NORFOLK -- Petty Officer 3rd Class Eva Robinson was down to her last package of birth control pills.
That used to mean waiting up to three weeks for a prescription through the Navy's health-care system. But a new walk-in contraceptive clinic has streamlined the process to a matter of minutes, bypassing the usual process of getting a referral from a primary care doctor and the wait to see an OB-GYN.
"Trying to get an appointment is kind of a nightmare," Robinson said.
She recently moved to the area to join the crew awaiting the commissioning of the guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner, and was the fifth patient to be seen in the new clinic by a little after 10 a.m. Tuesday. It opened April 25 in the obstetrics and gynecology department of the Branch Health Clinic at Naval Station Norfolk, and operates Tuesdays from 7 to 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.
Four patients were seen on its first Tuesday; 10 women came in on its second Tuesday, said Lt. Cmdr. Stacey Hamlett, a nurse-midwife who helped to start the clinic as part of a Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery working group. It offers same-day services that include birth control prescriptions, renewals, implants, removals and emergency contraception for active-duty sailors and their beneficiaries.
About 62 percent of U.S. women of reproductive age use some form of contraceptive. Pills are the most popular choice -- used by about 9.7 million women, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health advocacy group.
Hamlett said reducing the barriers to contraceptives can increase military readiness by decreasing the number of unintended pregnancies.
"We're making it more convenient, more easy," she said.
The clinic is the Navy's first in Hampton Roads and follows others in San Diego and Mayport, Fla. San Diego's walk-in clinic has seen more than 4,000 patients since it opened in February 2016, according to Naval Medical Center San Diego data. It operates Monday through Thursday and half days on Fridays, and has expanded the service to a branch clinic for a half day each week.
Dr. Toni Marengo-Barbick, an OB-GYN and the director of family planning at Naval Medical Center San Diego, says the clinics offer an additional route of training for medical workers to become credentialed in the placement of contraceptive devices, including intrauterine devices.
She also sees the clinics as a money-saver for the Navy. Each unplanned pregnancy can cost up to $30,000, she said.
"We haven't proven it yet, but the whole idea that we'd like to see down the road is that we have reduced the unplanned, unintended pregnancy rate," she said.