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U.S. News

District of Columbia: Clinic's Troubles Years in Making, Whitman-Walker Slow to React

June 6, 2005

Factors both within and outside of Whitman-Walker Clinic's (WWC) control have contributed to the organization's financial erosion during the past six years. "Our hearts have, for many years, extended beyond our purse," board Chairperson Billy Cox said after $2.5 million in program cuts were announced Wednesday.

In mid-May, when WWC could not make its payroll, Cox asked D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who headed WWC for 15 years, for help. Although critical of the city's reimbursement system -- the D.C. Health Department and the Prince George's County housing agency together owed WWC more than $700,000 for services provided earlier -- Graham was shocked that the $29 million organization could be threatened by a $475,000 payroll. Graham learned that WWC's million-dollar line of credit was maxed out, and its cash reserves were drawn down.

WWC's problems began in the late 1990s, when drug cocktails drove down AIDS death rates, and many supporters began to see the crisis as less urgent. As the face of AIDS in the District became increasingly black, female, and poor, contributions fell from almost $13 million in 2000 to $8.2 million in 2003.

Personnel problems were concurrent with funding challenges. When Graham left WWC to run for D.C. Council, his office was vacant for eight months. Elliot J. Johnson was named executive director but was forced out after four months, to be succeeded by A. Cornelius Baker. WWC ended 2000 with a deficit, and its fundraising efforts never recovered from the effects of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The board enacted a one-time budget cut after the attacks but otherwise did not substantially target spending or programs. Instead, it sold real estate to cover shortfalls or buy other properties in a clinic consolidation plan that did not meet immediate needs.

WWC cut its long-term debt from $8.3 million in 1999 to $6.7 million in 2003. It got out of the housing assistance business, laid off some workers, and established a sliding-fee payment scale. Still, the late reimbursements were enough to push it to the edge.

Back to other news for June 6, 2005

Adapted from:
Washington Post
06.06.05; Susan Levine

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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