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MOVE with Mautner Project of WWH!
Wednesday, August 07, 2013


Meghan Davies
Director of Community Health

Meghan DaviesMautner Project of Whitman-Walker Health is looking for a few good women who want to get in better shape this Fall.

“M.O.V.E. (Making Our Vitality Evident),” is for lesbians and bisexual women who want to get in shape in a supportive LGBT environment. Participants must identify as lesbian or bisexual, be 40 years of age or older, and have a BMI greater than 27 (approximately 15 pounds overweight). It’s a four-month program in both DC and Silver Spring. Participants will learn to track their exercise and eating habits in an environment that wants nothing more than to see them succeed.

Participants will receive a FREE four-month gym membership, FREE personal nutrition consultations, a FREE personal trainer assessment, and a weekly group meeting to build support in a welcoming space.

Studies have shown that lesbians are twice as likely to be overweight as heterosexual women (Stats on weight for bisexual women are currently not available). Women who are overweight can face a range of health care issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain types of cancers. Being overweight can also cause depression and issues with self-esteem and, in some circumstances, lead to eating disorders.

We know that many women have tried in the past to eat better, exercise more, and get healthier but haven’t been able to achieve their goals. It’s hard to do this alone. Working together, the women who join M.O.V.E. will have many resources to reach their individual fitness goals.

To join M.O.V.E., call 202.797.4406 or e-mail.

The Launch of the HIV Care Continuum: A Personal View
Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Justin Goforth
Director of Community Relations

provider Justin Goforth Last Monday, July 15, The White House held a briefing on the third anniversary of President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy being launched. As Whitman-Walker Health continues to be a local and even national leader in providing innovative, quality health care for individuals living with HIV, we were invited to participate in the briefing, which included a new Executive Order signed by President Obama that same day. For me personally, the invitation to The White House was an amazing way to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the date of my diagnosis on July 15, 1992. I say “celebrate” because that is what I do every single year on that date. I choose not to see myself as just a survivor of all those years, but rather someone who thrives, living a very full and for the most part, healthy life with HIV.  

The White House event included a range of speakers, from high level Obama Administration officials, politicians, scientists and HIV care, prevention and treatment providers such as Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Dr. Dieffenbach, Director of the Division of AIDS at NIH, and Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy to name just a few. President Obama’s new Executive Order focuses on addressing the barriers to HIV testing, care and treatment that are now the main focus in the long fight against the HIV epidemic.  Several important research efforts have now confirmed that successful treatment for HIV, to include suppressing viral activity through antiretroviral therapy, and preventing potential infections through using the same medications in HIV-negative individuals, is so effective in preventing new infections that we can now claim to have the science we need to stop the entire epidemic in its tracks. This is a moment in time for which we have waited over 32 years. The challenge before us now is to bring communities and individuals to the science. Given the trauma of the first 30 years of HIV in our communities, the stigma that is still alive and well for individuals living with HIV and historic lack of access to effective HIV treatment, this is no small task.  

The White House briefing gave hope to the idea that we can be successful in this task. Incredible talent, experience and resources are being used to come up with new and innovative ways to identify individuals who are infected with HIV, link them and keep them in care and on treatment successfully.  

Thinking the great honor and privilege of just being part of this White House event was the best way to celebrate my 21st year of thriving with HIV infection, I was proven wrong when one of the top scientists in the field referenced the “Red Carpet Rapid Entry Program” in Washington, DC as an example of innovation that will get us to our goal of an AIDS free generation. As a representative of the organization that invented and implemented this initiative originally, getting a shout out from the White House for our hard work and commitment was priceless, and a moment in my life I will not soon forget. 

National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month
Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Yavar Moghimi

Yavar Moghimi, MDIn 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives designated July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Campbell was a leading African-American journalist and novelist, and a national spokesperson for individuals and families affected by mental illness. Unfortunately, disparities in mental health care still prevent people in diverse communities from getting the treatment they need.

The outcomes of poorer quality of care come at a high cost to communities that are already stressed.  Mental illness affects one in four American families and people in diverse communities are no exception. The U.S. Surgeon General reports that minorities:
  • are less likely to receive diagnosis and treatment for their mental illness
  • have less access to and availability of mental health services
  • often receive a poorer quality of mental health care
  • are underrepresented in mental health research
The more often people are educated  about mental illness, treatment and research the better chance we have of challenging stigma and preventing unnecessary suffering. All people deserve access to quality mental health services and at Whitman-Walker Health we serve the diverse community that we are a part of with 48 percent of our clients identifying as African-American and 13 percent as Latino.  

This recent article in the Washington Post highlights the growing acceptance of African-American seeking mental health services.

We have a wide variety of mental health services to meet all of our patients mental health needs including psychiatry, individual therapy, group therapy, art therapy, addiction services, peer support, yoga, acupuncture, and massage.  If you or someone you know may be benefit from seeing a mental health professional do not hesitate to ask for help today.

Are You Positive You’re Negative?
Thursday, June 20, 2013


Meghan Davies
Director of Community Health

Meghan DaviesNational HIV Testing Day is Thursday, June 27. It’s a perfect time to get tested and know your HIV status.

Knowing your HIV status is the first step to ending this epidemic. If you’re negative, you can learn how to stay that way. If you’re positive, you can get into treatment and learn how to protect others, both of which will greatly lower your risk of infecting another person.

But, even though we all know how important it is to get an HIV test, many of us still don’t do it.

There are many reasons that people don’t get tested for HIV: fear of the results, belief that they’re not at risk, or the stigma that still surrounds HIV.

So let’s tackle each of these reasons one at a time.

Fear of the results. We’ll be honest. Getting an HIV test can be a scary thing. A positive result is life changing. But HIV can be easier to treat than diabetes. While a positive result can change your life, it won’t end it if you get in and stay in medical treatment.

Belief that you’re not at risk. If you’re a sexually active person (particularly a gay or bisexual man), then you’re at risk for HIV. It’s as simple as that.

Stigma. And this is a tough one. Even after more than three decades, there is still a lot of misinformation and stigma around HIV. In fact, stigma is probably the main reason why people don’t get tested and don’t stay in care.  We can all help break though this stigma by getting an HIV test and talking to others about HIV and HIV testing.

All of these reasons are why National HIV Testing Day was created. It’s a chance for us to break through the fear, denial and stigma that continue to surround HIV. And it’s a chance to tell the community that there’s nothing wrong with being HIV-positive, just as there’s nothing wrong with being diabetic or having high cholesterol or high blood pressure. HIV is simply another medical condition.

Whether you do it on June 27 or any other day, please get tested for HIV. And don’t stop at one time. You should be tested for HIV every six months or every three months depending on how sexually active you are and how many partners you have.

It’s not just for your health. It can also improve the health of our community.

The Risks of Oral Sex
Thursday, June 13, 2013


Dr. Raymond Martins
Chief Medical Officer

provider Ray Martins MDRecently, actor Michael Douglas revealed that his bout with throat cancer was caused by exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV) during oral sex. Douglas’s story is a reminder for all of us that oral sex does carry a risk of spreading sexually transmitted diseases. And, as Douglas’s story shows, STD infection from oral sex can lead to serious complications.

There are many STDs you can acquire from oral sex. These include gonorrhea, chlamydia, HPV, syphilis and potentially herpes.  We’ve been told for many years what to do to make penetrative sex safer. But how can you make oral sex less risky for STDs?

  1. Get vaccinated. Vaccinations are available for HPV and Hepatitis A and B.
  2. Get tested for STDs regularly. Don’t wait for symptoms! Many STD infections won’t show symptoms. If you’re sexually active with more than one partner, you should get tested on a regular basis.
  3. Check your partner for any signs of STDs, including bumps, sores or strange fluids.
  4. Use protection. Condoms for oral sex on a penis or a dental dam or plastic wrap for oral sex on a vagina or anus will greatly reduce your risk of contracting an STD.
  5. Avoid giving oral sex if you have bleeding gums or sores in your mouth.
  6. Most importantly, talk with your sexual partners about STDs. Ask them about their sexual history, if they know their STD status, and be open and honest about your history. It’s important to make sure that both of you feel protected from any potential infection.

Oral sex can lead to infection with just about every STD. It’s important to recognize the risk and take the precautions to prevent infection.

DC's Health Insurance Exchange
Tuesday, June 04, 2013


Don Blanchon
Executive Director

Don Blanchon As a community health center, Whitman-Walker Health understands the real barriers that DC residents face in securing affordable health insurance in today’s insurance markets. That understanding is derived from our day-to-day interactions with patients—a number of whom have individual and small group coverage.       

This week, the Council of the District of Columbia will take legislative action on B20-240, the Better Prices, Better Quality, Better Choices for Health Coverage Amendment Act of 2013. This emergency legislation will serve as the vehicle for establishing the DC health insurance exchange which becomes operational on January 1, 2014. The legislation must resolve a number of important policy questions so that the DC health insurance exchange can be a successful marketplace for DC residents and employers. 

The most pressing policy issue is whether to establish the DC health insurance exchange as a unified or separate market. A unified market can generate a sufficient number of covered lives (at least 40,000-70,000 persons) to adequately pool financial risk. A risk pool of this size can attract major insurers and thereby guarantee much-needed market competition. Such competition is vital to ensuring that there are adequate product offerings and competitive pricing for such covered lives. Product offerings and pricing information can be made publicly available to individuals, brokers, and small businesses to ensure appropriate transparency and a level playing field.   

Proponents of a separate market for the DC health insurance exchange contend that there is too little time to build this new marketplace for the January 1, 2014 effective date and there is too much uncertainty about the product offerings, premium pricing and cost sharing, and underlying exchange infrastructure. They suggest that a longer transition is warranted to afford the community more time to adjust to the exchange. They also recommend that this exchange operate as a stand-alone market which competes with DC’s existing individual and small group markets. In summary, proponents believe that a separate market provides benefits and protections to the community in terms of additional transition time and greater flexibility for small employers which currently offer health coverage to their employers. 

What the proponents fail to mention is that a separate market model presents programmatic and financial risks to the District of Columbia, its residents, and small businesses. A separate market will not address existing market shortcomings in the individual and small group insurance markets. Most notable are the less than perfect competition among brokers and insurers for securing covered lives and less than fully transparent product and pricing information available to individuals and small employers. Moreover, a separate market would provide too much opportunity for brokers and insurers to move risk from individual and small group markets into the DC health insurance exchange. This will inevitably create a high risk pool within the DC exchange that is financially unsustainable over time. Such an exchange would not achieve sufficient risk pool size needed to attract insurers. In the end, the DC exchange would most likely evolve into a second-tier, second-rate insurance pool with limited product offerings and significant public subsidy.

Whitman-Walker Health believes that the unified market is the best path forward for establishing a successful health insurance exchange in the District of Columbia. It will provide sufficient risk pool size, much-needed transparency on premium pricing and product offerings, and ultimately greater competition among participating insurers for covered lives. Closer to home, it will offer our patients—many of whom live with chronic conditions such as HIV/AIDS yet currently do not have access to insurance coverage for a myriad of issues—greater access to coverage and ultimately a greater sense of health and financial security.

There is now less than five months until October 1, 2013—the beginning of open enrollment for the DC health insurance exchange. It is therefore imperative for the Council of the District of Columbia to resolve the current policy debate about a unified versus separate market. Such  resolution will allow our community to turn its collective focus to building education, outreach, and enrollment strategies that reach individuals and small businesses eligible for the DC exchange. Continuing the current policy debate into the summer months is tantamount to running out the clock and ensuring DC health insurance exchange fails.       

The Facts on Hepatitis C
Thursday, May 30, 2013


Dr. Raymond Martins
Chief Medical Officer

provider Ray Martins MD

May is Hepatitis Awareness Month. And the LGBT community can be at greater risk for infection with Hepatitis.

