Lay-offs, Restructuring at Whitman-Walker

Lay-offs, New Hires Both Part of the Clinic's 2008 Restructuring Plans

Whitman-Walker Clinic announced today that it will layoff more than 10 percent of its employees as part of a ”restructuring” of the long-time gay and lesbian and HIV/AIDS health organization.

Donald Blanchon, CEO of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, called a press conference Thursday morning, Jan. 10, to outline some changes in the clinic’s focus for the upcoming year, including staffing changes that will lead to substantial layoffs beginning as early as Jan. 11.

”I’m pleased to announce our 2008 priorities to fulfill our vision as the region’s preeminent health center treating the LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS,” Blanchon told the small contingent of reporters assembled at the clinic’s Lesbian Services Program offices at 1810 14th St. NW, emphasizing the good, rather than the bad.

Blanchon said he could not yet elaborate on the number of employees who will be let go in this restructuring, though he did offer a ballpark figure of ”upwards of 10 percent” of the clinic’s current staff of roughly 240 employees, 220 full-time. ”It’s not a single-digit” percentage, he said.

But while the clinic’s plan for restructuring, ”to modernize services,” among other reasons, means there will be layoffs, it also includes planned hiring in areas of clinical care and outreach.

”In order to become a high-quality community health center, we need a different workforce than what we’ve had. Historically, we’ve been an organization that’s been driven by grants — funding has been largely grants — and that leads you down a certain path of how you do your staffing. We need to be much more of a community-health organization. That means more physicians, more mental-health practitioners, more health educators, more nurses, more addiction counselors. You’ll see the workforce change. There will be some new positions, there will be some reassignments and there will be some layoffs.”

Blanchon also took the opportunity Thursday to announce the hiring of Dr. Raymond Martins as WWC’s chief medical officer, effective late February, as well as contracting the BDO Seidman company to manage the clinic’s accounting.

”We will have some staffing changes in financial management, that’s very clear…. We need to be much more open and transparent,” Blanchon said, referring to the clinic’s finances. In 2005, prior to his joining WWC, the clinic suffered a nearly catastrophic, $1 million shortfall in its accounting. By comparison, Blanchon noted, it looks as though the clinic will have ended 2007 with a shortfall of about $200,000.

In other areas, Blanchon promised that the clinic will respond the D.C. Department of Health’s November report regarding HIV/AIDS data, as well as the clinic’s own observations, with the launch of ”Project R.E.D.” The acronym for this new, ”edgier” HIV education and awareness campaign stands for ”Reach. Educate. Decrease.” It will be aimed at heterosexual, African-American women, ages 24-35; men who have sex with men, ages 18-24; heterosexual, African-American men younger than 40; and single men who have sex with men of color.

Look for in-depth coverage of this story in the Jan. 17 issue of Metro Weekly and in online updates.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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