After a decade as CEO of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region (PPGMR), Barry Chase left his office this month, handing over the reins to former board member and longtime Planned Parenthood supporter Ashley Coffield.
Previously a project director for the Washington, D.C.-based organization Partnership for Prevention, Coffield brings a career of public health experience to the job, as well as nine years serving on PPGMR's board of directors.
Coffield is inheriting a state-level political climate that has been openly antagonistic to Planned Parenthood. Chase's tenure saw the election of self-proclaimed Planned Parenthood adversary Governor Bill Haslam, as well as the state legislature's warpath against the family-planning organization.
"Haslam made the statement when he was running for governor that he was going to put Planned Parenthood out of business," Chase said. "Because of that, we ran into a problem with the state and our family-planning funding."
Chase is referring to the Title X funding showdown that took place last year, in which state legislators attempted to divert federal family-planning dollars away from Planned Parenthood, first foisting the dollars on an unprepared county health department and then agreeing to let counties subcontract with other health-care providers. The Shelby County Commission selected Christ Community Health Services, an organization that does not perform abortions, to receive the Title X subcontract.
In a display of tit-for-tat political strategy, Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region then bypassed the state and applied for and received Title X funding directly from the federal government. Though the grant amount was lower than they were accustomed to, PPGMR made up for the reduced amount with donations from supporters.
By the time the Title X showdown took place, Chase was well-accustomed to the challenges of running a polarizing nonprofit. When he took the helm of Planned Parenthood, the organization was saddled with debt and uncertainty about its lease. Over the next three years, Chase used his business background to nudge the nonprofit's ledger from red to black. Then he tackled the organization's real estate problem, securing its current location at 2430 Poplar.
"When we lost our lease at the [former Union Avenue] building, no one would rent to us," Chase said. "We were 60 days from when we had to be out of the Union location, and we had nowhere to go."
The country's recession provided some fortuitous help in that regard. A bank eager to get a foreclosed Midtown office building off its books sold the Poplar Avenue location to PPGMR, where it has been housed for the past three years.
Coffield now sits in the corner office of that centrally located building off of one of Memphis' busiest arterial roadways and looks ahead to the opposition and opportunities that await.
"Our number-one priority is to make sure patients get high-quality health care and they have a positive, satisfying experience," Coffield said. "Of course, we're paying attention to what's going on in Nashville, and of course, it's threatening to us, so that also has to be a focus."
She points outside to the space where protesters regularly camp out, including one particularly vocal anti-abortion activist they have dubbed "megaphone man."
"The sidewalk bullying is the least of our concerns," Coffield said. "It's the bullies in Nashville that we're worried about."