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Whitman-Walker Health (WWH), (formerly Whitman-Walker Clinic), is a non-profit community health center in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area with a special expertise in HIV/AIDS health care and LGBT health care. Founded as an affirming health center for the gay and lesbian community in 1978, Whitman-Walker was one of the first responders to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in DC and became a leader in HIV/AIDS education, prevention, diagnosis and treatment. In recent years, Whitman-Walker has expanded its services to include primary health care services.
Whitman-Walker Health provides a number of health care services to the D.C. metro area, including primary medical care, HIV/AIDS primary care, dental care, mental health services, legal help, medical adherence services and a pharmacy. Its main facility is the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center located at 1701 14th Street, NW in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. WWH also operates the Max Robinson Center in the primarily African-American neighborhood of Anacostia in Southeast D.C.
Whitman-Walker Health annually produces the D.C. AIDS Walk Washington, which is held in October and is the largest community-based fundraising event for HIV/AIDS services in DC..
Whitman-Walker was founded in November 1973 as the Gay Men's VD Clinic, part of the Washington Free Clinic. The VD Clinic operated in the basement of the Georgetown Lutheran Church with an all-volunteer staff. In 1976, after receiving complaints from the church, the VD Clinic split off as an independent organization and hired its first full-time staff.
Whitman-Walker Clinic was chartered by the government of the District of Columbia on January 13, 1978. The DC Department of Human Resources provides $15,000, the first city funds to support the organization. In October, Whitman-Walker Clinic opens a new, rented facility at 1606 17th St., NW.
In 1980, a financial crisis threatened the Clinic. The administrator resigns; programs are eliminated. The Clinic moves into more affordable space on 18th Street in Adams Morgan.
In 1981, Jim Graham became the clinic's president. Larry Medley becomes the third WWC administrator. Whitman-Walker hires its first board-certified medical technologist for an in-house laboratory offering testing for various sexually transmitted diseases.
On June 5, 1981, the Centers for Disease Control's weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report features an account of five young gay men in Los Angeles with cases of rare pneumonia. This is the first medical report on what would come to be known as HIV/AIDS.
In 1983, as AIDS begins to take a larger toll, WWC assumes a leadership role in fighting the epidemic. The Clinic launched its AIDS Education Fund to provide up-to-date information and counseling and direct services to people with AIDS; the Buddy program to help people living with AIDS is started; an AIDS information hotline (which was the recipient of the first DC contract awarded for AIDS services) is created; and an HIV/AIDS prevention advertising campaign is launched. To support these new programs, WWC benefits from D.C.'s first AIDS fundraiser which raises $4,400.
On April 4, 1983, WWC presents the first DC AIDS Forum at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University. The forum is attended by 1,200 men. AIDS prevention information is distributed. A second AIDS forum for people of color is held on Sept. 28.
In 1984, WWC opened its AIDS Evaluation Unit, the first gay, community-based medical unit in the nation devoted exclusively to diagnosing and evaluating patients suspected of suffering from AIDS. Fifty-five patients are treated the first year; 50 percent have AIDS.
The first support group for people with AIDS (PWA) begins. Sunnye Sherman, a WWC client, steps forward as one of the first women openly living with AIDS in the nation.
WWC opened the Robert N. Schwartz, M.D., house, the city's first home for people with AIDS, in 1985. The second house opens in December.
WWC begins anonymous testing for what is then called HTLV-III, now called HIV, and becomes the largest testing site in the region.
Whitman-Walker faced another financial crisis in 1986. The rising cost of health insurance for its staff and physicians, coupled with very high insurance premiums for those involved HIV/AIDS work, threatened to force the clinic to close when it could not purchase insurance. The D.C. City Council attempted to pass legislation adding the Clinic's staff to the city health insurance plan, but the bill died. The Clinic eventually found insurance, however.
Through 1986, WWC continued to expand HIV/AIDS services. The housing program grows by opening four houses. It opened a food bank, and it hired its first full-time lawyer to provide clients with legal services related to AIDS discrimination.
In 1987, Whitman-Walker opened a dental clinic for patients with HIV/AIDS, one of only three in the country at the time. WWC also opens the Scott-Harper House for gay men and lesbians in addiction recovery, a facility still open to this day.
WWC moves to a new building, located at 1407 S Street, NW (formerly the Evelyn Towers Apartments), a facility which would operate as the organization's headquarters for more than two decades. The Clinic is able to purchase the building in 1988. At this time, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation were the Clinic's primary financial supporters, although individual contributions from the local GLBTQ community made up about half the organization's income.
1987 also brings the first AIDS Walk to DC.
In 1988, Whitman-Walker expanded its services throughout the D.C. metropolitan region, including providing access to new HIV treatments and opening an on-site, at-cost pharmacy.
However, it encountered resistance when it began to offer services through the Northern Virginia AIDS Project in 1987. Although the Clinic had started its Northern Virginia AIDS Project in 1987, it was unable to find space for its operations for some time. In one case, the Clinic was denied housing by a landlord who allegedly did so out of fear and/or homophobia. The landlord claimed the Clinic had not met certain leasing and payment requirements, and a judge agreed. WWC eventually found other space and opened its Northern Virginia AIDS (NOVAA) Project office in Arlington, offering case management and education services.
Whitman-Walker Clinic faced another financial crisis in 1990. Once more, insurance costs were the problem, and once more the City Council backed a plan to subsidize the clinic's health insurance costs. Although the City Council approved the plan, Mayor Marion Barry vetoed the bill and the Council was unable to override. The Clinic was able to find insurance once more, albeit at very high prices.
WWC reaffirms its lesbian and gay health mission by enhancing both the Lesbian Services and Mental Health Services programs. For the first time in the Clinic's history, these services have full-time paid staff.
In December 1990, WWC dedicates the Stewart B. McKinney House, its first house specifically for families with HIV.
Passage of the Ryan White CARE Act led to the infusion of federalgrant funds in 1991, helping to reinforce the Clinic's finances. WWC expands to include a new transportation service, interpreting services, a Spanish-speaking physician and a full-time dentist.
In June, WWC begins construction of a new outpatient care center for people with AIDS. The center is dedicated the Bill Austin Day Treatment and Care Center. Then-First Lady Barbara Bush made a highly publicized visit to open the Austin Center.
In 1992, Whitman-Walker Clinic opened its Max Robinson Center in Southeast D.C. (2301 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE) and Whitman-Walker Clinic of Southern Maryland. The Lesbian Health Clinic also opens and offers a wide range of gynecological and wellness services to area lesbians and bisexual women.
The Clinic's expansion efforts, however, caused conflict with some other service groups. For example, in 1993 WWC applied for a million-dollar HIV/AIDS grant from the District of Columbia. WWC competed for the grant against a coalition of primarily African American service and outreach groups. The Clinic won the grant, angering some community leaders and activists who felt the city had discriminated against black organizations in favor of the white-led Clinic. Local community leaders also opposed the Clinic's expanding housing program, fearing for the health and safety of their communities.
Whitman-Walker Clinic adopted oral testing for HIV in 1993 before most major AIDS clinics in the U.S. The same year, WWC built the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center, named in honor of actress and AIDS activist Elizabeth Taylor. The building's opening ceremony was attended by Taylor.
Further expansion comes in 1994 as the Northern Virginia AIDS (NOVAA) Project of Whitman-Walker Clinic expands and is formally renamed Whitman-Walker Clinic of Northern Virginia. A new facility is dedicated in 1995. The HIV testing and counseling program expands to Max Robinson Center.
In 1995, the Clinic established a program under which patients could sell their life insurance policies to the organization in exchange for an annuity. Critics claimed that Whitman-Walker would benefit only if its patients died, making this a conflict of interest.
