- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Dr. David Smith founded the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic during the summer of love. It was 1967, he was 28 and he practiced his own brand of rock medicine — treating drug overdoses, sexually transmitted diseases and the common cold.

In the early years, it stayed afloat with money from musicians such as George Harrison and concert promoters including Bill Graham. Haight Ashbury Free Clinics Inc. now serves about 65,000 patients a year at several locations in the Bay Area and is used as a model for free clinics across the country.

But Dr. Smith walked away from his life’s work last month because of a philosophical clash with the clinic’s new chief executive officer, John Eckstrom, a former Fortune 500 executive.

“Where do I go?” Dr. Smith said. “It was like church to me.”

Mr. Eckstrom and his supporters say they are simply trying to undo decades of bad financial management.

“It will take two more years to get the clinic to where it should be financially,” Mr. Eckstrom said. “The philosophies of the ‘60s are here today. Nothing has changed. … The philosophy can remain the same, but you have to be financially responsible.”

Dr. Smith’s complaints are complex and far-reaching. They intensified after Carl Gill, the clinic’s former chief financial officer, was accused in June 2004 of embezzling and tax evasion.

Prosecutors say Mr. Gill stole at least $773,000 from the clinic. Staffers think he may have taken two or three times that, said Mr. Eckstrom. The case is pending, and the next court hearing is scheduled for April 5.

“It started a death spiral,” Dr. Smith said. “We lost a line of credit. We had to sell off some assets.”

Enter Mr. Eckstrom, a former executive with Bank of America and TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. Last month, he laid off 10 employees to cut costs.

The underlying turmoil, which culminated with Dr. Smith’s resignation, can’t be pinned on one misunderstanding, one policy shift, one personnel change. It became usvs. them, old-timers vs. the new regime.

Dr. Smith thinks Mr. Eckstrom intends to open a retail pharmacy at the clinic. He calls what’s going on there a “corporate takeover.”

Board President Eric Flowers, who is also president and chief executive officer of Ramsell Corp., a public health service provider, denied that any such plan exists.

“We serve the underserved,” Mr. Flowers said. “That’s core to what the clinics do. We’re not turning it private. We’re not turning it for profit.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide