Metro Weekly

An Achievement to Celebrate

Tough decisions and hard work have returned WWC to financial stability

Last week, Whitman-Walker Clinic shared with the community good news that has not happened here in nearly a decade. We reported an operating gain for 2010. In other words, our total revenues exceeded our total operating expenses.

Why is this newsworthy? Because, for more than a decade, the clinic’s financial viability has been a persistent question among D.C.’s LGBT community.

Six years ago we hit our low point of being unable to make payroll for the first time in our history. In both 2007 and 2008, we posted losses of more than $4 million. We then reduced our operating loss to just $750,000 in 2009. And, in 2010, we posted a gain of more than $800,000.

So how did we do it? Back in the 2005 crisis, our board of directors was at a strategic crossroads with the clinic’s operating model. The board needed to make an important choice: continue to operate as an AIDS service organization and thereby rely predominantly on government grants and private fundraising, or become a full-service community health center reliant on health care payments from public and private insurers.

Each choice presented numerous financial, community relations and, yes, political risks. In the end, our board elected to move Whitman-Walker Clinic to a health center model.

The decision to become a full-service community health center was not just a financial one. It goes back to our roots. The clinic’s founders envisioned a place where the LGBT community could receive high-quality, competent and affirming health care. Our decision five years ago reaffirmed that vision and put us on the road to fully achieve it.

And now, five years later, at the advent of health care reform, our directors’ decision proved a very wise one.

Our transition to health center required us to make some tough decisions and sacrifices. It forced us to close some programs and facilities and lay off employees. This led to anger, resentment and, in some circles, outright hostility about our decisions.

Our results from the last two years show that the board’s strategic decision to be a health center is, in fact, the right course for Whitman-Walker. Not only is the clinic more secure financially, we are seeing more patients and maintaining or improving our high-quality care.

The facts speak for themselves:

The clinic has seen a projected gain of more than $890,000 in 2010, the first time Whitman-Walker has been in the black since 2001.

30 percent increase in patients from 2009 to 2010 from more than 10,000 to nearly 13,000. About half of our patients self-identify as LGBT.

Revenue from private insurance, Medicaid, Medicare and D.C. Healthcare Alliance has more than tripled since 2007, reaching more than $4.2 million in 2010.

Now a mix of revenue sources, while including private fundraising and government grants, is not overly reliant on them for most of our operating funds.

WWC administered more than 11,000 HIV tests in 2010 – nearly 1,000 more than in 2009.

Our high quality of care indicators exceed national numbers.

And nearly 90 percent of our patients surveyed described their care as ”Good” or ”Very Good.”

We could not be prouder or more excited about our accomplishments in 2010. And we’re very excited about our prospects for 2011 and beyond.

However, one year does not make a trend. We still have a lot of work to do to build on this success and ensure that Whitman-Walker Clinic remains stable and continues to be a vibrant health care resource for the community.

To do that, we will continue to need the support of the community. Become a patient here, whether you have insurance or not. Make a donation or sign up and raise money for the 25th annual AIDS Walk this fall. Volunteer to help give HIV tests or care for our patients.

On behalf of the entire Whitman-Walker family, I want to thank you for your strong support of us over the years. I hope you will continue that support as we move into a bright future.

Donald Blanchon is the executive director of Whitman-Walker Clinic.