The 1997 AIDS Walk was the most profitable ever, with about 25,000 people helping to raise $1.7 million.
At the beginning of 1998, The Washington AIDS Partnership awards WWC with a $42,000 grant to expand the Clinic's Needle Exchange Program, conducting one-to-one syringe exchange. The program counsels drug users, administers HIV tests and significantly reduces the transmission of HIV. Unfortunately, later in the year, Congress passes a District budget with restrictions on federal funding for organizations conducting needle exchange programs. In response, an independent corporation is incorporated to fill the need: Prevention Works, Inc.
In early February 1998, WWC Legal Services and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund file an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court Case of Bragdon v. Abbott, a case of discrimination by a dentist to his patient who was HIV-positive. On June 25, the Supreme Court decides in favor of the patient. With the successful use of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), this case makes it harder for doctors to justify discrimination against HIV-positive patients.
Jim Graham, long-time Executive Director of Whitman-Walker Clinic, resigns at the end of 1998 to serve on the DC City Council representing Ward One. Graham’s replacement was Elliott Johnson, who came to the Clinic from the Los Angeles County Health Department. Johnson served briefly as Executive Director.
In 1999, the counseling and testing program goes mobile with an RV that provides testing at health fairs, festivals and bars. Whitman-Walker more than triples its testing rates through this outreach.
Cornelius Baker, an HIV-positive civil rights and HIV activist, is selected as executive director in January 2000.
The Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center is renovated to place nearly all client services under one roof. This consolidation eliminates the need for clients to walk from one building to another several blocks away.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson receives an HIV test at the Max Robinson Center as part of a campaign to encourage African-Americans to get tested.
Whitman-Walker plays a fundamental role in organizing the National Coalition for LGBT Health along with 50 other local, state and national organizations. A. Cornelius Baker is named one of the first co-chairs of the coalition.
As the HIV/AIDS epidemic entered the 21st Century, Whitman-Walker was faced with a changing epidemic and difficult decisions. With improved medical treatment, HIV/AIDS patients began to live longer and require more services for longer periods of time. This change put an additional financial strain on the Clinic as it continued to provide services for a growing number of patients.
At the same time, funding problems began to beset the Clinic. Funding for the federal Ryan White CARE Act was frozen at 2001 levels for several years. Major fundraising events, such as the AIDS Ride (which went bankrupt) and the AIDS Walk (which saw much reduced attendance in 2000 and 2001), were not successful. ),
In 2003, the Clinic begins to offer the OraQuick rapid oral HIV test that gives results in 20 minutes. WWC also institutes a sliding fee scale to allow those who could afford to contribute to their care to do so.
2004 brings both good and bad news for Whitman-Walker. The CDC and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield help the Clinic observe World AIDS Day by providing funds for two new mobile HIV testing units. However, financial problems lead to the closing of the Schwartz Housing Program and the transition of all housing clients to other providers.
Cornelius Baker resigned as executive director of Whitman-Walker Clinic in December 2004, telling the Washington Blade that the Clinic's financial difficulties had negatively impacted his health and citing other personal reasons for leaving.
The search for Baker's replacement was a lengthy one. During the search process, Whitman-Walker continued to face financial challenges but continues to serve the community.
Whitman-Walker Clinic opens medical and support services for the transgender community. Services include gynecological exams, STD screening, chest and breast exams and self-exam instruction, hormone therapy and mental health services.
In May 2005, Whitman-Walker faced its biggest financial problem when it was unable to make payroll for the first time in its history. This cash crunch was brought on by the ongoing freeze in Ryan White funding levels, reduced donations through special events and late payments from the DC government for services rendered.
At the same time, the Clinic discovered that it had mistakenly overcharged funders for laboratory expenses. After an internal investigation confirms the error, WWC immediately stops billing for these services and notifies all pertinent funders. This change further impacts revenue.
