HIV-AIDS Clinic Shifts Focus Amid Budget Cuts

By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2006

Half a year after the Whitman-Walker Clinic announced a major contraction because of severe money troubles, the region's largest provider of HIV-AIDS services has stabilized its finances and has begun moving toward delivering more primary medical care, officials said yesterday.

The D.C.-based clinic is appreciably leaner, with 30 fewer staff members, no housing program, no presence in Maryland and a $25.6 million budget for 2006 that is nearly $5 million less than last year's budget.

Its board, which will downsize and be reconfigured in coming months, recently approved a fundamental shift in operation that will rely less on government grants and private fundraising and more on revenue from clients with private and public insurance.

"We need to be masters of our own destiny," interim executive director Roberta Geidner-Antoniotti said yesterday in summarizing changes forced by the budget crisis.

The focus on primary care, especially care that can be reimbursed, will not de-emphasize HIV-AIDS programs or the clinic's commitment to the poor, Geidner-Antoniotti stressed. Rather, it addresses some of the city's most critical health needs -- and the financial consultants who advised that such expansion was crucial to long-term survival.

In some ways, the change echoes Whitman-Walker's past and the days before AIDS, when it was allied with the Washington Free Clinic. "It does bring us full circle back to our origins," Geidner-Antoniotti said.

Whitman-Walker's board still has tough decisions ahead this year. A consultant is looking at the clinic's scattered properties and aging facilities and could recommend additional consolidation. In the meantime, the search for an executive director continues, with a decision expected by March.

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