by Larry Kline
A woman who has dedicated much of her life to the health of local women and girls will be honored this weekend in recognition for her service.
Karen Sloan, who has been active in nursing for more than 40 years, will be given the Vagina Warrior award following the production of "The Vagina Monologues" on Saturday night. The award is given by V-Day, a nonprofit organization founded by playwright Eve Ensler that raises money and awareness for the fight to stop violence against women.
Sloan will be among hundreds of Vagina Warriors honored across the country this year for their work to improve women's lives.
Tylyn Carmean, who is directing "The Vagina Monologues," said Sloan was an easy choice because of the length of time she has spent in her field and the number of local women she has helped.
"It just really seemed unanimous that everyone wanted to choose her," Carmean said. "She has a great personality. She has helped a lot of women."
The award was first presented locally last year. The recipient was Judi Gomke, who set up a network of help and support for battered Hi-Line women in 1979.
Sloan serves as a certified nurse practitioner with Hill County Family Planning, where she has worked for 25 years to provide reproductive health care to low-income women who have little or no health insurance.
Sloan grew up on a ranch in the Sweet Grass Hills, where she decided early that she wanted to be a nurse.
She moved to Havre in 1968 with her husband, Duaine, and was hired as the obstetrics supervisor at a Havre hospital, where she convinced physicians to allow fathers in the delivery room, according to Carmean.
During her time at the hospital, she became aware of the number of teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and women who were having babies too close together for good health. Sloan became involved with family planning, which was located in the District IV Human Resources Development Council building for 22 years.
She became a strong supporter of HRDC's domestic abuse program and worked with state family planning programs that trained nurses to do rape tests in the emergency room.
Margaret Meggs, director of ReSPONSE, a Montana State University-Northern program that educates students about violence against women, said Sloan's position at Hill County Family Planning has given her the opportunity to educate women and girls about domestic violence.
"Family planning is an area where there's an opportunity to do some education about domestic violence, and Karen does that extremely well with the people she works with," Meggs said. Women and girls who visit Sloan's office for information about birth control, abstinence and reproduction also get the education that can keep them from getting locked into a domestic abuse situation, she said. "It's an opportunity to bridge one issue and the other and provide information about nonviolent, healthy relationships."
Meggs said Sloan is an excellent choice for the Vagina Warrior award.
"I think Karen is a woman of very high integrity," she said. "She believes deeply in the work that she's doing, and she really, really wants to make life better for women and girls."
Debbie LaTray, a ReSPONSE outreach coordinator, used to work with Sloan at the hospital. She said Sloan is very deserving of the award.
"She is one person in our community who deeply cares about women and girls," LaTray said. "It doesn't matter to her if they have money or if they don't. She gives her patients 150 percent. She's caring, compassionate, and always puts their needs above hers. She goes to bat for her patients. I'm very happy that they chose her to be the Vagina Warrior this year. She will make all women proud."
Cindy Sorenson works as a receptionist in the Family Planning office and was a patient of Sloan's herself 23 years ago. She said Sloan's care of patients is second to none.
"We do have some women that come in here just because they like Karen," she said.
Sloan was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
This year's production of "The Vagina Monologues," by the Montana Actors' Theatre, will benefit Hill County Family Planning and also the women of Iraq. Ten percent of the proceeds will be used by V-Day to support women's programs in Iraq, while 90 percent of the funds will stay in Hill County. Family Planning provides cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease testing birth control, and education on abstinence, birth control and reproduction.