First, a few facts: “Hepatitis” refers to an inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis.   In the U.S., the most common types of viral hepatitis are Hepatitis A, B and C.  These are different viruses with different modes of transmission, but can all be transmitted from person to person.

Previously, we talked about Hepatitis A and B. Now, it’s time to talk about Hepatitis C.

Like B, Hepatitis C ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver, referred to as Chronic Hepatitis C. However, there is treatment for Chronic Hepatitis C which increasingly can cure the infection.

Hepatitis C most commonly is spread through contact with the blood of someone already infected. Typically, this can happen when sharing needles or other paraphernalia for as drug use or hormone and silicone injection. Hepatitis C infection can also happen through contaminated tattoo needles.

Hepatitis C can be spread through sexual contact as well, but no one is sure how often this happens.  It occurs more frequently among men who have sex with men, those who have multiple sex partners, have a sexually transmitted disease, engage in rough sex, or are infected with HIV.  Approximately 25 percent of all people infected with HIV are also infected with Hepatitis C.

As with A and B, the best way to deal with Hepatitis C is to prevent infection. However, unlike A and B, there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C.

Practice safer sex by using condoms. Avoid blood-to-blood contact with anyone who has or may have Hepatitis.This means don’t share needles or syringes or drug paraphernalia with anyone. It also means making sure that a tattoo needle is brand new and not already used.

WWH offers testing and treatment for all forms of Hepatitis along with vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B. To become a WWH patient, call 202-745-7000 or e-mail

The Facts on Hepatitis B
Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Dr. Raymond Martins
Chief Medical Officer

provider Ray Martins MD

May is Hepatitis Awareness Month. And the LGBT community, particularly gay and bisexual men, can be at greater risk for infection with Hepatitis.

First, a few facts: “Hepatitis” refers to an inflammation of the liver, usually caused by a virus. In the U.S., the most common types are Hepatitis A, B and C, all caused by different viruses and all with different modes of transmission.

Last week, we talked about Hepatitis A. Now, let’s get into Hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B can start off as an “acute” infection, meaning it only lasts a few months. However, unlike Hepatitis A, B can turn into a chronic or lifelong infection, sometimes requiring treatment for life.

Gay and bisexual men account for 20 percent of all new Hepatitis B cases in the United States each year.

Hepatitis B infection can occur when the body fluids of an infected person, such as blood or semen, enter the body of an uninfected person. Hepatitis B can be spread through sexual activity or through sharing injection drug use equipment.

Sound familiar? Hepatitis B spreads in exactly the same way as HIV, only it’s 300 times more infectious!

The best way to deal with Hepatitis B is to prevent infection. And, as with Hepatitis A, the best way to prevent infection is to be vaccinated.

All gay and bisexual men should be vaccinated for Hepatitis B. Hepatitis A and B vaccines are usually given in combination. They are safe, effective and require two-three shots over a period of six months depending on the type of vaccine. You should complete all shots in the series for long-term protection. Booster shots are not currently recommended.

Whitman-Walker Health can provide free vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B. The vaccinations can be done in our Gay Men’s Health and Wellness Clinic every Tuesday and Thursday night at the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center. This is a first come, first served clinic, so get there early to be seen!

WWH also offers testing and treatment for Hepatitis. To become a WWH patient, call 202-745-7000 or e-mail

The Facts on Hepatitis A
Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Dr. Raymond Martins
Chief Medical Officer

provider Ray Martins MDMay is Hepatitis Awareness Month. And the LGBT community, particularly gay and bisexual men, can be at greater risk for infection with Hepatitis.

First, a few facts: “Hepatitis” refers to an inflammation of the liver, usually caused by a virus. In the U.S., the most common types are Hepatitis A, B and C, all caused by different viruses and all with different modes of transmission.

Let’s start out with Hepatitis A. We’ll get into B and C in later blog posts.

Hepatitis A is an “acute” infection, meaning that it usually lasts about six months. Hepatitis A does not become a chronic infection like B and C can.

Gay and bisexual men account for 10 percent of all new Hepatitis A cases in the United States each year.

Hepatitis A is spread through ingestion of fecal matter. Direct oral-anal sexual contact or contact with fingers or objects that have been in or near the anus of an infected person.  It can also be transmitted through contaminated food, usually due to food handlers who have not properly washed their hands.

The best way to deal with Hepatitis A is to prevent infection. And the best way to prevent infection is to be vaccinated.

All gay and bisexual men should be vaccinated for Hepatitis A. Hepatitis A and B vaccines are usually given in combination. They are safe, effective and require two-three shots over a period of six months depending on the type of vaccine. You should complete all shots in the series for long-term protection. Booster shots are not currently recommended.

Whitman-Walker Health can provide free vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B. The vaccinations can be done in our Gay Men’s Health and Wellness Clinic every Tuesday and Thursday night at the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center. This is a first come, first served clinic, so get there early to be seen!

WWH also offers testing and treatment for Hepatitis. To become a WWH patient, call 202-745-7000 or e-mail

WWH's Research Department
Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Dr. Rick Elion
Clinical Research Director

Rick Elion2013 has already been very busy for the WWH Research Department. We have remodeled space on two different floors to account for our growth over the last six years. The expansion will allow us to have a much better flow for patients in our research studies and provide a multifunctional work space for staff. 

WWH’s research program continues to contribute to the national effort to control the spread of HIV. I gave an oral presentation to more than 5,000 participants on new regimens for HIV at the International AIDS Conference in July 2012. 

WWH has also contributed to an important study that was presented at the Conference for Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Atlanta in March of 2013. The International AIDS Conference and CROI are the most prominent meetings in HIV/AIDS research. WWH is very proud to have presented our contributions to the field in such important settings. 

WWH continues to advance our role as a center for Hepatitis C research as well. WWH has been one of the leading clinical sites to test simpler and more effective treatments for Hepatitis C Disease. Hep C is one of the leading causes of cirrhosis and liver transplants each year and impacts more then three million people in the US. We are testing much simpler treatments that don't require weekly injections, a factor associated with great toxicity and discomfort for patients. Early findings suggest that 12 or 24 weeks of all-oral treatments may be enough to cure a large percentage of people with Hep C. This truly positive breakthrough will also prevent complications including cirrhosis and death. 

In 2013, we will also start a new research project on the use of a single pill taken daily to prevent HIV infection, also known as PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). In July 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved the HIV medication Truvada as an effective form of PrEP.  Studies of both men who have sex with men and heterosexuals at high risk for HIV infection have found significant benefit of using Truvada to prevent new infections. Enrolling community members in a demonstration study on PrEP will give researchers additional insight into making PrEP accessible to more people at greatest risk of getting HIV.  

Finally, WWH has recently partnered with Johns Hopkins University to apply for a grant that would make WWH a site of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) and HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN). The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases funds ACTG and HPTN sites around the world to conduct advanced clinical research on HIV and Hepatitis C treatment and prevention. JHU’s invitation to join its 2013 applications is a great honor for WWH. The collaboration creates exciting opportunities for both WWH and JHU. The communities WWH serves have enthusiastically supported research efforts and their commitment could now be coupled with the scientific leadership and resources of a major university. Funding announcements will be made in early 2014.

Supporting Supplemental Security Income
Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Zoe Paolantonio, Esq.
Staff Attorney

Zoe POn April 17, Whitman-Walker Health proudly joined the National Senior Citizens Law Center and U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) when the Congressman announced the introduction of The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Restoration Act. SSI provides subsistence-level income (no more than $710 per month) to adults with very limited financial means who are either over 65 or cannot work because of a severe disability. The SSI program has very strict limits on income and assets that make it unavailable to many deserving persons of very limited means. Congressman Grijalva’s bill would restore the program to what was intended when it started 41 years ago, by updating the SSI asset and income guidelines. 

Long-time Max Robinson Center client Reneto Wilkins and I were fortunate to have the opportunity to testify at the Capitol Hill briefing. Mr. Wilkins and I were proud to speak out about his experience with the SSI asset limit to inspire support for this important legislation and to give a voice to the millions of SSI recipients who are struggling to make ends meet under the current program rules. With Mr. Wilkins’ permission, I would like to highlight his story here.

Mr. Wilkins is a lifelong DC resident who has been living with HIV/AIDS and schizophrenia for over 30 years. He has served as an outspoken HIV awareness advocate, and has even volunteered with the Washington Metropolitan Public Health Association, Howard University, and the World AIDS Conference.  However, as the result of medical complications that include cognitive impairment and severe memory loss, Mr. Wilkins has never been able to work and has relied on SSI disability benefits since the 1980s. Early in 2012, he was shocked to learn that his SSI benefits had been cut off. Social Security stopped Mr. Wilkins’ SSI check because he had about $3,500 in his savings account. According to Social Security’s rules, a beneficiary must have less than $2,000 in assets in order to remain qualified for SSI.  In addition to stopping his check, Social Security charged him an overpayment for the entire three-year period that his account exceeded the $2,000 asset limit, meaning that he would have to re-pay the $18,000 in benefits he received during that time. 

Mr. Wilkins was devastated by his sudden loss of income and the huge debt he was facing because he did not remember ever hearing about the asset limit before and he did not know that, by saving money, he was breaking SSI program rules. He believed that he was doing the right thing by using his money as prudently as possible. Mr. Wilkins turned to Whitman-Walker Health’s Legal Services team to help him understand the program rules.  I explained that he didn’t have to live without several basic necessities – such as a bed and a winter coat – in order to save money. By securing these basic needs, he spent the small amount over the asset limit allowing him to re-qualify for his SSI benefits.  In addition, we successfully argued that SSA should waive the $18,000 overpayment.

Every day, Whitman-Walker Health’s Legal Services Program helps SSI (and other Social Security) beneficiaries, like Mr. Wilkins, navigate Social Security’s complex system, ensuring that they secure and keep the benefits to which they rely on and are entitled. Whitman-Walker Health knows that staying healthy may require a lawyer as part of the health care team to reduce the many barriers that our clients face to obtaining the highest-quality health care. For more information about Legal Services, please visit our website or call 202-939-7627.

What You Should Know About Meningitis
Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Dr. Ray Martins
Chief Medical Officer

provider Ray Martins MDUPDATE: Based on new information on the meningitis cases in New York and Los Angeles received this week, Whitman-Walker Health now recommends that all gay and bisexual men who meet the criteria set forth by the New York City Department of Health be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis.

The criteria are: “Regarding who should receive the vaccine during this outbreak, any gay man or MSM who is at least 18 years of age, regardless of HIV status, and has had intimate contact with a man they met through a website (Manhunt, Adam 4 Adam, etc.), digital application (GRINDR, SCRUFF, etc.), a bar, or a party since September 1, 2012 or plan on having such contact in the future.” – NY Department of Health

Whitman-Walker patients can request the vaccine from their individual provider. Non-WWH patients should contact their provider to be vaccinated.

There is currently no “outbreak” of meningitis among gay and bisexual men in DC. If such an outbreak does occur, the city’s Department of Health will issue a warning.

There is a vaccine for bacterial meningitis. Current patients of Whitman-Walker can request the meningitis vaccine, but it will take a least a day to get it in stock. We do not keep stock of the vaccine because it is not a commonly-used vaccine.

If an outbreak does occur in DC, current WWH medical patients will be able to receive a meningitis vaccine here and we will likely open the doors to the public to receive vaccinations.

Meningitis can be transmitted from person to person through exposure to an infected person’s oral fluids. This could be from kissing, coughing or sneezing. It can also be transmitted through sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses.

Meningitis infection may show up in a person by a sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. It will often have other symptoms, such as:
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Increased sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Altered mental status (confusion)
The symptoms of bacterial meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within three to seven days after exposure.

If you have any of these symptoms and have been exposed to someone in New York City or Los Angeles, please see a health care provider right away.

Again, take all precautions to protect your health but do not panic. There is no current health emergency in DC. If one is declared at some point, WWH will be there to help.

Testicular Cancer Awareness
Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Dr. Ray Martins
Chief Medical Officer

provider Ray Martins MDTesticular cancer.  The most common cancer in men under the age of 35.