In early June, the Clinic announces that financial difficulties will force it to close several programs, including the FoodBank and the Clinic’s sites in Virginia and Maryland. Almost immediately, small donors, local governments and corporate partners offer financial support. The District of Columbia, spurred by Councilman David Catania, provides a one-time grant of $3.2 million. Governments in Virginia pledge $800,000 to keep Whitman-Walker of Northern Virginia open through December 2006.
These funds enable the Clinic to keep open the FoodBank and its residential addictions programs. However, Whitman-Walker Clinic of Suburban Maryland closes on Sept. 30.
In late 2005, the Clinic’s Board of Directors adopted a raft of changes to ensure the future viability of WWC. Those changes included:
The expansion of services began in early 2006  and included a greater push to have the Clinic be able to accept more private and public insurance plans. The Clinic also created a Public Benefits unit to screen new and existing patients for insurance and to enroll them in public assistance programs for which they qualify, such as Medicare, Medicaid and DC Healthcare Alliance.
On March 13, 2006, the Whitman-Walker Clinic Board of Directors announced it was hiring Donald Blanchon to take over as chief executive officer on May 1. Blanchon was formerly chief executive officer of Maryland Physicians Care (a managed care health plan in Maryland) and vice president for Medicaid and Medicare programs at Schaller Anderson (a medical management firm). Blanchon quickly announced his support for the Board's turnaround plan.
A week later, Whitman-Walker Clinic announced it would sell its two properties on 14th Street and the Max Robinson Center in Anacostia and seek to build new, larger medical treatment facilities in the two respective areas by 2009. However, these plans were ultimately shelved due to the downturn in the real estate market in the area.
In 2007, the Washington Free Clinic closed its doors due to financial problems. The staff of the Free Clinic was hired by Whitman-Walker, allowing the Clinic to further expand the medical services it offers.
Over the next three years, the Clinic would continue to expand its services for the community, including adding gynecological services, Hepatitis A and B specialty care, medical adherence services, and additional providers to see more patients.
Whitman-Walker was given a “Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike” designation in March 2007 by the Bureau of Primary Health Care, part of the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. The designation is only awarded to clinics that provide care to medically underserved communities and meet other stringent requirements. The benefits of this status include a higher Medicaid reimbursement rate.
On January 11, 2008, Blanchon said the Clinic had almost completed its transformation into a primary care medical organization. WWC hired Dr. Raymond Martins, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine as its new chief medical officer, purchased and installed a state-of-the-art computerized patient record-keeping system, and outsourced its financial management department. Although Whitman-Walker also laid off an unspecified number of employees due to the outsourcing, Blanchon said the Clinic was still the area's largest provider of HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment.
The Clinic also began consideration of plans to improve and upgrade the Clinic’s facilities.
In June 2008, the Clinic sold its long-time headquarters at 1407 S Street NW to The JBG Companies for $8 million and moved its administrative staff into the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center on 14th Street NW. The Clinic used the proceeds to pay off $5 million in debts stemming from mortgages on its existing buildings.
Nonetheless, WWC continued to face financial challenges. The global economic downturn in the fall of 2008 had a tremendous impact on revenue: Government reimbursements for medical care had not kept pace with inflation, promised funding from some sources was not delivered, donations had dropped by 29 percent, sales of medical services had decreased, and the number of patients without insurance had risen. WWC was forced to close Whitman-Walker Clinic of Northern Virginia and its BridgeBack residential addiction treatment center, and laid off 45 employees. WWC also outsourced its pharmacy operations to Maxor National Pharmacy Services Corporation (a privately held, for-profit pharmacy management company based in Amarillo, Texas). The Clinic was also forced to close its mental health telephone hotline when city funding for the program was eliminated.
