D.C. Council Member Demands Health Department Pay Not-for-Profits Serving HIV/AIDS Patients
David Catania (I), a member of the Council of the District of Columbia -- the legislative branch of the district's government -- on Wednesday told the District of Columbia Department of Health it had 48 hours to devise a "full and complete fix" of the problems that cause delays in reimbursements for organizations that serve the area's HIV/AIDS patients, the Washington Post reports. The department owes millions of dollars to such organizations, and Catania gave the agency one week to provide the reimbursements (Levine, Washington Post, 5/19). Catania's call came after the Washington, D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Clinic, which provides HIV/AIDS testing and related health services to mostly low-income area residents, announced that it is facing financial constraints that might force the group to consider program cutbacks, according to the Post. The clinic, which serves about 7,000 HIV-positive individuals in the Washington, D.C., area and has a $29 million budget for 2005, on Friday failed to meet its payroll for the first time since it opened in 1974. Whitman-Walker Interim Executive Director Roberta Geidner-Antoniotti said that a series of budget and funding problems have contributed to the organization's financial problems.
Whitman-Walker Clinic Problem Specifics
The primary problem the clinic faces is an apparent overbilling of government contracts for laboratory work by up to $2 million over the past two years, the Post reports. The clinic has hired an independent consultant and an attorney to investigate their billing formulas in order to evaluate the liability that needs to be repaid, according to Geidner-Antoniotti. In addition, the district health department and the housing agency of Prince George's County, Md., owe the clinic more than $700,000 for past services. A decision by the United Way to change its contribution disbursement schedule, which has delayed payments since the beginning of the year, also has contributed to Whitman-Walker's financial problems. Other factors have held up further grants since March 1, but the clinic has continued to provide social, medical, legal and education assistance at a monthly unreimbursed cost of about $480,000, according to the Post. Clinic board members on Tuesday were expected to discuss possible changes to cut back up to 10% of the group's budget this year. In 2004, the clinic began implementing cost-containment procedures, including charging clients on a sliding scale and reducing staff (Levine, Washington Post, 5/18). Geidner-Antoniotti said the clinic is "committed to finding solutions" to its financial and funding problems, the Washington Metro Weekly reports. "We are in the process of analyzing every aspect of our agency," she said (Bugg, Washington Metro Weekly, 5/19).
Carl Vogel Center
The health department's failure to pay reimbursements on time also has led the Carl Vogel Center, which provides case-management and counseling services for about 700 HIV/AIDS patients in the city, to reduce staff and cut back program services, the Washington Times reports (McElhatton, Washington Times, 5/19). Center officials recently have been holding votes to decide if it should temporarily close the center if it does not receive more than $144,000 in reimbursements, according to the Post (Washington Post, 5/19).
Catania on Wednesday told District of Columbia Health Department Director Gregg Pane, "By the end of next week, I want all of these bills paid. I understand that's a pretty short turnaround time, but it's long overdue." Representatives from about 12 HIV/AIDS groups in the region testified to the council that the health department's "dysfunction imperils the medical, social, housing and legal services their organizations provide" for HIV-positive patients in the city, according to the Post (Washington Post, 5/19). Catania said he is planning legislation to withhold salaries from top deputies in the health department until the organizations receive their money. He also asked to know who might be fired as a result of the problems in the HIV/AIDS Administration, but Pane said it was "too early to speculate," according to the Times (Washington Times, 5/19). Pane said he had expedited payment for the Whitman-Walker Clinic, which should expect its money "very shortly." In addition, he said he and other officials will examine the audit requirements and where the process can be improved, and he will give an update on Friday (Washington Post, 5/19).