The truth is testicular cancer is highly survivable. In 2013, there will be about 7,900 new testicular cancer diagnoses in the United States. However, because treatment is so successful especially if found early, the risk of dying from this cancer is about one in 5,000.

But, as with any cancer, it’s important to catch it early and give treatment the best possible chance of success. That means being aware of the risk factors, the symptoms and the need for both regular exams with your doctor and self-exams.
Risk factors for testicular cancer include:

  • Age. Testicular cancer is most common in men between the ages of 20 to 45. However, men of any age can develop this disease.
  • HIV infection. Men with HIV or AIDS have a slightly higher risk.
  • Undescended testicle. Men with this condition, in which one or both testicles do not descend into the scrotum before birth as they normally should, have an increased risk.
  • Family history. A man who has a close relative (particularly a brother) who has had testicular cancer has an increased risk.
  • Personal history. Men who have had cancer in one testicle have an increased risk of developing cancer in the other testicle.
  • Race. Although men of any race can have testicular cancer, white men are more likely than men of other races to be diagnosed.
Symptoms of testicular cancer may include:
  • Painless lump or swelling on either testicle. Any lump, enlargement, hardness, pain, or tenderness of the testicle should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.
  • Pain or discomfort (with or without swelling) in a testicle or the scrotum.
  • Change in the way a testicle feels. For example, one testicle may also become more firm than the other testicle. Or, testicular cancer may cause the testicle to grow bigger or  become smaller.
  • Feeling of heaviness in the scrotum. For example, a testicle that feels very firm or hard may be a sign of a problem.
  • Dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin.
  • Sudden buildup of fluid in the scrotum.
If you notice any of these symptoms, please go to your primary care provider for an evaluation. 

Some testicular cancers may not cause symptoms. That’s why regular doctor’s exams and self-exams are so important. Yearly exams with your doctor, along with monthly self-exams, are the best way to identify cancer as it develops.

Whitman-Walker can provide testicular exams as part of an annual physical and can teach our patients how to perform self-exams for testicular cancer. Find out more about our medical services and become a patient today!

Medicare Part D Update
Thursday, April 04, 2013


Erin Loubier
Director of Public Benefits & Senior Managing Attorney

Erin LoubierAs Whitman-Walker Health’s Legal Services staff wraps up all of the details from the 2012 Medicare Part D season, we want to share with you a summary of this work.  We assisted 397 patients by analyzing their medication needs against their current Part D prescription drug plan to determine whether that plan or another plan would best meet their needs for 2013. Thanks to robust outreach efforts, we saw a 19 percent increase from the number of patients served last year.  We’ve also been working since early January to handle the patient issues for those who did not come into a 2012 Part D clinic and are now facing access to medication issues in 2013.  
Once again in 2012, over 50 percent of our clients required some change – had they stayed in their current plan or done nothing, they would have faced thousands of dollars of cost and onerous drug restrictions in their efforts to access life-saving medications.  As part of our services, we checked Medicaid, Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB), and Low Income Subsidy (LIS) (programs that provide assist low income Medicare beneficiaries) eligibility for every patient who came through Part D season to ensure that their recertification was up-to-date.  We identified 110 patients who needed help enrolling or recertifying and assisted them to complete that process and ensured that all patients understand when to recertify next.  

There are literally hundreds of amazing stories to tell. Here are two:

  • Sally* is a 56-year old HIV-positive DC resident living on less than $900 per month.  Sally did not have Part D plan when she came to the clinic, and faced $31,690 in annual drug costs.  An attorney completed her plan analysis and enrolled the patient into a Low Income Subsidy (LIS) plan where she will pay only $40 for the entire year to obtain her life saving HIV medications.  
  • George* is a 49-year old from Maryland with severe mental health issues and AIDS.  He lives on $930 in disability income per month.  His 2012 Part D plan was discontinued and he was auto-enrolled into a new plan for 2013. The new plan would cost the patient $28,000 in out-of-pocket drug costs for 2013.  The patient’s anxiety and mental health issues prevented him from coming into a Part D clinic.  An attorney reached out and worked with him by phone, enrolling him in a new Part D plan that covered all of his 22 medications without onerous restrictions and only $73 for the entire year in out of pocket costs.  
*All names are pseudonyms.

What's for Dinner?
Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Kristen Jarvis
Registered Dietitian

Kristen Jarvis

Leading busy lives can make it hard to put a healthy, quick meal on the table in the evenings. It can be hard not to choose the convenience foods that are out of a box or frozen and prepared quickly to save time.

It can actually be easier to prepare fresh foods, if you have a plan for the week. Try to make a list of two-three meals for the week and go grocery shopping one time to buy the ingredients. This will assure that you already have what you need for the meals at home, ready to be prepared.

Stock up on staple foods such as plain frozen vegetables (nocream or butter sauce), bags of quinoa, brown rice, frozen salmon and chicken breasts. Once you have the basics, you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables to use as side dishes as well as salad ingredients.

Some suggestions for salad ingredients include: spinach, almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries, frozen or fresh blueberries, feta or blue cheese, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Do not use iceberg lettuce which is void of nutrients and made up of 90 percent water.

When you are buying fresh produce, plan ahead and only buy as much as you are actually going to use that week, so that they don’t spoil before you can cook them.

There are a few good websites online that you can use for assistance when trying to come up with new and exciting meals. The American Diabetes Association website ( has a recipes section and these meals are guaranteed to be somewhat healthy and definitely low-carb for those of you watching your sugars.

The other website I use a lot for suggestions is which allows you to enter ONE ingredient that you might have at home (e.g., chicken or rice) and it will provide you with many options for recipes to use with this ingredient. The nutrition facts are also provided on this website.

Remember to make your grocery list ahead of time and try to have foods on hand, to minimize the amount you eat out at restaurants or fast food during the week. This will cut down on calories as well as fat since you will be preparing the meals at home and can control the amount of salt, fat and sugar that you add to the meal.

Remember that dinner and breakfast and lunch can be easy, fast and nutritious, if you plan ahead and stock up on staple foods!

Find out more about WWH's nutrition services.

Lunch Time!
Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Kristen Jarvis
Registered Dietitian

Kristen Jarvis

One of the most often causes of weight gain is the amount of fast food and sit-down restaurants we tend to frequent, especially over our lunch break. Whether you have a lunch meeting or only have time to run out and pick up whatever is closest, these extra calories each week can really add up excess pounds. When you eat away from home, you more likely eating more fried or fatty foods, larger portions and ultimately consume more calories. Add on a large soda or sweet tea to go with the meal and the amount of calories has almost doubled.

So what are some easy ways you can change your workday lunch habits to make it better for your heart and your waistline? To start with, as we discussed in the last blog, make sure to eat your breakfast! This way, you will be hungry around lunchtime, but not absolutely famished and can eat a more moderate amount of food. The second is to work on bringing your lunch from home more often. Shoot for 2-3 days a week from home, for a start. Here are a few more options to help make lunch healthier:

  1. Cook extra food for dinner the night before and bring the rest for leftovers to heat up the next day.
  2. Make a pot of beans, chili, homemade soup or something in a crockpot that can provide you with enough lunch meals for the entire week.
  3. Buy greek yogurt, unsalted nuts, individual packaged fat-free string cheese, fruit and granola bars to keep at the office for mid-day snacks or a meal if you need something quick before a meeting.
  4. Make the brown bag option healthier and more fun with whole grain bread or whole wheat pita, deli meat or tuna, hummus instead of mayo and fresh spinach instead of lettuce. Bring a cold bean salad, raw carrots or a hard-boiled egg for a side dish.
  5. Bring Crystal Light packets to add to your water bottle or a glass of water at a restaurant for a zero-calorie option in place of sodas.
  6. If your only option is eating out, then choose a salad with oil dressing, less cheese and more vegetables.
  7. If you do order takeout or go out to eat, try to create two meals out of the larger portion you are given. For example, if you buy a foot-long sandwich, cut it in half for lunch the next day.
  8. Try to go for a walk over your lunch hour; whether you just go around the block or around the building, at least you’re burning off some calories before heading back to sit at your desk for the remainder of the day!

Find out more about WWH's nutrition services.

Breakfast - It IS the Most Important Meal of the Day!
Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Kristen Jarvis
Registered Dietitian

Kristen Jarvis

You know those moments when you’re running out the door with 10 things in your hands, trying to make sure you catch the Metro in time to make it to work and you realize that you forgot to eat breakfast? And once at work, you have meetings and appointments and no time for real food until lunch. Well I am here to remind you that even on those crazy mornings, breakfast is STILL the most important meal of the day!

Besides being more alert at work, having more energy to start the day and being more consistent with your eating to increase your metabolism, there are still even more reasons why breakfast is so important. Studies show that people who skip breakfast and eat fewer times during the day tend to be heavier than people who eat a healthy breakfast and eat four or five small meals (snacks) a day. Skipping breakfast can lead to cravings later in the day as well as possible overeating due to hunger. According to a study published in Obesity Research in 2001, those who eat breakfast daily are less likely to experience frequent late-night cravings. The best options for breakfast are those with fiber and protein which both make you feel full longer. Try to stay away from the saturated fats in breakfast meats and the high sugar content in doughnuts or pastries, as these don’t provide you with any adequate nutrients.

The number one reason people claim for not eating breakfast is not having enough time. I can give you some helpful suggestions for quick, healthy options for breakfast. These are not new ideas, but more a guide to get you back on track. Make sure you have all the ingredients ready to go by Monday morning, so you can start out right at the beginning of the week.

Try a fruit and greek yogurt parfait with frozen berries or top a whole wheat waffle with berries. Hard boil eggs on Sunday so they are ready to go in the morning when you’re running out the door. Other options include oatmeal with walnuts and honey or a low-sugar cereal like Cheerios or Shredded Wheat with low-fat milk. Try two slices of whole grain bread with peanut butter or add a banana! Other options include scrambled egg whites with tomatoes and spinach or a veggie omelet. Add a piece of fruit for a mid-morning snack and you have already had protein and fiber to start the day.

Breakfast doesn’t have to be a huge meal, so try to simplify it as much as possible. Do your best and your body will appreciate it later in the day!

Find out more about WWH's nutrition services.

Nutrition and Health
Tuesday, March 05, 2013


Kristen Jarvis
Registered Dietitian

Kristen JarvisMarch is National Nutrition Month! It’s a perfect time to take a closer look at how nutrition plays a role in our lives and how it can help those living with many different chronic diseases.

Nutrition is a very important, but often overlooked aspect of our health and wellness. As of 2011, more than eight percent of our population (both adults and children) had Diabetes. Heart disease has been the leading cause of death for both male and female minorities for the past 80 years. Other chronic conditions from poor nutrition include obesity, high blood pressure, kidney disease and high cholesterol.

Nutrition is not a cure for chronic illnesses, but can lead to a healthier, longer life and in some instances, can be used in place of medicines. Doctors are (usually) willing to let patients use nutrition, exercise and lifestyle changes first to help improve their health before beginning them on a medication. These lifestyle changes can include drinking more water, quitting smoking, cutting down on alcohol and adding in more physical activity daily.

Nutrition is just as beneficial for people living with HIV as any other chronic condition. People with HIV should make it a priority to consume adequate protein to keep their muscles strong in addition to eating foods with appropriate vitamins and minerals for overall health.

When you are trying to work on making changes in what you eat or drink, it is best to throw out the word “diet” and instead think of it as a chance to gain new knowledge about lifestyle and food modifications that will last a lifetime.  It’s easiest if you choose one or two habits that you can add in (or take away if it’s a negative habit) from what you are already doing and work on it for one week at a time. Then add in something else for the following week. It’s easier to do a few small things than to try and take on too much at once and get discouraged.

