- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Nonprofit groups funded through the District’s HIV/AIDS Administration said yesterday they have not been paid in months, placing the renowned Whitman-Walker Clinic in fiscal crisis and prompting one D.C. Council member to demand immediate firings.

“Because of our Department of Health’s incompetence … we’re putting Whitman-Walker in grave jeopardy,” said council member David A. Catania, at-large independent and chairman of the council’s Health Committee.

The District has one of the highest AIDS rates in the country with 170.6 cases per 100,000 residents. City health officials say 12,000 to 15,000 residents may be living with HIV.

The late payments are coming at an especially tough time for the financially troubled Whitman-Walker Clinic, the largest provider of AIDS/HIV-related services in the metropolitan area.

Last month, the clinic disclosed that it might have overbilled the District by millions of dollars for lab services.

Nearly a dozen nonprofit groups testified before the Health Committee yesterday, saying the agency does not pay its providers on time. That has led to services cutbacks, layoffs and potentialclosure in the case of the Carl Vogel Center in Northwest, which provides case-management and counseling services.

“This is a chronic, long-standing problem,” said Dr. Patricia Hawkins, associate executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic.

Dr. Hawkins said the clinic is owed about $388,000 for two months of outstanding bills.

The clinic had annual revenues of $29.4 million in 2003, including $23.9 million in government grants. It provided more than 11,000 medical appointments and nearly 7,000 counseling sessions, tax and company records show.

“Whitman-Walker is in trouble, and there may be others,” said D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and a member of the clinic’s board of directors.

However, D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, who is a former executive director of Whitman-Walker, said the financial problems will not result in the clinic’s closure.

“We won’t need a contingency plan,” he said.

D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. Gregg A. Pane submitted a statement saying he has been working since March to reduce a backlog of invoices to speed up the payment process. He said all providers should be paid in full within two weeks, and he is expected to testify when the hearing reconvenes tomorrow.

A Health Department spokeswoman put the backlog of outstanding payments at “several million dollars.”

“We’re trying to right the process,” said Dr. Pane, who took over the department last year.

Dr. Pane said it is too early to speculate about whether anybody will lose their job as a result of problems in the HIV/AIDS Administration.

“We’re all frustrated,” he said after the hearing. “Do you think I like hearing this? I do not. I don’t have a problem that [council members] are frustrated. … If it means cracking a few eggs to make an omelet, that’s what we’ll do.”

Mr. Catania said he is working on legislation to withhold the salaries of senior deputies in the Health Department until the nonprofit organizations are paid. He also called for personnel shake-up.

“I want to know who is going to get fired,” he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide