A California AIDS organization is in discussions to take over the Whitman-Walker Clinic's Northern Virginia operation, which is scheduled to shut down Sept. 30 to help alleviate the organization's financial crisis.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the country's largest provider of HIV and AIDS medical care, has approached officials in Northern Virginia about stepping in to run the facility, officials said this week.
"We have the capability to run these types of programs," Michael Weinstein, executive director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said yesterday. "We just thought that, rather than see this service go away . . . there would be a way to preserve it."
Whitman-Walker's 17-year-old Arlington facility offers a range of services, including medical care, nutrition counseling, HIV testing and legal services, to about 500 clients a year.
But mounting financial problems at Whitman-Walker forced it to announce last month that it would close its Arlington and Takoma Park locations unless additional funding could be found to cover the facilities' operating deficits or unless other nonprofit groups could be found to keep them open.
The cutbacks are part of an effort to slash $2.5 million from the organization's budget, which has suffered in recent years from flat government funding and plunging private donations.
Along with pulling out of the suburbs, Whitman-Walker -- the Washington area's largest provider of AIDS services -- is also slashing its programs in the District by closing its food bank, a housing program and a residential substance-abuse treatment program.
At a meeting with Northern Virginia gay activists Thursday night, Roberta Geidner-Antoniotti, Whitman-Walker's interim executive director, said an informal survey of clients at the Arlington facility found that half said they would be willing to travel to Whitman-Walker's D.C. programs for treatment.
Since Whitman-Walker's announcement of the cutbacks, a coalition of Northern Virginia health officials and community leaders has been working to put together a plan to ensure the survival of the Arlington clinic.
"Everyone recognizes that if you can keep a regional provider, you have the least disruption for the clients," said Jay Fisette, the coalition's chairman and head of the Arlington County Board.
Whitman-Walker officials have said that the Arlington facility costs $2.2 million a year to run but receives only $1.6 million in government funding and private donations. Thus, they said, about $600,000 needs to be raised annually to keep the center open.
They got a bit of good news last week when they were notified that a Northern Virginia benefactor had willed Whitman Walker $200,000. Geidner-Antoniotti said Whitman-Walker would apply that money to Arlington's budget deficit.
Whitman-Walker officials, who are looking for longer-term funding to keep the Arlington and Takoma facilities open, said they will examine the AIDS Healthcare Foundation closely before agreeing to a deal.
The 18-year-old foundation runs 14 HIV and AIDS clinics in California and Florida, as well as almost two dozen clinics abroad, including nine in Uganda.
"They're not a known entity here," Geidner-Antoniotti said. "So I think all of us need to do our due diligence on who they are and what kind of care they provide."
Since Whitman-Walker's announcement of its cutbacks, D.C. officials have helped raise about $800,000 from private sources and have introduced legislation to appropriate millions more.
But Geidner-Antoniotti told activists at Thursday's meeting that the money could not be applied to the suburban operations.
"It doesn't give us any money to shift around in Northern Virginia," she said.