A few helpful hints to start working on at the beginning of this month could be:

1) Cutting down on large portions (especially out at restaurants)

2) Drinking more water

3) Being more conscious of the empty sugar calories coming from the juice and sodas you might be drinking daily

4) Trying to eat consistently on a schedule

Come back next week when we will talk about healthy breakfast options, or, for those of you who don’t eat breakfast, we’ll discuss why you should start! And find out more about WWH's nutrition services.

What Condoms Will Protect Against...and What They Won't!
Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Nanah Fofanah
Health Educator

Whitman-Walker Health Community Health ProviderIt’s National Condom Month! And it’s a good time to remember the basics of condom usage. Condoms will protect you from most STDs, but not all of them.

When condoms are used properly and consistently, they are highly effective at reducing the transmission of STDs. To ensure the effectiveness of a condom it is important to check for the expiration date of the condom, to make sure there is no damage to the packaging, to only use one condom for each sexual act, and if a condom breaks or slips during sexual intercourse, to throw it away and use a new one.

CondomsLatex and polyurethane condoms provide an important impermeable barrier that protects against genital secretion (from the male and female) that transmits STDs.

When condoms are used properly and consistently they protect against various STDs such as:

HIV/AIDS: HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a viral infection that attacks and weakens the body’s immune system and can turn into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) when untreated.

Chlamydia: a bacterial infection that causes infection in the urinary and reproductive organs, eyes and lungs. It is a common STI especially among sexually active teens and young adults and often people do not have symptoms of disease.

Gonorrhea (Clap, GC, Dose, Drip): an infection caused my gonococcus bacteria that can live in dark warm places like the vagina, penis, rectum or throat.

Condoms can provide some protection against STDs that are transmitted by skin contact if the condom covers the infected area:

Syphilis: a bacterial infection contracted by sexual contact with an infected person.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV/Genital Warts): a viral infection that can appear as warts or pre-cancerous lesions on the vagina, vulva, penis, cervix, anus or in the throat.

Genital Herpes: a chronic viral infection that may cause sores. 

Trichomoniasis (trichomonas, Tric): tiny parasites that live in warm dark places like the vagina and the urethra. This is a very common STD.

Condoms will not protect you against pubic lice (crabs) that can be transmitted through non-penetrative activities like heavy petting, frottage.

Condoms are the best way to protect yourself and your partner against STDs.  Condoms are not a 100 percent guarantee against HIV and other STDs but, when used properly and consistently, they increase the chance of prevention.

A Med Student's Perspective
Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Dan O'Neill
Medical Student

As a capstone experience for my fourth year of medical school at the George Washington University, I was recently fortunate to complete a primary care rotation at Whitman-Walker Health (WWH). Not only did I have the opportunity to see how WWH has changed since first volunteering for the Gay Men’s Health and Wellness Clinic years ago, but also I got the chance to work with a dedicated group of providers – physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and medical assistants – all devoted to caring for the broad and diverse DC community that WWH has grown to serve.

I was provided an excellent degree of real-time teaching and oversight, while also was given the independence to examine patients on my own, discussing working diagnoses and treatment with providers. In addition to being exposed to many “bread and butter” cases of primary care medicine, for those interested in learning about HIV, Hepatitis C and transgender health, WWH offers one of the best learning experiences you will find for these rapidly evolving and often neglected areas of primary care medicine.

Performance of common clinical procedures, i.e. Pap smears, PPD placement, and vaccinations, was encouraged by preceptors, who offered reassuring guidance to improve technique. Moreover, medical assistants rapidly incorporated you into the team and made a point to advocate for your learning.

As typical for one’s fourth year of medical school, I’ve traveled the country over the past few months looking at many different hospitals while applying to residency programs. Many of these places often boasted affiliations with excellent outpatient clinics or community health centers. Yet time and again, directors of these programs mentioned my good fortune of having the opportunity to train at WWH, a leader in providing sensitive care for LGBT people and other underserved populations, as well as a forerunner in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

For aspiring primary physicians and HIV specialists, such as myself, rotating through WWH while in DC is essential. I am proud WWH is part of my community and look forward to the prospect of working here in the future. I encourage anyone interested in a unique and robust outpatient training experience to consider the diverse opportunities it has to broaden your fund of knowledge and improve your clinical performance.

 Dan O’Neill (MS4 – GWU School of Medicine and Health Sciences)

National Condom Month - The Often Overlooked Female Condom
Thursday, February 07, 2013


Amie Krautwurst
Health Educator

Amie image 100 x 129 pxNow that 2013 is underway, the American Social Health Association spotlights the importance of protecting your sexual health by declaring February National Condom Month and Valentine’s Day, February 14, National Condom Day! With all the love in the air this month, there is no better time for friendly reminders to practice safer sex, get screened for HIV and other STDs, and become more informed about your sexual health. While you’re at it, why not try something new? The male condom isn’t the only option out there for protected sex! Here are some facts about the female condom:

Play It Safe!

Female condoms protect against HIV and other STDS. The CDC estimates that nearly 19 million new STD infections occur each year in the United States. When used correctly and consistently, female condoms are up to 95 percent effective in preventing the transmission of STDs, including HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. In comparison to the male condom, the female condom offers more protection against STDs that are spread through skin-to-skin contact, such as herpes and HPV, due to the larger area of coverage. The female condom is made of polyurethane, which makes it a safe option for people with allergies to latex.

Change It Up!

Female condoms can be used for a variety of sex acts. One of the most popular aspects of the female condom is its soft and lifelike feel. Although female condoms are typically used for vaginal sex, they can also be used for anal sex. If you’re planning on using the female condom for anal sex, be sure to remove the flexible inner ring before insertion. Do not use the male condom and the female condom together, and remember to use plenty of lubrication on both the inside and outside of the female condom to reduce tearing and breakage. Don’t forget that the female condom is for one-time use only! Use a new female condom for every sex act.

Keep It Real!

Female condoms can help increase spontaneity of sex. That’s right, no more sacrificing spontaneity for safety in your sex life! The female condom can be inserted up to eight hours before sexual activity, which minimizes the likelihood that you will decide not to use protection in the heat of the moment. Getting the hang of inserting the female condom can be tricky at first, but practice makes perfect! Visit Whitman-Walker Health for step-by-step instructions on how to correctly use the female condom from a health educator, and practice inserting the female condom on your own or with your partner before you use it for sex.

So, get out there and share the love, just make sure you use a glove! Whichever type of condom you choose, use it correctly each and every time you have sex. Protect your sexual health by making Whitman-Walker Health your home for safer sex.  Stop by either of our locations for free HIV and STD screenings and be sure to pick up some free condoms while you’re here!

How to Keep Your Heart Healthy
Tuesday, February 05, 2013


Dr. Ray Martins
Chief Medical Officer

provider Ray Martins MDFebruary is Heart Health Month. So, every time you see a Valentine’s heart this month, remember your own heart health!

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States: about 600,000 each year, one in every four deaths! Every year, about 935,000 Americans have a heart attack.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. We all know them. We’ve all heard them, over and over. We just need to DO them!

Exercise. Yes, we know that time is short. Yes, we know that it’s hard. But we’re not talking about getting ready for the Olympics. We’re talking about moderate physical activity that gets your heart rate up and moving. Go for a long walk every day. Take the stairs at work or in your building. Bike to work. Simple, regular activities will help keep your weight down and reduce stress, two important things for a healthier heart.

Stop smoking.

Eat healthier. You don’t have to go vegetarian or vegan, although those are good diets for heart health. Just ask President Clinton. But eating healthier will help reduce your weight and your cholesterol. Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Cut back on salt and sugar. Drink more water. Eat reasonable portions.  The most important thing you can do is to reduce the calories you intake every day.

Changing habits is never easy, particularly ones that have been there for a lifetime. But these changes can help you live a healthier life.

WWH can help with regular checkups, smoking cessation programs, and nutritional advice. Become a patient today!

Cervical Health Awareness Month - HPV Vaccinations
Thursday, January 24, 2013


Dr. Ray Martins
Chief Medical Officer

provider Ray Martins MDWe’ve heard a lot in recent years about the vaccine for HPV, also known as the Human Papilloma Virus HPV causes most cases of cervical and anal cancer. But, many people still have questions about the vaccine and if it’s appropriate for them.

The HPV vaccine called Gardasil is given as a series of three shots. Gardasil offers protection against most cervical cancers, genital warts and cancers of the anus, vagina and vulva.

These vaccines offer the greatest protection if administered before the start of any sexual activity. The CDC recommends vaccinations for men and women through age 26.

While HPV vaccines are best known for their ability to protect against cervical cancer, they are also effective against HPV-related cancers in men, such as anal cancer.  Anal cancer is a very common cancer in gay and bisexual men. 

Whitman-Walker Health provides HPV vaccinations along with screenings for HPV-related cancers in both men and women. We would be happy to care for your health! Become a patient today!

Cervical Health Awareness Month - Pap Smears
Thursday, January 17, 2013


Dr. Deborah Smith

prov_Deborah_SmithA Pap smear is one procedure that has been shown to save lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. However, in the past 40 years, the number of cases of cervical cancer and the number of deaths from cervical cancer have decreased significantly. This decline largely is the result of many women getting regular Pap tests, which can find cervical precancer before it turns into cancer.”

So how is a Pap smear done? It’s a fairly straightforward procedure that involves both an external and internal examination and collection of cells from both inside and outside the cervix. Both samples are placed in a transport vial containing a special preservative and sent for laboratory evaluation. The results of the Pap smear are usually available within two to three weeks.

Obtaining the Pap smear specimen is typically part of a complete pelvic exam. In addition to the exam of the external genital area the clinician completes the exam with an assessment of the internal pelvic organs. The exam involves the insertion of one or two fingers of one hand inside the vaginal canal while feeling the ovaries and uterus with the other hand on top of the lower abdomen (belly). Sometimes a rectal examination is also required to determine the presence of various pelvic conditions. The entire exam usually takes less than an hour.

This one simple exam can save lives. An annual Pap smear should be a part of a woman’s regular health care.

WWH provides Pap smears. Become a patient today!

Happy - and Healthy - New Year!
Wednesday, January 09, 2013


Dr. Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer

provider Ray Martins MDHappy 2013! It’s the start of a new year and a new chance to live healthier!

It may sound cliché’, but living healthier is actually the top new year’s resolution for Americans. For many, that means exercising more, eating healthier, or trying to cut down stress in their lives.

Those are all good steps to take. But it’s also important to have a regular health care provider, not just someone you go to see when you’re sick.

Having a regular health care provider means that you will get regular checkups and annual physicals. It means you will have access to preventative care, such as vaccinations and periodic exams that you may need. It means that your provider will have a more complete medical record for you and will be able to care for you better.

Your regular health care provider will also get to know you. They’ll have a better sense of what’s going on in your life and can adjust your care to meet your unique needs.

Living healthier also means taking stock of all of your health care needs. You may have a regular medical provider, but do you need dental care? Are dealing with issues like depression? Are you struggling with an addiction? Have you been tested for HIV and other STDs recently? Are your legal affairs in order?

If you haven’t considered all of these issues, a new year is a good time to start! And WWH can help. Let us be your health care home in 2013.

Under our one roof, we can help you with all of the issues above. Our doors are open to anyone who needs help to live a healthier, happier and safer life. And we can help you even if you can’t pay for services.

Take a few minutes and become a WWH patient today. It’s an investment in yourself that will pay huge dividends in the long run.

Things to Come
Thursday, December 20, 2012


Don Blanchon, Executive Director

Don Blanchon

Last week, I shared with you some of Whitman-Walker Health’s accomplishments in 2012. Overall, it was a tremendous team effort by our entire health center family. It is and always will be an honor and privilege to care for our community. And throughout all that was 2012, we kept our patients front and center in all that we do to live our mission of caring every day.   

So what’s next in 2013? 

WWH will continue to live its core values of Community, Caring and Quality in everything we do. Our current and future patients deserve nothing less than the highest quality care. Our public and private funders expect nothing less than improvement in our patients’ health. And our community most definitely wants affirming, culturally competent health center to serve their unique needs in the days and weeks ahead. 