Whitman-Walker Clinic's continuing financial difficulties led to a very public dispute with D.C. Councilman David Catania, Chair of Council’s Committee on Health. The Councilmember criticized Blanchon and the Clinic's senior staff at a Committee on Health roundtable in January 2009. He specifically accused WWC of closing facilities in Maryland and Virginia without seeking financial assistance from public health authorities. He also questioned why WWC would reduce staff at Max Robinson Center when that part of the city is suffering hardest from the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Catania also accused the Clinic of an anti-gay bias and of abandoning its ties to the city's GLBTQ community.
The WWC Board of Directors requested that the law firm of Arnold & Porter and contractor Huron Consulting Group conduct an audit to review Catania's charges. Although the audit determined that Catania's charges were inaccurate, Catania accused Arnold & Porter of a conflict of interest because James J. Sandman, chairman of Whitman-Walker's board, was formerly employed by the firm. Blanchon strongly denied all the accusations.
The D.C. Council Committee on Health, which Catania chairs, held a continuation of the first roundtable on April 27, 2009. On March 24 and April 20, Whitman-Walker turned over 2,000 documents to Catania for additional review. Council member Jim Graham, who led the clinic from 1984 to 1999, supported the decision to hold hearings. Sandman, now chief counsel for the D.C. public school system, resigned to avoid a conflict of interest. June Crenshaw was elected Board Chair to replace him.
Although contentious, the April 2009 roundtable marked an end to the dispute between the Clinic and the Councilmember.
After a decade of financial struggle, Whitman-Walker Clinic began to see a turnaround in the second half of 2009. By the end of the year, the Clinic’s $4 million loss in both 2007 and 2008 had been reduced more than 80 percent to a $650,000 loss.
The turnaround was attributed to several factors:
The creations of stable sources of revenue allowed the Clinic to decrease its dependency on government funding and private contributions, making it less vulnerable to economic downturns.
At the same time, Clinic services have continued to expand. Between 2006 and 2010, the Clinic more than doubled the number of health care providers on staff, including specialists in gynecology, Hepatitis and psychiatry.
In early 2011, Whitman-Walker announced that it had finished 2010 in the black, something it had not done in a decade. The two percent operating gain represented the third year in a row of financial progress and reflected a tremendous amount of hard work and sacrifice for Whitman-Walker staff.
Whitman-Walker also saw a 30 percent increase in patients between 2009 and 2010.
In September, Whitman-Walker completed extensive renovations of patient service areas in the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center, improving patient flow, expanding the size of the pharmacy, and bringing a welcoming new look to the lobby.
2011 also brought some distinctions of merit to Whitman-Walker, including the “Clinic of the Year” award from the Capital City Area Health Education Center  and the Medical Society of the District of Columbia’s John Benjamin Nichols Award for Outstanding Contributions to Community Health. Whitman-Walker was also named one of 27 “Leaders in LGBT Healthcare Equality” in the nation by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
Whitman-Walker marked the International AIDS Conference in July 2012 with "Return to Lisner," a community forum on HIV/AIDS held at the site of DC's first AIDS forum on April 4, 1983, and also organized by Whitman-Walker. The July 24 forum drew hundreds to the Lisner Auditorium to hear speakers including Jeanne White-Ginder, the mother of Ryan White.
As 2013 began, Whitman-Walker announced the opening of a new medical home in 2014. A new building under construction at 1525 14th Street, about two blocks south of the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center, will be leased to Whitman-Walker beginning in mid-2014. The new building will have nearly 43,000 square feet of space for expanded and new health care services.
In March 2013, WWH announced that it had ended 2012 with an unaudited $2.4 million surplus, the third year in a row it had finished a year in the black financially. It also ended with 2012 with high patient satisfaction rates and high quality of care indicators.
Mautner Project, the National Lesbian Health Organization, a DC-based nonprofit focused on the health care needs of lesbians and bisexual women, joined Whitman-Walker Health in a collaboration in June 2013. All of Mautner Project's programs and employees became a part of Whitman-Walker, allowing Mautner's existing clients greater access to more health care services.
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