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Whitman-Walker plans drastic cuts to services, staff

Whitman-Walker plans drastic cuts to services, staff

Ongoing financial problems has forced Washington, D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Clinic, one of the nation's largest AIDS health care agencies, to announce drastic program and staff cuts to help trim its annual budget by $2.5 million, according to a press release from the organization. Whitman-Walker plans to close its satellite offices in Northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs, to lay off nearly one quarter of its 280 employees, and to eliminate or scale back such services as its food bank, emergency financial assistance, case management, and housing programs. The changes will be permanent, says interim executive director Roberta Geidner-Antoniotti. "Because the heart of the clinic has been so big, often we've expanded programs beyond their funding," Geidner-Antoniotti told The Washington Post. The changes will bring the agency "back to the core services that we know are the most sustainable," she said. The agency will close within four months its AIDS clinics in Arlington, Va., and Takoma Park, Md., which currently serve about 600 area HIV-positive residents. Efforts are under way to locate community groups that could step in to keep the clinics open, but if no other operating groups are identified, the clinics will shut down, forcing the HIV patients to search for alternate care providers. Whitman-Walker also will close its food bank, which assists about 300 HIV-positive District of Columbia residents, possibly as early as July 1, and will discontinue a residential treatment program for men and women battling substance addiction, as well as a housing program for people who have kicked alcohol and drug addiction. The Hank Carde Foundation that helped more than 500 HIV patients with emergency financial assistance also will be eliminated. In addition to the programs that are ending, several other Whitman-Walker services will be cut, including HIV prevention, case management, and clinical research. Administrative spending also will be slashed, and clinic property in the D.C. area will be leased or sold to raise money for the agency. "The clinic will continue to the best of its ability to provide services to as many clients as possible for as long as possible," Geidner-Antoniotti said in the press release. "However, given the magnitude of the financial challenges at the clinic, it will be necessary to work with public and private resources to find alternative facilities to treat some Whitman-Walker clients." Although some of the financial problems plaguing the AIDS clinic were due to persistent delays in receiving financial reimbursements from the District of Columbia's health department for AIDS services, Geidner-Antoniotti says the agency had been overextended in terms of programming and financial outlays for months, perhaps even years. Federal grants to the agency also had not increased since 2000, and donations have been declining for several years. Other area AIDS organizations are hoping to pick up some of the services being cut by Whitman-Walker, The Washington Post reports. "I think the chances of another agency picking up the slack are good," Andrew Oatman, deputy director of the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry, told the Post. "I'm not prepared to say who, but the money is there, and there is a need. I don't think any agency in Northern Virginia will let this fall by the wayside."

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