Nearly a year since Whitman-Walker Clinic’s January 2008 restructuring announcement, which included staff layoffs of up to 10 percent and the sale of its headquarter building at 1407 S St. NW, the clinic announced on Dec. 16 that more cuts would be required in light of the current recession.
”As the economy worsens, we are caring for more new patients and providing more uncompensated care,” WWC Chief Executive Officer Donald Blanchon offered in a prepared statement. ”Many of these new patients have lost their jobs and no longer have either the income or the health coverage to pay for the care they need. Our commitment to caring for anyone who comes to us is unwavering, but it is forcing us to take some painful actions to continue to provide critical health care services.”
The clinic, founded in 1973 as a gay men’s STD clinic, will be closing Whitman-Walker of Northern Virginia, with 10 full time employees, in the first quarter of 2009. Additionally, up to 45 employees will be laid off, taking the clinic down to about 130 employees by the end of this restructuring, Blanchon estimated. The clinic will also end a residential addiction-treatment program, Bridge Back.
”This is a really difficult time for us,” Blanchon told Metro Weekly. ”The clinic is not alone. Like most organizations, it’s being battered.”
Aside from losses the clinic absorbs from caring for uninsured patients — for whose care the clinic receives below-cost compensation from DC Medicaid or DC HealthCare Alliance — private donations on which the nonprofit clinic depends have been shrinking during the recession. Blanchon says that private donations to WWC have shrunk by nearly 30 percent.
While the clinic has expanded its mission over the years, it has on occasion been criticized for that expansion with some arguing that it attempts to do too much for too many at the expense of the gay community that founded it.
”I see the clinic as reflective of the needs of the LGBT community,” said Blanchon. ”The community no longer believes that HIV/STD testing and counseling is the only service they need. The reality is that we have a very diverse LGBT community in the D.C. area. The transgender community is a good example. We’ve provided [transgender-related] services that weren’t even offered maybe five years ago. And our work in crystal-methamphetamine addiction is very much in keeping with the LGBT community.”
As WWC is now positioned to serve as a primary caregiver, Blanchon confirmed that if more insured patients were to turn to the clinic for their primary care, that could help their bottom line.
”We would invite the LGBT community to come here and get their basic medical care,” he said. ”Give us a chance to get your basic medical care here. We can offer that to you.”
Blanchon emphasized that none of the cuts should be perceived as reflective of the value of any employee or program.
”These are really difficult and painful decisions to make. It’s not a reflection that any staff did not do a great job or provide great service. It’s a historic economic downturn. And it’s really important for us to be here long term for the LGBT community.”
For more about Whitman-Walker Clinic, visit www.wwc.org.