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December 16, 2008

Money Woes Force DC’s Whitman-Walker Clinic to Downsize

Facing financial difficulties and a lack of fund-raising support, the not-for-profit Whitman-Walker Clinic—which has been a cornerstone for Washington, DC,’s HIV-positive community for over 21 years—is forced to move to a smaller, more consolidated location two blocks down the road, The Washington Post reports in a piece examining the clinic’s history. The AIDS service organization will continue to operate in the new location with a reduced staff of 173 employees, down from 252 two years ago.

The clinic—located on 14th Street, several blocks from the White House—opened its doors in 1986 to provide medical, dental, psychological and legal service to those living with HIV. At the time, many doctors and dentists were still wary of treating positive clients. Desperate for funds, the clinic’s earliest supporters were then-Mayor Marion Barry and the Meyer Foundation in addition to the district’s gay community, which accounted for nearly half of Whitman-Walker’s working expenses.

Ten years into the epidemic, in 1992, Whitman-Walker had treated 2,600 clients, of which 1,600 died. Just three years later, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved protease inhibitors. As treatment improved, Whitman-Walker shifted focus from helping HIV-positive clients cope with impending death to providing long-term care for them.

As the Whitman-Walker Clinic struggles to stay afloat, its staff, including social worker and psychologist Patricia Walker, worry that the district’s HIV rates—already the highest in the country with one in 20 adults living with the virus—could be on the rise.

“I wake up every day fearing that a new, faster, more virulent form of this virus will hit us,” Hawkins told the Post.

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