The dark cloud that hovered over the Whitman-Walker Clinic here in Washington for the last few years is gone. Once on financial life support, the revered institution is thriving. The embattled management announced today that, for the first time since 2001, the clinic recorded a surplus last year. In addition, its sources of income are diversified, and it has become a full-service community health center that remains true to its core mission: To provide HIV/AIDS care.
Success was by no means assured.
When Whitman-Walker hired Don Blanchon as chief executive in 2006, the organization was in deep financial trouble. The clinic posted $4 million operating losses in 2007 and 2008. It didn't have a permanent chief financial officer. An independent report commissioned by the board highlighted the institution's lack of a system to track grants and contributions. And there was a sense of mission drift among some in the gay community. Raising hell about it all was the chairman of the District Council's Health Committee, David Catania (I-At Large). He demanded Blanchon's resignation. Thankfully, Catania failed in that mission.
Blanchon sold off buildings, cut services and shuttered facilities in Maryland and Virginia. Most critical was his decision to broaden the clinic's outreach by transforming it into a community health center, expanding its base HIV/AIDS care to include primary care, dental and mental health services to all, regardless of HIV status. Doing so gave Whitman-Walker access to federal Medicaid dollars. And it is teed up to benefit from the expansion of Medicaid coverage in 2014 under the health-care law.
The result of these painful, but necessary steps are nothing short of stunning.
When I talked to Blanchon last August, he was projecting a surplus of $360,000. Today, he announced Whitman-Walker was $890,820 in the black in 2010. That's 4 percent more in revenue than expenses for that year. In 2009, there was a deficit of more than $750,000.
By relying less on fundraising and grants, which ebb and flow with the economy, while increasing its participation in private insurance and federal health programs, Whitman-Walker has diversified its income stream and stabilized its finances.
Meanwhile, the number of people walking through the clinic's doors has increased. According to Dr. Ray Martins, the chief medical officer, "[W]e cared for approximately 13,000 patients, which is a 30 percent increase over 2009." Generally speaking, they were mostly male (68 percent), black (47 percent), between the ages of 21 and 30 (33 percent) and self-identified as straight (51 percent). Those who were HIV-positive accounted for 22 percent of the clientele.
Whitman-Walker is not the clinic it used to be. When it was established in 1978, it was the outgrowth of the Gay Men's STD Clinic, which opened its doors in 1973. HIV and AIDS (and governmental indifference) forced it to narrowly focus its offerings. The changing nature of the disease and health care demanded that Whitman-Walker adapt again. The evolution wasn't easy or painless. But because of it the clinic that had been a refuge for gay men in the early days of the epidemic will remain open for all who seek quality health care.
| February 8, 2011; 12:04 PM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
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