Need some more specifics? Okay then.

We will roll out our Patient-Centered Medical Home model of care—a key foundation for health care reform at the community level--that brings a team-based approach to treating our patients. 

We will launch our Patient Portal, accessible through our website, to allow patients to make appointments, contact their providers, and access their medical records online. 

And we will add highly trained health practitioners to better serve our growing patient base and to provide more choices for our patients. 

Lastly, like most families, we will celebrate a few key milestones together. We will celebrate 40 years of community service with our first program—Gay Men’s VD Clinic (now Gay Men’s Health and Wellness)—which began in the basement of Georgetown Lutheran Church. We will alsomark the 35th anniversary of the incorporation of Whitman-Walker Clinic (now Whitman-Walker Health) which was established by five community leaders whose vision was to build an affirming health center for DC’s gay and lesbian community.  We are so proud of our roots here in DC—especially our place in the life of metro DC’s LGBT community—and will honor our past by thriving now and in the future.

On a personal note, I am so fortunate to work side by side with such a dedicated team of directors, employees, volunteers, donors and other members of WWH’s family. Know that our health home is your place of care. And our door is always open to you.   

Wishing you a happy, healthy and laughter-filled new year,


Looking Back at 2012
Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Don Blanchon, Executive Director

Don Blanchon

Like so many of us, the end of the year is always a busy time for me here at Whitman-Walker Health.  Yet, amid the flurry of holiday events, there is always the emotional pull for time for reflection--a time to take stock on the journey that was 2012, and to dream about where the road will take us in the new year. 

My reflections this season are deeply rooted in three words--appreciation, honor, and hope.

Appreciation…because I owe so much gratitude to everyone who has been a part of our extended Whitman-Walker Health family in 2012—our patients, employees, volunteers, donors and board of directors who help live our mission of caring every day. Words cannot truly express my appreciation for this amazing modern family.     

Honor…because our community owes so much to so many who came before us and fought the fight against HIV, stigma, discrimination, and lack of access to basic health care. They are all warriors in the fight for social justice and equality. And they have more than earned our respect and honor.   

  • Ryan White, the courageous mid-western boy who became the face of AIDS for the nation. Last week he would have celebrated his 41st birthday.
  • The brave volunteers who started the Gay Men’s VD Clinic nearly 40 years ago in 1973—what would then be incorporated in 1978 as Whitman-Walker Clinic.
  • And always those who we have lost along the way – to HIV, to other chronic conditions, to mental illness or addictions. They are with us and in our hearts and minds every day. They are our angels on our shoulders at Whitman-Walker Health.

Hope…for a future generation free from HIV/AIDS, from discrimination, from inequality. Our future together here at Whitman-Walker Health is all about hope. On a personal note, I love this word not just because it’s my 14-year-old daughter’s middle name, not because it is the season of Advent, but really for what it offers each and every one of us. It is light in darkness.  It is the antidote to despair. And it helps us live in the moment, embrace change all around us, and realize the promise of a new day. That promise at WWH is offering the highest quality care to our patients—nothing more, nothing less--today, tomorrow, and for many years to come.  

As 2012 draws to a close, WWH has many reasons to feel hopeful about the future.  

  • More than 91 percent of our HIV-positive patients are on antiretroviral medication
  • At least 84 percent of our Diabetic patients have achieved well-controlled cholesterol
  • Our new Name and Gender Change Legal Clinics have had a huge impact on the transgender community. To date we’ve helped 75 people through the complicated process of changing their name and gender on legal documents.
  • We were named “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for a second year.
  • Our “Return to Lisner” community HIV forum – held in the same spot as our very first AIDS Forum in 1983 – provided education, inspiration and healing to more than 500 participants.

Appreciation. Honor. Hope. Three words that I ask that you reflect on this holiday season. 

On behalf of our extended Whitman-Walker Health family, I send you best wishes this holiday season, and much health, happiness and laughter in the new year!

World AIDS Day 2012
Thursday, November 29, 2012


Don Blanchon, Executive Director

Don Blanchon On Dec. 1, we will mark the 25th annual Worlds AIDS Day. Every year since 1988, the United Nations has designated Dec. 1 as a time to focus global attention on the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Over the years, World AIDS Day has been marked with a combination of fear and hope. In the early years of World AIDS Day, we continued to see high death rates and little effective treatment. As treatment options improved, we began to see more hope for the future, although it remained dimmed by high rates of infections and the continuing deaths of loved ones.

WADThis year has given us more hope than we have had in many years for all those living with or at risk for HIV. Advances in treatments, new prevention techniques, and a renewed sense of commitment among the HIV/AIDS community have given us all a sense of optimism that we may have turned a corner.

In DC, we have seen a drastic decline in AIDS deaths and in the number of people diagnosed with HIV. We are also seeing more HIV diagnoses sooner after infection, which means that treatment will be more likely to succeed.

However, we are still seeing stubbornly high rates of HIV infections. And many communities here in DC continue to bear the brunt of the epidemic.

It is time now to focus on the endgame for HIV/AIDS. That is why we at WWH are focusing on new approaches to fighting HIV like our “Red Carpet” program, improving the retention of HIV patients in care as  part of “treatment as prevention,” and pre-exposure prophylaxis. Our goals should always be zero new infections and zero deaths from HIV/AIDS in 2013 and beyond. 

This year, World AIDS Day is not just a time to reflect and remember; it’s a time to renew our commitment to bring this epidemic to an end.

Each year, Whitman-Walker hosts a candlelight vigil on World AIDS Day. This year, we will return to Dupont Circle on Saturday, Dec. 1, at 5:00 pm to remember, reflect and renew.

I hope you will join us on Saturday and help make World AIDS Day 2012 the beginning of the end of the epidemic.

Transgender Health Services at WWH
Wednesday, November 07, 2012


Thomas Coughlin, Psychotherapist and WWH Transgender Health Advocate

With our Community Conversation "Improving Transgender Health" next Thursday, Nov. 15, we wanted to share again a blog post from Thomas Coughlin, our Transgender Health Advocate.

Historically, the transgender community has had difficulty accessing high quality and affirming health care.

For many years, Whitman-Walker Health has been working to change that. We provide health care services to transgender, gender variant and gender non-conforming individuals and we provide trans-sensitive medical services specific to each individual’s experience. 

In our Behavioral Health program, there are currently two psychotherapy groups to support our clients.  The first, TransSpectrum, is an ongoing psychotherapy group that involves psychosocial support and education for gender variant, transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals age 18-25 years old who may be experiencing some conflict/ambiguity around gender identity and sexual orientation.

TransLives is another ongoing psychotherapy group designed to provide a safe environment for transgender persons to explore bio/psycho/social issues.

We hope that, within these groups, we can also foster a sense of community, building collective resilience to facilitate individual goals.  For more information on either of these groups, please call 202.939.7698 or e-mail

Some transgender folks wish to explore medical options for gender transition.  Our medical providers provide hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, to those individuals where it is medically appropriate.  The process involves a one-time intake appointment with our Patient Advocate who will then set you up to see a medical provider to discuss the start of hormones.  During the intake session, we will learn a bit more about you, what you hope to achieve while working with Whitman-Walker and introduce you to all the services available to you as a patient/client.   

Whitman-Walker’s Legal Services department offers information to those individuals seeking to change identification documents.  Our legal staff may be able to help guide you in your efforts to change name and gender marker on legal documentation. 

In addition to those services available in house, we do our best to connect you to outside resources that may assist and aid in your journey, such as area Electrolysis providers, Metro area peer support groups and websites of interest. 

More than 500 transgender patients came to us for care in 2011. If you are transgender and are looking for high quality, competent and affirming care, this is the place for you.

If you’d like to become a WWH patient, call 202.745.7000, e-mail or start here.

Thank You!
Friday, November 02, 2012


Chayla, Mother of AIDS Walk Grand Marshals Miles & Milaya

What an amazing day! Standing up on that stage with my two kids, seeing this sea of people who had come together to take a stand against HIV/AIDS in our city is a health educator’s dream come true!

Fighting HIV/AIDS has been a big part of my life for a decade. Now, as a mother, it is even more vital to me that we bring this epidemic to an end. I don’t want to send my kids out into a world where they may be at risk for HIV!

By taking part in this year’s AIDS Walk – by walking, running, donating, raising money or volunteering – you brought us one step closer to the end of HIV/AIDS.

So, from everyone at Whitman-Walker Health and the 17 AIDS Walk Community Partner organizations, from all of the people who rely on these organizations for care, from all the people in our community living with HIV or at risk for HIV – in short, from EVERYONE in the DC metropolitan area! – THANK YOU for all that you did.

But, even though the Walk is over for this year, it doesn’t mean you can’t still help! AIDS Walk will continue to take donations through Dec. 31. So if you haven’t yet met your fundraising goal (or you want to INCREASE your goal!), or you still have donations to turn in, or you have some folks who you forgot to ask to contribute …you still have time!

I also encourage you to learn more about Whitman-Walker Health and the tremendous work they do, not just for HIV/AIDS, but for the health of our community. Each year, they serve thousands of people with primary medical care, mental health services, dental care and legal help, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status or ability to pay.

If you’re looking for high quality and affirming health care, Whitman-Walker may be the place for you!

Once again, thanks to all of you for all that you did for this year’s AIDS Walk! I sincerely hope that you and your families have managed to stay safe through Hurricane Sandy, and I can’t wait to see you all at the 27th annual AIDS Walk Oct. 26, 2013!

HIV/AIDS Health Services - Supported by Workplace Giving
Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Dr. Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer

provider Ray Martins MD

 No one was prepared for the onslaught of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s. But, by the time the crisis had become apparent, Whitman-Walker was one of DC’s first responders to the epidemic.

Driven by both our original mission to serve the gay and lesbian community and the stigma associated with HIV at that time, Whitman-Walker took on the task of caring for people living with HIV/AIDS.

At that time, our focus was on helping people die with dignity. With no viable treatment options, almost all we could do was make sure they were cared for in their final days.

Today, t hankfully, is a much different time. Medical advances have brought us treatments that are as easy as one pill once a day. It is easy to find places to obtain an HIV test and get into medical treatment. Now we are happy to say that people with HIV who work with their health care provider will likelydie WITH HIV not FROM HIV.

While good news, these medical advances bring new challenges. Instead of caring for someone for a relatively short period of time, we now have to care for people for what may be decades. And costs for HIV medications alone can reach $20,000 a year or more.

In 2011, Whitman-Walker cared for more than 3,000 people living with HIV. We provided primary medical care, pharmaceutical care, dental care, mental health services and legal help. We offer innovative services like our “Red Carpet” visit to get newly-diagnosed HIV patients rapidly into careand our medical adherence unit that focuses on patient’s barriers to health care.

We administered more than 10,600 HIV tests, nearly one in every 10 tests administered in the District of Columbia.

Our commitment to caring for people with HIV dates back three decades. And we plan to continue that compassionate care for generations to come.

Your workplace giving donations support programs like these every day at Whitman-Walker Health.

Please designate Whitman-Walker Health in your workplace giving. If you give through the Combined Federal Campaign, our number is 38871. If you give through the United Way, our number is 8004.

Your donations can help us to save lives. Please give generously.

LGBT Health Services - Supported by Workplace Giving
Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Dr. Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer

provider Ray Martins MDWhitman-Walker was founded in the 1970s as a place to provide confidential and non-judgmental health care to DC’s gay and lesbian community. It was a safe space for limited health care services (like STD testing and treatment and mental health services) at a time when the gay and lesbian community could not depend on receiving such care from their personal providers.

Today, the world is a much different place. DC’s LGBT community can receive high quality and competent health care from many providers. But Whitman-Walker Health remains committed to being a health care home for the LGBT community.

