From the Senate floor to the town of Tecumseh, Jean Brinkman has offered her time, dedication, and advocacy to family planning for over 40 years. In all of that time, she says, she has never had a dull day.
When she started in 1980, Jean realized she could support women and families through her finance and accounting experience. Jean manages payroll and funding for the WIC and family planning services and serves as Deputy Director at Family Health Services, located in Tecumseh and Lincoln.
Tecumseh, or as Jean calls it, “a little corner of the world,” has a population of 1,620. It is a small city that merges farm with town, family with community.
This community is home to Jean’s 40 years of advocacy for Title X and family planning: she has taken the stories of clients and the need for these services to her community, to the Unicameral, and to Congress.
This advocacy can be an uphill battle.
“I wish the Senate could understand us better… I just want it to be accepted. Not just a little bit, not just by a few. By everyone.”
She asks elected officials to look at their families: their daughters, wives, cousins, aunts and everyone around them to see how necessary these services are – and use that to promote Title X services nation-wide.
Her friends would ask her if these challenges she faced ever made her want to throw in the towel.
“No,” she would answer, “it made me want to be there more because I knew we could make it through it.”
Jean has traveled down the road of women’s healthcare for 40 years and answers a critical question: why does women’s healthcare matter?
“Women’s healthcare is something a woman must do for her lifetime – it’s ‘forever’ in a woman’s life. So why shouldn’t it be more available? Why must it be hush-hush?”Jean Brinkman
It’s clear that she has asked this question many times and has come to a few conclusions. Awareness and acceptance of these topics is key to helping people understand what family planning services are – and why they’re so important.
Family planning encompasses a breadth of services in these clinics. Services include women’s annual appointments, cervical and breast cancer screenings, HIV testing, STI testing, birth control, pregnancy testing, and pap smears.
The Guttmacher Institute reports that more than 99% of women aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method. They also note that some 60% of all women of reproductive age are currently using a contraceptive method.
“I want people to be open-minded. There are so many stories to listen to from these clients.”
Stories of women feeling scared and alone, of young people seeking advice, and of Nebraskans in need of critical reproductive screening services are just a few of the tales Jean tells. They all revolve around the same mission of the clinic: we are here to help you, not to judge you.
Out of the many, one stands out to Jean more than the rest.
A couple came into the clinic seeking a pregnancy test. They were scared: the husband had recently lost his job and without insurance, the timing just wasn’t right.
“They would’ve been okay, they knew whether positive or negative, they would have been okay.”
In that moment, they needed someone. And in that moment, it was Jean Brinkman. Jean told the woman everything would be okay; she gave her a hug.
The woman eyes filled with tears as she said she had never received a hug during a medical encounter.
“I can’t forget her. I can’t forget her face,” Jean says.
As the test came back negative, she embraced the husband as well. They left with a smile on their face. They had received the care and service necessary.
They came back to the clinic a few years later with a cradled newborn. This time, the timing was right – the husband had found a steady job and they were ready to welcome a new life into their own.
While Jean’s number-minded approach is her job, she embodies much more than that. She’s a welcoming face in this clinic – and these stories leave one stirred, empathetic, and uplifted.
“Everyone has a purpose in this world. I feel my purpose is to help people,” she says.
Jean’s help extends beyond Tecumseh and Lincoln as Family Health Services serves the southeast corner of Nebraska with suitcase clinics in Beatrice, Peru, and Crete.
“We see everyone. We want to see everyone. And we will not refuse anyone,” Jean states.
With retirement on the horizon, she says plainly, “As I retire, I don’t know how to retire. There is so much good in this work.”
Jean realized she loved her job when she could help and support women every day. This program, she notes, is one of the most important she has ever seen, heard about, and one that everyone needs to know about.
She offers sage advice for those who wish to advocate on behalf of women’s healthcare: if you can help people in the littlest of ways, that is what matters.
And it’s clear she has done that hundreds of times over.