period Friday August 23rd to Monday August 26th 2002, casual staff were employed (Marilyn Roy, Zhan Chaim, Meredith Russell, Francesca Guimaraens) to assist the Centre Manager pack up the records of the organisation; to organise the categories of materials to either go to storage; to the new Bessie office; or to the State Library eventually as archival material; and to finalise the inventory of consumables.
In addition the pack-up required secure shredding of medical records which the Foundation had been storing for Everywomans Health Centre, ( which went into liquidation in approximately November 1995) and secure shredding of confidential Foundation records not required to be kept any longer and not required to be passed onto the purchasing company.
The achievements of The Bessie Smyth Foundation in the 25 years that we owned and managed The Powell Street Clinic
The main work of the organisation from August to December 2002 was:
February 2003-June 2003 First Phase of Pilot Project
It was resolved during a Strategic Planning Day held on 3rd March 2003 to undertake casework on a limited basis so to test whether our understanding of womens needs, based on having been an abortion provider, was matched by our experience arising from dealing with women in a non-clinical but related capacity. We hoped our casework would assist us to identify:
Due to the Foundations decision to undertake this work on a self-funded basis and the consequential responsibility towards our members to be restrained with expenditure, it was also resolved to not widely advertise our service but to target referral agencies such as womens health centres, social workers in hospitals and abortion providers for referrals to our service. No widespread advertising to the public was undertaken due to the limitations on our staffing levels.
As well as undertaking our casework, our Coordinator was responsible for all administrative, all liaison, all resource development, and all other work (except bookkeeping), required for the Foundation in the reporting period.
Analysis of our casework in the period February 2003 to June 2003
It is not surprising, given that we moved twice in this reporting period plus the decision to inform only referring sources of our new contact details, that our casework in the first phase of the pilot project was small. Notwithstanding small numbers, due to the high and multiple needs of some of our clients, our staff members time was, at some points in time, completely dominated by addressing and meeting the needs of clients.
The only advertising to the public maintained during the reporting period was our Yellow Pages Online advertisement. Our casework data indicates that the internet elicited just under half of our inquiries in the February to June 2003 period. The phone remained the main point of contact, particularly for women in high states of distress related to a pregnancy and their repeated efforts to have a termination. The middle of Friday afternoons seemed to become a common time for the high distress calls to come in.
The fact that these women and/or agency workers such as doctors, psychologists and social workers managed to contact us after multiple phone calls to different agencies, is a testament to the tenacity and resilience of women and some agency workers.
For those women whom we helped comprehensively (transport, accommodation, other expenses) their persistence in the face of quite insurmountable circumstances, is a testament to womens determination when they realise that the pregnancy they are carrying is at not-the-right-time.
A common element for those women who rang us with a high level of distress was the fact that they had rung so many agencies for assistance that, by the time they rang Bessie, they did not even know who they were ringing. The referral round-about and the frustration levels this creates in women is an issue which needs further addressing.
The highest area of need identified in this period was that of plain, old simple INFORMATION; next was allaying of fears; the next was counselling; and, the smallest but the most time consuming, was meeting the needs of women in high levels of distress related to a pregnancy which, for various reasons, had progressed to well into the second trimester.
This initial phase of our pilot project confirmed our suspicions:
Further to these concerns, women also presented with a great depth of impoverishment resulting from:
Our pilot project moved to its second phase in the second half of 2003. This will be reported upon in our next Activity Report.
We would not have got through such a difficult period if we had not had the support and assistance of many individuals and organisations. The Bessie Smyth Foundation would like to thank the following for their support during the 2002-2003 period:
The members and staff of the Foundation
Womens Health NSW as an organisation and the WHNSW statewide conferences during 2002 and 2003 wherein a great deal of moral support was provided to Bessie Smyth Foundation
The individual member organisations of Womens Health NSW:
Wed like to make a special extra thanks to Wilma Womens Health Centre for allowing us to move to their premises for the period August 2002 to early March 2003.
Wed also like to thank the Pride Lesbian and Gay Community Centre
Fellow abortion providers:
The purchaser of our business and premises, Marie Stopes International, particularly Ms Suzanne Dvorzak and Ms Julie Fitzgerald for their recognition that the due diligence process was a huge effort for a small organisation such as ours with no infrastructure and very few resources. Wed also like to thank Marie Stopes International for their patience in their dealings with us.
Our thanks also go to the Head Office (in London) of Marie Stopes International.
Our suppliers to The Powell Street Clinic (Richard Thomson; Stericorp; Neverfail; Australia Wide Locums; BOC Gases; Ecomed)
Our doctors, particularly Peter Johnson, Kevin Pedemont, Michelle Kenney, for assisting us in July and August 2002 and wed also like to thank the following:
Craddock Murray and Neumann
Darren Pearce and other staff at Lawler Partners
The SEARCH Foundation
The Womens Health and Resources Foundation