Whitman-Walker in Line for $500,000

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By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 10, 2005

The president and chief executive of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, the powerful regional health insurer, is proposing that its District-based affiliate give $500,000 to help keep the Whitman-Walker Clinic open.

William L. Jews recommended the donation in light of the clinic's severe money troubles, which caused the nonprofit organization to miss its payroll in May and subsequently announce $2.5 million in cuts to its HIV/AIDS and other programs.

CareFirst has been criticized for failing to contribute what its detractors say is its fair share of support to address public health problems.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) confirmed the size of the proposed gift yesterday, and Roberta Geidner-Antoniotti, the clinic's interim executive director, said it would be "an incredible gift" -- the largest contribution to the clinic this year and possibly critical for the clinic's maintaining its services without further disruption.

Company spokesman Jeffery Valentine said he could not discuss specifics until the CareFirst Mission Oversight Committee meets Wednesday to vote on Jews's recommendation. However, Valentine termed the amount a "substantial donation" that CareFirst's leaders hope will "do great good [given] the financial crisis Whitman-Walker faces."

The donation would come from Group Hospitalization and Medical Services Inc., the affiliate that operates under a federal charter as a "charitable and benevolent institution." Its subscribers live in the District, Northern Virginia and Prince George's and Montgomery Counties, all jurisdictions where Whitman-Walker programs are endangered by the planned cuts.

CareFirst and its affiliate have been pushed by local and state officials in the District and Maryland to target millions more toward community needs. One particularly pointed critic has been the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

"Good for them," Appleseed Executive Director Walter Smith said yesterday of the proposed contribution to Whitman-Walker. "That's the kind of thing this company has the wherewithal to do. Their money is so big, they can react quickly to health care problems. There are not a lot of folks in town who can cut a half-million-dollar check on the turn of a dime."

Graham, who led the clinic for 15 years and contacted Jews to urge CareFirst's assistance now, said he was very pleased by the response.

Geidner-Antoniotti said Jews has not suggested a specific use of the money, which would allow it to cover current bills and coming payroll. "It's a way for CareFirst to help Whitman-Walker get through this immediate cash crisis," she said. "It's an extremely generous commitment to the community we serve."

That community, which includes not just those affected by HIV, but also gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender men and women, has been rallying on its own. A massive e-mail solicitation by the Human Rights Committee, which already has donated $15,000 as an organization, raised $17,000 in 24 hours, according to Geidner-Antoniotti. And the clinic expects pledges of many sizes during this weekend's Capital Pride Festival, she added.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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