Credit and Caution for Clinic

Catania welcomes WWC document, but asks for more substance

It’s simple, says Councilmember David Catania (I-At large): As long as the board of directors at Whitman-Walker Clinic cooperates with the District’s Committee on Health, there will be no need to ”seek subpoena powers.”

”It’s when and if I feel that there’s some reluctance to be forthcoming that I will seek those additional powers,” said Catania, the chair of the health committee who in late January held a public roundtable to question the clinic’s leadership and recent layoffs. ”So long as I feel there’s cooperation, I feel that that would not be necessary.”

It seems Catania is getting the cooperation he seeks — though perhaps not the substance — through a nine-page document released by the clinic Feb. 10. In it, clinic CEO Donald Blanchon emphasizes the clinic’s mission, including a commitment to the GLBT community that founded the clinic. Blanchon also says release of the document ”reaffirms our commitment despite these tough economic time.”

And Catania appreciates that, to a degree.

”We have been in the process of drafting our own questions that we want to supplement,” said Catania. ”So I have to say, it was a welcome development that they had taken the initiative to try to answer the committee’s questions. I think it was a nice gesture, that they’re attempting to be proactive. But it doesn’t necessarily answer the questions of the committee.”

The statement released by WWC emphasizes the importance of fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS in the District and offers an overview of the services provided at the clinic, in addition to answering a list of detailed questions, touching on topics such as Medicaid rates, the clinic’s eligibility with Ryan White funding, and how the $8 million earned by selling the organization’s 1407 S St. NW administrative building in 2008 was spent.

”Even though they have provided answers to some of my questions, my concerns have not been alleviated,” Catania said, adding that his office will soon be sending additional questions to the clinic.

”In an effort to be fair, I need to give them sufficient time to review the questions. It doesn’t do anybody any good to rush this thing. I will probably give them several weeks to assemble the information. …

”I don’t want to leave the impression that we’re just letting this thing sort of twist in the wind. We’re not. We are working for solutions while we’re seeking answers.”

Catania added that he expects a follow-up meeting to the initial roundtable meeting to be held in mid-March.

On Friday evening, Feb. 13, WWC released another statement, this time a quote from Blanchon specifically, regarding Catania’s efforts.

”We are very appreciative of the leadership and support that Councilmember Catania has demonstrated for D.C. residents living with HIV/AIDS and LGBT health priorities,” Blanchon said in the release, which pointed to past support from Catania such as emergency funding and advocating for the Clinic before the Council – as well as Catania’s clear message that the clinic must diversity its funding.

”The clinic has to be able to stand on its own two feet without a government bailout every other year,” Blanchon added.

Whatever heat Blanchon may be taking, his Feb. 13 statement was accompanied by some words of support.

”The board is committed to working with our executive director, staff, and city leaders to support the clinic’s mission,” said Brian Johnson, a member of the WWC board’s executive committee, in the clinic’s statement. ”We have full confidence that Don Blanchon’s public-health administrative experience is key to meeting these goals.”

On Feb. 13, Catania said, however, that additional concerns about his perception of deterioration of the clinic have been presented to him, going beyond his Jan. 28 questions to Blanchon.

”Even though I appreciate the clinic’s responsiveness,” Catania said, ”in the weeks since the hearing on the clinic more information has come to my attention that makes me even more determined to see that this clinic changes directions.”

Catania said he wants to give the clinic’s leadership an opportunity to respond to those concerns before revealing them in any detail.