In addition to our primary medical, dental, mental health and legal services that are open to the LGBT community, we have a number of health care services specifically for LGBT patients:

  • Primary care for HIV-positive patients to keep patients living with HIV healthy.
  • Primary care for HIV-negative members of the LGBT community to keep all patients healthy.
  • Affirming gynecological care for lesbians, bisexual women and certain transgender patients.
  • Screening for anal cancer in gay and bisexual men.
  • Culturally-sensitive STD screenings for all patients.
    • Our Gay Men's Health and Wellness/STD Clinic provides free screenings for sexually transmitted diseases every Tuesday and Thursday night.
  • Hepatitis A and B, Gardasil (for human papillomavirus) and other medically-appropriate vaccines are available.
  • The Breast Health Initiative offers access to mammography, clinical breast exams and breast self-exam education. BHI helps women with breast health/chest health concerns navigate the health care system.
  • HIV post-exposure prophylaxis, treating patients with HIV medications to prevent infection after an unsafe sexual encounter.
  • Transgender clients can access services such as hormone and testosterone therapy (with our on-site pharmacy for hormones), and trans-affirmative physical exams, including gynecological exams, STD screening and treatment, and cancer screenings.

Your workplace giving donations support programs like these every day at Whitman-Walker Health.

Please designate Whitman-Walker Health in your workplace giving. If you give through the Combined Federal Campaign, our number is 38871. If you give through the United Way, our number is 8004.

Your donations can help us to save lives. Please give generously.

Mental Illness Awareness Week
Thursday, October 11, 2012


Dr. Yavar Moghimi, Staff Psychiatrist

Yavar Moghimi, MDSince 1990, the first full week of October has been designated Mental Illness Awareness Week.

Mental Illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functions. Mental illnesses affect tens of millions of people each year, only a fraction of who receive treatment. One in 17 Americans lives with a serious mental illness and they are the leading causes of suffering and disability globally.  

The most common mental illnesses are major depression, generalized anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Only 41 percent of Americans with a mental illness receive treatment and 13 percent of that treatment is minimally adequate.  Seventy to 90 percent of those who do receive adequate pharmacological and psychosocial treatment have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life. 

If you are concerned that you or one of your loved ones is affected by mental illness, seek a consultation from your primary care physician or a mental health professional.

Whitman-Walker Health’s Behavioral Health services can be a great resource to someone affected by mental illness. For more information, please call 202.745.7000 and ask for our Behavioral Health department. 

Legal Services - Supported by Workplace Giving
Tuesday, October 02, 2012


Dan Bruner, Director of Legal Services

Dan BrunerTwenty-six years ago, Whitman-Walker was once again a pioneer in the care of people living with HIV/AIDS by offering something that was desperately needed but sorely lacking: legal assistance.

In those days, that assistance often took the form of writing a will and otherwise helping someone get their affairs in order.  In many cases, this was literally done on a patient’s deathbed.

Today, thankfully, our services usually are not being rendered in the waning moments of someone’s life. But Whitman-Walker’s Legal Services program is now serving more people with more diverse legal needs than ever before.  Our clients include WWH patients regardless of HIV status, sexual orientation or gender identity; and Washington-area persons who are living with HIV or who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, whether or not they are medical patients.

We offer counseling and, in appropriate cases, legal representation on matters relating to:

  • Sexual orientation, transgender and HIV discrimination and workplace rights
  • Health, disability and life insurance
  • Public benefits, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security
  • Name and gender change documents for transgender individuals
  • Immigration
  • Medical privacy
  • Wills, advance health care directives, and financial powers of attorney

Legal Services also oversees our Public Benefits Team that screens all WWH patients for public or commercial insurance eligibility, helps them enroll, and advocates for them when problems arise.

Between our full-time legal employees and hundreds of pro bono attorneys, we served more than 2,400 individuals and families in 2011.   

Your workplace giving donations support programs like these every day at Whitman-Walker Health.

Please designate Whitman-Walker Health in your workplace giving. If you give through the Combined Federal Campaign, our number is 38871. If you give through the United Way, our number is 8004.

Your donations can help us to save lives. Please give generously.

Dental Services - Supported by Workplace Giving
Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Dr. Patrick Hughes, Director of Dental Services

Patrick HughesBack in 1987, Whitman-Walker made history by opening one of the first three dental clinics for people living with HIV in the country.

That often comes as a surprise to Whitman-Walker visitors. Dental care is a service we offer that many people don’t hear about.  But, after 25 years, Whitman-Walker’s dental services see approximately 2,500 patients a year, both HIV-positive and HIV-negative.

Whitman-Walker Health offers a full range of dental care and treatment including:

  • Regular exams and cleanings
  • X-rays
  • Fillings
  • Root canals
  • Crowns
  • Extractions
  • Dentures
  • Whitening

DentalWhile many of our patients do have insurance, many do not. Some of our HIV patients receive their care due to support from the Ryan White CARE Act.

This is the kind of service your workplace giving donations support every day at Whitman-Walker Health.

Please designate Whitman-Walker Health in your workplace giving. If you give through the Combined Federal Campaign, our number is 38871. If you give through the United Way, our number is 8004.

Your donations can help us to save lives. Please give generously.

Medical Adherence - Supported by Workplace Giving
Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Justin Goforth, Director of Medical Adherence

provider Justin Goforth When it comes to HIV care (or care for any chronic health condition), the patient’s adherence to their treatment regimen is vital. It can literally mean the difference between life and death.

In 2008, Whitman-Walker created our Medical Adherence unit. Staffed by nurse case managers, the unit works primarily with HIV patients, along with patients with other chronic conditions, to make sure that they stick to their treatment regimen.

Medical AdherenceFor many of our HIV patients, their HIV diagnosis is somewhere down the list of challenges they face. They may not have stable housing or access to food. They may live with family members who don’t know they have HIV. They may deal with addictions or other mental health issues.

For them, these issues may overshadow HIV in importance. As a result, they may miss doctor’s appointments, not refill prescriptions, or not take their medications correctly.

The Medical Adherence unit works with our patients closely to make sure this doesn’t happen. We work with our onsite pharmacy to make sure that our patients are refilling their prescriptions on time. We teach our patients exactly how to take their medications, including filling pill boxes for them and, in some cases, visiting them at home to check on them. We remind them of upcoming appointments.

And we work with them on the other issues in their life that may affect their adherence: housing, food, stigma from family and friends.

And our work has been successful! More than 90 percent of our Whitman-Walker’s HIV patients are on antiretrovirals. And 85 percent of those patients have a suppressed viral load, meaning that their HIV is under control and they are less likely to infect other people.

Compare that to DC as a whole, where only about 30 percent of people living with HIV have a suppressed viral load, and you can see how successful this service is!

This is the kind of service your workplace giving donations support every day at Whitman-Walker Health.

Please designate Whitman-Walker Health in your workplace giving. If you give through the Combined Federal Campaign, our number is 38871. If you give through the United Way, our number is 8004.

Your donations can help us to save lives. Please give generously.

"Red Carpet" Care for New HIV Patients - Supported by Workplace Giving
Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Justin Goforth, Director of Medical Adherence

provider Justin Goforth In last week’s blog, we talked about the primary medical care services that donations from workplace giving support. One of those programs, “Red Carpet,” has become a highly successful part of our HIV treatment services.

“Red Carpet” is the name given to Whitman-Walker’s “rapid visits” system for patients who are new to Whitman-Walker and newly diagnosed with HIV. Under “Red Carpet,” these patients are seen by their entire care team the same day they are diagnosed with HIV or present to WWH or within 24 hours if they are diagnosed in the Gay Men’s Health and Wellness Clinic on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Patients who are new and want to get HIV/AIDS care can walk in to either Whitman-Walker site and ask for “Red Carpet.” They do not need to mention HIV in any way. Our staff will start them through the process

The new patient first meets with a Medical Adherence nurse, who answers questions about the client's diagnosis and gathers information about the client's health and previous care. 

If the new patient is uninsured, they meet with a Public Benefits Coordinator who screens them for insurance eligibility and, if eligible, enrolls them in all applicable public health insurance programs or assigns them to WWH’s sliding fee scale based on their income. 

The patient is seen by an HIV provider who evaluates the patient and orders lab tests, then scheduled for a follow-up appointment where their lab results are reviewed and a medical exam is conducted.  

“Red Carpet” has been so successful that the DC Department of Health required other HIV/AIDS care centers in DC to adopt their own version!

This is the kind of service your workplace giving donations support every day at Whitman-Walker Health.

Please designate Whitman-Walker Health in your workplace giving. If you give through the Combined Federal Campaign, our number is 38871. If you give through the United Way, our number is 8004.

Your donations can help us to save lives. Please give generously.

Primary Medical Care - Supported by Workplace Giving
Wednesday, September 05, 2012


Dr. Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer

provider Ray Martins MDMedical care is one of the main services that Whitman-Walker is known for. Each year, thousands of people come to us for primary medical care, both HIV-positive and HIV-negative.

In 2011, we provided primary medical care to more than 3,000 HIV-positive patients, most of whom were at or below the federal poverty level. In many circumstances, we were their last hope for care.

Where we once provided care to ease the end of our patients’ lives, we are now helping them to truly LIVE with HIV. Today, someone who comes to Whitman-Walker Health for primary HIV medical care can expect to die WITH HIV not FROM HIV. Through our work, we can help people with HIV live full, healthy lives!

Medical ExamToday, 90 percent of our patients with HIV are on antiretroviral medication; more than 80 percent of those on medication have a suppressed viral load, meaning that not only is their health more secure, they are much less likely to infect other people. These numbers FAR surpass the city as a whole, where only about one-third of people living with HIV have a suppressed viral load.

Our Medical Adherence unit works closely with our HIV patients to ensure that they stick to their treatment regimen. And our Red Carpet program gets those newly diagnosed or possibly exposed to HIV into care quickly.

But our medical care doesn’t stop with HIV. Our doors are open to anyone in our community.  Members of the LGBT community, regardless of their HIV status come to us for high quality care that is not only appropriate for their health care concerns but is affirming of them as human beings.

But that care does not come cheaply. While commercial and public insurances cover many of our patients’ costs, it does not always cover everything.

Private donations still provide about one in every five dollars in Whitman-Walker’s annual budget. And, as more and more people walk through our doors every month, the need for donations to help care for our patients will continue to grow.

Your donations through workplace giving campaigns give us a steady stream of funds throughout the year, ensuring that resources for our patients are always available.

Please designate Whitman-Walker Health in your workplace giving. If you give through the Combined Federal Campaign, our number is 38871. If you give through the United Way, our number is 8004.

Thank you for your generosity.

Legal Help for the Disabled
Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Sara Kim Keller, Staff Attorney

Sara Kim KellerWhen “Peter” first came to Whitman-Walker Health Legal Services Program, he was in the middle of a debilitating depressive phase. A long-time sufferer of bipolar disorder, Peter had swung widely from mania to depression, causing him to lose his career and all of his savings in a matter of a few short years. Legal Services connected Peter to our Social Security (SSI/SSDI) Initial Applications Clinic. With the help of specially trained volunteers and staff attorneys, Peter was granted monthly Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. Because of Peter’s strong work history before his disability, he will receive more than $65,000 for the next 12 months in monthly benefits and back payments owed to him.

The SSI/SSDI Initial Applications Clinic is one of the oldest services provided by our Legal Services Program. In existence for over two decades, this evening clinic has helped hundreds of patients navigate through a cumbersome, often bureaucratic, application process for Social Security disability benefits. Focused originally as experts on the HIV/AIDS disability listings, Legal Services attorneys have grown to adapt to the changing needs of our patients. Now, clients often struggle with various disabilities such as recurrent or advanced cancers, mental health issues, heart disease and HIV/AIDS. The attorneys and volunteers with the SSI/SSDI Initial Applications Clinic are well versed and trained to handle any disabling condition and the unique issues that HIV/AIDS adds to their disability.

