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Whitman-Walker lays off 50, slashes budget Md., Va. facilities to be closed amid financial crisis


Associated Press - June 3, 2005

The Whitman-Walker Clinic's board of directors approved a sweeping austerity plan Tuesday, May 31, that calls for cutting the clinic's budget by nearly $2.5 million, eliminating 62 staff positions, and "spinning off" or closing its satellite offices in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

"The clinic will continue to the best of its ability to provide services to as many clients as possible for as long as possible," said Interim Executive Director Roberta Geidner-Antoniotti, in a statement released during a news briefing at the clinic's headquarters building in Northwest D.C.

"However, given the magnitude of the financial challenges at the clinic, it will be necessary to work with public and private sources to find alternative facilities to treat some Whitman-Walker clients," she said.

Antoniotti's appearance at the news briefing came hours after clinic officials issued layoff notices to 50 staff members whose positions were among the 62 being eliminated. The remaining 12 positions to be eliminated are currently vacant, Antoniotti said.

Tuesday's announcement of the cutbacks also came two weeks after Antoniotti stunned the clinic's 270-member staff by informing them that a shortage of funds forced the clinic to withhold half of its employee's paychecks for at least one pay period.

The development marked the first time Whitman-Walker has missed a payroll since its founding in 1973 as a gay community health clinic.

'Confluence of factors' Antoniotti said the emergency cuts were made necessary by a "confluence of factors," including the loss or poor returns from key fund-raising events such as the AIDS Ride and AIDS Walk. The two events once pulled in more than $1 million each on an annual basis before the AIDS Ride was discontinued and the AIDS Walk yielded much lower returns due to fewer participants.

A sluggish economy since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the Bush administration's decision to flat-fund federal AIDS funding for patient services under the Ryan White CARE Act also contributed to a reduction in revenue, Antoniotti said.

She said the funding crisis came to a head earlier this year when the D.C. government delayed paying the clinic millions of dollars in reimbursable funds for services to the city for a much longer period than normal.

Clinic officials also disclosed last month that an apparent bookkeeping error caused the clinic to overcharge the D.C. government as much as $2 million in fees for laboratory tests over a period of about five years. The over-billing prompted the clinic to stop charging the city for its lab testing during the past several months as clinic and city officials scrambled to determine how much the clinic owes the city for the over-billing. This further aggravated the clinic's funding shortage and contributed to the clinic's inability last month to meet its payroll, clinic officials said.

Graham seeks emergency funds Gay D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who served as the clinic's executive director before his election to the Council, said he was close to securing "a very significant" amount of emergency funds for the clinic from government and private sources. Graham declined to identify the funding sources, saying he could not disclose details until an agreement was reached with those providing the funds.

"The clinic clearly needs to address its efficiency needs," Graham said. "But I'm hopeful that we can help it meet its financial needs. If we did not have a Whitman-Walker Clinic, we would have to invent it." The board's decision to discontinue the clinic's operation of its facilities in Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland startled officials in the local government jurisdictions there, said Jay Fisette, the gay chair of the Arlington County, Va., board.

Fisette, who headed the Whitman-Walker Northern Virginia office for seven years before his election to the Arlington Board, said the sudden closing of the office there could lead to a cutoff of services to the clinic's clients if a shutdown takes place before Arlington, Fairfax and Alexandria officials can set up alternate facilities.

"The major element of the plan is spinning off or - if that cannot be accomplished quickly - closing the Whitman-Walker satellites in Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland," Antoniotti said at Tuesday's news briefing. "Senior management has been exploring the possibility of immediately transferring these sites to other community-based organizations or health care providers," she said.

She said the clinic would save $920,000 a year by ending its role in operating the two suburban facilities. The two facilities each serve about 300 clients, she said.

"They will have to give us time to make a smooth transition," Fissette said. "This can't be done in a week. We need at least three or four months." In addition to discontinuing the clinic's two suburban facilities, the board announced the elimination of the following additional clinic programs: The clinic's $60,000 a year share in funding of Prevention Works, D.C.'s private needle exchange program to help curtail HIV among injection drug users.

The clinic's food bank, with the aim of transferring its clients to other city food banks, creating an annual savings of $95,000.

The MH Bridge Back program for substance abuse treatment and housing, at an annual savings of $169,000. Clients would be transferred to other clinic programs as well as programs run by other organizations.

The Hank Card Foundation, a $50,000 a year program providing memorial gifts and bequests for emergency burial assistance for clients. Ryan White funds may be available to assist in burial needs.

The Lambda Center, a $12,000 a year program providing mental health services.

Two other housing programs for clients with HIV and substance abuse problems.

At least 15 other programs will receive substantial budget cuts, according to Andriotti's announcement this week, including the Gay Men's Health & Lesbian Health Center, the GNET Program for HIV prevention aimed at gay men, and dental assistance services offered at the clinic's Elizabeth Taylor and Max Robinson Centers.

"It was the judgment of the board of directors that this restructuring plan will enable Whitman-Walker to regroup, improve its cash position and continue to provide much-needed services to our clients," Antoniotti said. "The board and staff have made some difficult choices and are reducing services and staff with great reluctance."


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Information in this article was accurate in June 3, 2005. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.