Nothing makes me happier than seeing the continued and robust good health of the Whitman-Walker clinic here in Washington. Once mired in debt and outdated vision, the health clinic that once catered to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is now a full-service community health center with a balance sheet in surplus.
Whitman-Walker Health (WWH) Executive Director Don Blanchon attributes the stunning turn around to three factors. The clinic is seeing more patients. Its fundraising exceeded expectations. And it’s living within its budgetary means. The result is a nearly $7 million swing from the red to the black in five years.
In 2007, WWH reported a deficit of $4.16 million. The following year wasn’t better; there was a $4 million budget hole. But thanks to some painful decisions made by Blanchon that earned the ire of D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At Large), the 34-year-old institution started shrinking its debt in 2009. By 2010, the health center had a $1.08 million surplus. And in 2011, there was a projected doubling of the operating surplus — to $2.6 million.
Other data show why the fundamentals underlying WWH’s positive fiscal outlook are good. According to the health center, its patient base “has nearly doubled since [it] began the process to become a community health center in 2006.” Last year alone, WWH saw a 20 percent increase in patients over 2010. That’s 15,515 individuals.
Overall, WWH has patients from Maryland (16 percent), Virginia (11 percent) and every ward in the District (69 percent), particularly Wards 7 and 8, which have some of the highest rates of HIV-AIDS in the District. All told, 20 percent of WWH’s clients are HIV-positive. Meanwhile, there’s a 50-50 split between LGB and heterosexual clients.
Whitman-Walker was established in 1978 as a refuge for gay men. Its transition to an open-to-all, full-service community health center raised fears that such a move would hasten its demise. As the latest check-up shows, WWH is doing more than okay. It’s thriving.