Trained volunteers complete over sixty pages of application materials in one three-hour appointment. The volunteers chronicle in detail the client’s disabling condition(s), the medical history and 15 years of work history required for the SSI/SSDI application materials. The SSI/SSDI Initial Applications Clinic is held once a month, generally on the fourth Tuesday of each month, from 6:30 to 9:30 pm by appointment.

The Legal Services Program also helps clients appeal denials of their initial SSI or SSDI applications. Our program assists clients file appropriate paperwork to the Social Security Administration, preserving the clients’ appeal deadlines and represents clients in those appeals – either by a staff attorney or a pro bono attorney through the DC Bar Pro Bono Program, where our attorneys mentor volunteer attorneys who take the Social Security appeal case.

The SSI/SSDI Initial Applications Clinic and assistance with Social Security appeals are available to all Whitman-Walker Health patients who are not able to work due to a disability. If you think you could qualify for disability benefits, or have a recent denial of your initial SSI or SSDI applications, contact the Legal Services Program at 202.939.7627.

Asylum Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Thursday, August 23, 2012


Anna Priddy, Staff Attorney

Anna PriddyThanks to Whitman-Walker Health Legal Services Program pro bono attorneys, Rosa is alive and living safely in the United States as an aslyee. Rosa is a 29-year old transgender woman from El Salvador who suffered persecution in her home country due to her gender identity and lived in constant fear for her life. When one of her friends - who was also transgender - was killed by gang members, the police in El Salvador made no effort to investigate the murder. When Rosa was targeted by another group of gang members who threatened to kill her, she fled to the United States. Rosa was granted asylum this year with the help of her volunteer attorneys.    

Whitman-Walker Health’s Legal Services Program has helped many foreign-born clients like Rosa obtain asylum and similar protections in the U.S.  Since 2007, we have provided counseling and representation to over 200 clients from 38 unique countries on asylum matters. To qualify for asylum, a person must prove they have a “well-founded fear” of persecution in their home country due to a protected ground, which includes gender identity and sexual orientation. The application process for asylum is not easy. It can take many months for an attorney and client to prepare the necessary forms, affidavits and legal brief. An applicant can wait anywhere between two months and several years to receive a decision in their case. An asylum grant is worth the effort: a person who wins asylum is protected from returning to their country where they would face certain harm or even death. An asylee can also legally work in the U.S. and is eligible for many public benefits, including public health insurance. After several years of living in the United States, an asylee can become a lawful permanent resident and eventually a U.S. citizen. 

Whitman-Walker Health’s Legal Services Program attorneys provide free counseling on a variety of immigration matters, including asylum, to the DC metro area LGBT community and all patients of Whitman-Walker Health.  

If you or someone you know might qualify for asylum in the United States, or if you are an attorney interested in volunteering with our asylum program, contact Legal Services at 202-939-7627 or by e-mail.

Name & Gender Change Clinic a Success!
Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Amy Nelson, Supervising Attorney

Any NelsonWhitman-Walker Health’s Legal Services Program launched a free, monthly legal clinic for transgender clients in June of 2012, and, after two clinics, we have served more than 30 clients. The clinic is designed to assist clients with changing their name and gender marker on their vital records, identity documents, and other legal instruments. Trained attorneys, working in pairs, meet each client to provide counseling and assistance with the name and gender change processes, including obtaining court orders, changing drivers’ licenses, passports, birth certificates, and other identity documents and public records.  Volunteers also help clients to collect needed letters from their medical providers and seek assistance with court fees where appropriate. 

Each of the June and July clinics was staffed by more than 20 volunteers, providing both administrative and legal assistance.  In total, we welcomed 38 new volunteers to our ranks! Of those 38, 29 are actively barred attorneys and came to us from private practice, the government, bar associations, advocacy groups and public policy organizations.

The response from the community was strong; the June event saw 15 clients, and July’s total was 20.  Of the 15 June clients, at least two were in particularly vulnerable situations due to homelessness, mental health, and/or immigration status, and were new to WWH.  Thanks to the legal clinic, they have been connected to other services within WWH.  July included several clients who are now connected with WWH’s immigration attorneys and medical services.  Our clients ranged in age from 16 to 62, with an average age of 31; 71 percent were DC residents; 65 percent were already connected to services at WWH; and 79 percent had never before met with an attorney about the name/gender change process.

WWH is pleased to partner with TransLAW (Transgender Legal Advocates of Washington), a newly formed group made up of many LGBT policy advocates and allies who have generously donated their time to promote this clinic.

The next two clinics are scheduled for Sept. 12 and Oct. 24 at Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center at 6:30 pm. Interested volunteers and clients should contact Lee Brubaker in Legal Services at 202-939-7627 or e-mail.

Legal Services 101
Friday, August 03, 2012


Dan BrunerIn the 1980s, Whitman-Walker’s then-Executive Director Jim Graham was receiving calls to complete wills for patients who were dying of AIDS. He literally spent time at the death beds of patients making sure their affairs were in order before the end.

That experience led to the creation of the Legal Services Program in 1986 to help people with HIV/AIDS handle legal issues, such as wills and power of attorney documents; discrimination; and disability entitlements.

Today, that small program has expanded to help people truly live with HIV and to help the LGBT community with civil legal needs. 

Virtually everyone living with HIV/AIDS encounters legal problems associated with his or her health status. Many HIV-positive people cannot afford the representation they need to fight for their rights to continue working, maintain access to health care, or ensure their confidentiality. Whitman-Walker’s Legal Services Program is the only Washington, DC, area program offering a wide range of pro bono legal services specifically for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Because of Whitman-Walker’s special mission to the LGBT community, we also offer free legal assistance to individuals on a number of legal matters that are important to LGBT health, including discrimination, access to health care, planning for the future, and immigration.

We offer counseling and, in appropriate cases, legal representation on matters relating to:

  • Discrimination and workplace rights
  • Health, disability and life insurance
  • Immigration
  • Name and gender change documents for transgender individuals
  • Public benefits, including Medicare and Social Security
  • Medical privacy
  • Returning to work after disability
  • Wills, health care directives, and powers of attorney
  • Debtors’ rights

Legal Services oversees our Public Benefits Team that screens all WWH patients for insurance eligibility. 

If you have a legal problem, or you are a client of any Whitman-Walker program, and are a resident of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, our intake coordinator will conduct a telephone interview and our attorneys will review your case to determine how we can assist you.

To contact Legal Services, call 202.939.7627 or e-mail us. We are also available for limited initial consultation on a walk-in basis at our offices at Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center and at the Max Robinson Center, Monday through Friday, 9:00 am until 5:30 pm.  (Walk in’s for Max Robinson Center should arrive prior to 4:00 pm).

The Public Benefits Team operates on a walk-in basis.  Clients are served on a first-come, first-served basis. The main number for the Public Benefits Team is 202.745.6151.

A Leader in Healthcare Equality
Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Don Blanchon, Executive Director

For the second year in a row, Whitman-Walker Health (WWH) was named a “Leader in Healthcare Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. We at WWH  are very grateful for the Foundation’s recognition of the work we do.

From our founding back in 1978, Whitman-Walker Health has been a leader in quality health care for DC’s gay and lesbian community when we opened, then expanding to include the bisexual and transgender communities as the years passed. Our very reason for existence is to create a space where the LGBT community, historically underserved and discriminated against in health care, could receive the high quality and affirming care that they deserve. 

Today, more and more community members are choosing WWH for the integrated primary care services we offer. Why? Because we are an affirming, quality health center that serves those who live and work in our neighborhood. And, while many recognize WWH for our leadership role in the fight against HIV or our public health role in operating our STD clinic for almost 40 years, we are increasingly known for our primary health care services. And we are and will continue to be known as a community health center where anyone can come through our doors and be treated with the respect that they deserve.

All of us at Whitman-Walker Health are proud and honored to be recognized by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation once again. We are part of something larger than ourselves. We exist to care for our community. And we are most proud of our role in caring for metro DC’s diverse LGBT community.

"Five for Pride!
Thursday, June 07, 2012


Don Blanchon, Executive Director

This week, we once again celebrate the DC area’s LGBT community. We get to show the world the amazing diversity of the community. We take the time to reflect on the success we’ve had in reaching full equality for LGBT Americans and acknowledge how far we still have to go.

And we do all of that in a week. Once the festival ends on Sunday, the flags and buttons get packed away for another year. And, on Monday, June 11, we return to the rhythm of our daily lives here in metro DC.

This year Whitman-Walker Health wants you to make a greater commitment to your own health and well-being. That’s why we are asking you to adopt our “Five for Pride” campaign all year long. 

Wondering what “Five for Pride” is?  Well, it is five easy steps we can all take to show Pride in our personal health throughout the year.

1. Get regular HIV/STD tests and cancer screenings. Our LGBT community is at higher risk for infection with HIV and STDs and for developing certain cancers. Regular tests and screenings can help to protect your health.

2. Give time. Volunteer! There are a huge number of LGBT organizations in DC that need your time and talents. Find one that fits you and volunteer.

3. Get a health and wellness check-up. Annual physicals are not only important for keeping a regular eye on your health; they also help to build an ongoing relationship with your provider, an important part of keeping you healthy.

4. Give money. Donate! Don’t have the time to volunteer? Then break out the check book or credit card and make a donation to your favorite LGBT organizations!

5. Get active. Regular exercise is not just about looking good at the club  or the beach. It will also help to improve your physical and emotional health.

 Take your first step and do “Five for Pride” for your health!

A Personal Story of the AIDS Memorial Quilt
Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chip Lewis, Communications Director

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is coming back to DC this summer. Once again, thousands of people will be able to see this traveling national memorial as they visit the standing memorials and monuments of our nation’s capital.

Any mention of the Quilt always stirs up memories of the first time I saw it.

The first time I saw the AIDS Memorial Quilt was in the fall of 1991. A large number of panels were on display at my college and my fraternity was volunteering to help with security and observations.

On the first night of the display, we participated in a candelight march across campus to the university’s main gymnasium where the panels were on display. And, after brief remarks by the president of the gay and lesbian student group, we walked into the gym.

Now, at the time, I was 23 years old and still firmly in the closet with absolutely no plans to ever come out. But what I saw that night changed my life forever.

After what must have been hours wandering among the panels with friends of mine, I was crying so hard, I could barely see. The deep love, creativity and pain in these panels were simply unlike anything I had ever seen before…and the tragedy they represented was overwhelming.

Over the course of that weekend, the emotions continued to pile up. As my fraternity brothers and I created a panel for our brothers who had died; as we watched the documentary “Common Threads;” as I walked up to the main podium and read names of the lost. It was one of those moments that, in advance, you don’t think will be a big deal but turns out to be a life changer.

Within six months of that display, I was out of the closet. While seeing the Quilt was not the last straw for me, it was certainly the first domino. The sense of community, of compassion and of strength in the face of extreme adversity I found that weekend started to unlock everything I had tried to suppress.

I was fortunate enough to see the Quilt twice more, when it was displayed in Washington in its entirety in 1992 and 1996. And, while it did not have the same deep impact it had at my first viewing, it was still a highly emotional experience for me that I will never forget.

Now, the Quilt is returning to DC this summer. I plan to be there. I hope you will come to see it and I hope you will volunteer to help the NAMES Project put on this display. And I hope you will join us for the Washington Nationals game on July 7 to help support both the NAMES Project and Whitman-Walker!

After more than 25 years, the AIDS Memorial Quilt remains a powerful symbol of what the world has lost to HIV/AIDS. We should never forget those who are gone and those who still love and miss them.

Be a part of the Quilt’s return to DC. You will never forget the experience.

Hepatitis Awareness Month
Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Michael Fox, AmeriCorps Member and STD Clinic Volunteer

While April’s STD Awareness Month comes to a close, May continues the pursuit of sexual health through Hepatitis Awareness Month. This is an opportunity to remind providers and the public to get tested, get vaccinated, and become more educated about hepatitis.

