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Thinking Ahead

Foundation offers free long-term, reversible birth control.

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For some, staying a step ahead means getting a jump on the competition or setting a social media trend. For Claudia Haltom, staying a step ahead means giving Shelby County women the chance to thrive — by planning their lives before having children.

Haltom, president and CEO of A Step Ahead Foundation, spent 17 years as a judge in Shelby County Juvenile Court, where she was struck by one recurring theme: Women and girls are having children before they are ready or able to take care of them.

Now retired from the bench, she is dedicated to providing long-term, reversible birth control in the form of IUDs (intrauterine devices) and implants to women across Shelby County regardless of their ability to pay.

"For 17 years, it was my job to take people's kids away from them for abuse and neglect," Haltom said. "Again and again, I saw young women having children when they could least take care of them, and I realized that there are barriers to women getting birth control. It's not easy, and it's not accessible. It became my mission to help women get beyond the barriers."

A Step Ahead, which was founded last August and has already served 413 women, currently relies on the generosity of anonymous donors but will also seek private grants in the future. The program works within the existing system of clinics, including all six Christ Community Health Center clinics and the Memphis Health Center, and is in negotiations with the Med Plex Health Loop clinic on Hollywood and the four Well Child clinics.

A Step Ahead also works with existing payment processes as a payor of last resort. This means that if a woman has insurance, A Step Ahead pays whatever the insurance won't cover. A Step Ahead covers the full cost of services for uninsured women.

The operator working at the organization's 24-hour call center schedules appointments at local clinics, arranges cabs for pickup on the appointment day, and sets up text message reminders leading up to the appointment. On the day of the appointment, patients receive a consultation, a pelvic exam, a pap smear, and a pregnancy test. On the second visit, patients return for installation of a long-term birth control device. All of these services are offered free of charge.

According to a study on the economic impact of teen pregnancy in Memphis and Shelby County, the delivery costs of teenage births in Shelby County added up to more than $10 million in 2009. The effective use of contraception and prevention of pregnancy would have cost a total of around $580,000 for the 2,000-plus teens who got pregnant that year. Tack on the costs of raising a child for the first three years of life and the cost-benefit ratio of pregnancy versus prevention more than doubles.

Haltom focuses on IUDs and implants because they are safe, can last from three to 10 years, and once removed, have no effect on a woman's fertility. Perhaps most importantly, they don't require constant maintenance, like remembering to take a birth control pill every day or getting a prescription for the birth control shot every three months.

Tiffany Jones, the program's coordinator at the Memphis Health Center, is pleased with the response from women of all ages: "I think this is going to be a huge success. We're really helping to make a positive change."

For more information, visit www.stepahead.me or call the 24-hour call center at 320-7837.

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