Facts about Hepatitis:

  • Hepatitis is caused by a group of viruses that cause an inflammation of the liver
  • Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are the most common forms of hepatitis
  • Vaccinations for Hepatitis A & Hepatitis B are available – there is no vaccination for Hepatitis
Hepatitis A most commonly occurs from ingesting small/trace amounts of fecal material, contact can occur through:
  • Objects and food that are poorly sanitized or have come in contact with fecal matter, or contaminated water
  • Oral-Anal Sex (“Rimming,” “Tossing Salad,” “Analingus”)

Use a barrier such as a dental dam or any available barrier to reduce risk.

If no barrier is available or used, thoroughly cleaning the rectum and genitals will help reduce the risk of transmission.

Get vaccinated to eliminate your risk of infection!

Hepatitis B occurs through the transmission of blood, semen, or other bodily fluids that contain Hepatitis. This can occur through sex, sharing needles, and direct contact with blood/sores.

Hepatitis B is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV (CDC).

Get vaccinated to eliminate your risk of infection!

Hepatitis C most commonly occurs through injection drug use.

Seventy-five to 85 percent of Hepatitis C infections become chronic, or life long, infections (CDC)

Not sharing needles/works eliminates the risk of Hepatitis transmission along with many other STDs. Contact the HIPS Hotline at 800.676.HIPS(4477) for needle exchange information.

Since there is no vaccination, it is important to reduce one’s risk!

Using barriers (condoms, female condoms and dental dams), free Hepatitis A & B vaccinations at WWH's Gay Men's Health and Wellness Clinic**, routine testing, and not sharing needles/works greatly reduces one’s risk in contracting hepatitis and many other STDs. For more information on hepatitis and other STDs, visit the Centers for Disease Control online.

**Gay Men’s Health and Wellness Clinic offers Hepatitis A&B Vaccinations (when available), low-cost hepatitis screening, and other free screening/treatment services. GMHW operates on Tuesday and Thursday evenings starting at 6:00 pm, but arrival between 5:00 and 5:15 pm is often necessary to obtain a spot.

Check Your Breasts!
Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Meghan Davies, Director of Community Health

Do you know how important it is to know how your breasts usually look and feel and what to do if you notice a change? Whitman-Walker Health has teamed up with The Avon Breast Health Outreach Program for more than 11 years to increase awareness of the life-saving benefits of early detection of breast cancer. The Breast Health Initiative at Whitman-Walker Health educates Washington, DC area women and refers them to low-cost or free mammograms and clinical breast exams and provides education on the importance of the early detection of breast cancer.

In 2011, the Breast Health Initiative of Whitman-Walker Health educated more than 1,000 women with information about the importance of early detection of breast cancer, performed and referred more than 650 clinical breast exams and has referred over 600 women for mammograms.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women in the United States. For Hispanic women, it is the leading cause of death from cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death among white and black women. According to the American Cancer Society, 300 new cases of breast cancer will be detected in DC this year and 70 lives will be lost. Nationwide, there is a new diagnosis every three minutes and a death from breast cancer every 14 minutes. While advances have been made in prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure, early detection still affords the best opportunity for successful treatment. Programs such as the Breast Health Initiative of Whitman-Walker Health help ensure that all women have access to early detection information and options.

May is Mental Health Month
Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Steve Geishecker, Director of Behavioral Health

Since 1949, May has been recognized as “Mental Health Month” to raise awareness of mental health conditions and mental wellness for everyone.

Currently, one in four Americans lives with a diagnosable and treatable mental health condition. In the LGBT community and among those living with HIV, we see high rates of depression, self-esteem issues and substance abuse.

Mental health issues can affect work, school, relationships, and your physical health.  But, in order to truly live a healthy life, we have to consider mental health issues as seriously as we treat physical health. Mental health remains an area that is often difficult for patients to talk about with health care providers. Issues of mental health stigma or shame can become an impediment to accessing care. Throw in issues around their sexual orientation or gender identity and the barrier only gets higher. 

Feeling healthy starts with treating of your mind, body and spirit with kindness. Getting treatment or support when you are feeling depressed, anxious or angry Is important. Don’t wait until you find yourself in crisis and out of control. Ask for help. 

Mental health services have been a part of Whitman-Walker from our founding more than 30 years ago. Through both professional employees and highly trained volunteers, we can offer one-on-one counseling and both therapy and support groups. We also provide intensive out-patient addictions treatment with specific programs for the LGBT community.

There is simply no reason to just live with a mental health condition. There are many options available here at Whitman-Walker and in the community for diagnosis and treatment.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health condition, please contact us at 202.745.7000. We are here to help.

Women's Health at WWH
Thursday, May 03, 2012


Dr. Deborah Smith, WWH Gynecologist

As we approach National Women's Health Week, May 13-19, we wanted to re-visit this earlier post from WWH's Gynecologist Dr. Deborah Smith.

Walk through Whitman-Walker’s lobby at any time of day and you’ll see something you may not have seen before: more women.

While Whitman-Walker was always conceived as a place to care for men AND women, the onslaught of HIV/AIDS among gay and bisexual men in the early 1980s led to more men than women coming to Whitman-Walker for care. As more men came to Whitman-Walker for help, a perception grew that services for men were favored over services for women. And a belief was born that Whitman-Walker is only for men.

That simply isn’t true, now or at any time in our history. Yes, a majority of our patients continue to be men. But the number of women who come here for health care continues to grow. With the hiring of a full-time gynecologist, Whitman-Walker is able to offer additional services for women.

Our patient numbers for 2011 tell the story:

  • A 20 percent increase over 2010 in the number of women coming to WWH for care.
  • 1,956 women in medical care, including 948 receiving gynecological care and 637 living with HIV.
  • 451 women in dental care.
  • 235 women in mental health services.
  • 45 women in addictions treatment.
  • Our Breast Health Initiative referred 572 patients for mammograms and referred or performed 554 clinical breast exams. In addition, BHI educated 1,132 women on breast cancer.
  • 691 women were clients of our legal services program.

That’s thousands of women who received some form of care from Whitman-Walker in 2011. And those figures don’t include the women who came just for HIV or STD testing.

So, if you’re looking for high quality and affirming health care, don’t overlook Whitman-Walker Health because you think it’s just for men. The fact of the matter is women have always been a part of our work and always will be.

"Old Age Ain't for Sissies!"
Thursday, April 26, 2012


Dr. Imani Woody, Chair, SAGE Metro DC

When Bette Davis remarked that “Old age ain’t for sissies,” I wonder if she had really had LGBT elders in mind? I mean, she was living in an era where admitting (or someone suspecting) you were LGBT could earn you electroshock treatments and a dishonorable discharge from the military. It was a time where schools and colleges actively sought to have “suspected” LGBT students removed from their campuses and where homosexuality was still classified as a mental disorder by the American Medical Association. Imagine living through an era where you are alone, after you’ve lost your partner and most of your friends to AIDS. Imagine an environment where no one is telling you “It gets better” because it doesn’t. 

You now live alone. You don’t have any children. You used to be active in clubs and volunteer work, but have slowed down because you no longer drive at night. You miss being with people so you sometimes go to a gay friendly establishments to be with people and hear the music. You hear the snickers and see the pointing. You wonder if it is because you have aged. So you go home – alone. You’ve been to the community center but they always tell you that the “senior programs” are full. You begin to wonder if it is because you “look” lesbian/gay/bi/transgender. You need a ride from your chemo appointment. Who can you call? Who is there for you? You recover from an accident and need in-home rehab care. The nursing assistant begins to tell you that s/he will pray for you. Pray for you??? Where will you go? Who will be there for you?

Research has shown that the culmination of life experiences that include prejudice, internalized and external homophobia and attempting to conform to heterosexual norms can affect one’s quality of life, self-esteem and mental health. Combined with the discrimination that comes with aging (and racism and sexism) in our society – a whole new set of issues can ensue including loneliness, isolation, grief and a withering of self-esteem. Consequently, many LGBT elders may find it difficult to access social and community-based services because they have experienced injurious events and rejection.

As a community, we can be part of the solution.  We can work to eliminate barriers to access health care and services; dismantle institutional levels of ageism, sexism, heterosexism and classism, through staffing and policy; provide authentic markings of safety as an older person, a LGBT person, a woman and/or a person of color. We can create environments that celebrate the lives of older LGBT folks. To paraphrase Oprah, “This is what I know for sure.”

Dr. Woody will be a panelist at our April 30 Community Conversation "Improving Health of LGBT Elders" at the DC Center, 1318 U St., NW, at 7:00 pm.

Spring Cleaning with a Twist
Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Naomi Harris, Health Educator and AmeriCorps Member

I love spring cleaning! Something about going through your closets and finding that favorite shirt you thought was long gone or donating that pair of bell bottoms that will never come back in style gives me such a feeling of accomplishment. It’s also a great time to do some upkeep in a lot of other areas. Here’s a few tips on how to do some sexual health spring cleaning:

Know your status.

April is STD Awareness Month. Did you know that one in two sexually active young people will get an STD by the age of 25? Because many STDs can be asymptomatic meaning they don’t show any noticeable signs or symptoms, many people don’t even know they have an STD. The only way to really know for sure is to get screened. Make it a new practice to come in every April!

Out with the old…

Think about where you keep your condoms. Make sure they are in a cool, dry place that isn’t in direct sunlight. Any other environment and you could compromise the condom’s effectiveness. Also, if you usually get intimate with that special someone in the bedroom, keeping your condoms in the bathroom probably isn’t the best idea. The closer and easier to reach, the more likely you will use them when that special time arrives. Lastly, throw out expired condoms and lube! Condoms generally have a shelf life of about four years, so if it has passed its date it will probably break and not do a good job protecting you from unwanted pregnancy and STDs.

…in with the new!

So you have gotten rid of the expired condoms. How about adding some new safer sex materials into the mix? Female condoms are great because they can be inserted hours before sex and protect you from STDs such as herpes and HPV that are spread from skin-to-skin contact. Silicone and water based lubricants both help reduce tearing during sex. Even if you may be loyal to a specific brand or type of condom, try something new! We have a bunch of different types available at WWH (all free) so stop by today.

Happy (safer sex) Spring Cleaning!

April is STD Awareness Month
Monday, April 16, 2012

Justin Goforth, Director of Medical Adherence Unit and STD Clinic

Back in 1973, the Washington Free Clinic housed the Gay Men’s VD Clinic, a volunteer-driven program that gave gay men a safe place to get screened and treated for sexually-transmitted disease (STDs).  

Seeing a larger health care need in the gay and lesbian community, the Gay Men’s VD Clinic separated from the Washington Free Clinic and became Whitman-Walker in 1978.

Today, the Gay Men’s Health and Wellness/STD Clinic continues as a volunteer-driven program for screening and treatment of STDs. And it has operated without interruption since 1973!

STDs remain a large problem in both the LGBT community and the nation as a whole:

  • Each year, there are an estimated 19 million new STD infections in the United States.
  • Youth ages 15–24 have nearly half of all new STDs.
  • In 2008, men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 63 percent of primary and secondary syphilis cases in the United States.
  • People with HIV experience more negative impacts of sexually transmitted infections, such as increased risk of syphilis affecting the brain, human papilloma virus (HPV)-related anal cancer in HIV-positive MSM, and HPV-related cervical cancer and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease in HIV-positive women.
  • Transgender women experience HIV infection at up to four times the national level.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

Play safe. Condoms and other safer sex practices can reduce the risk of STD infections.

Educate yourself. Know the symptoms of an STD and seek immediate treatment if you think you may have one.

Get tested. Many STDs either have no symptoms or can be mistaken for something else. Regular testing will catch any STDs and allow them to be treated.

Talk with your partner. Make sure that you talk openly and honestly with your partners about STDs. Talk about your sexual history and any STDs you may have had.

Stop stigma! There’s no shame when it comes to STDs. Don’t be embarrassed to get tested.

The Gay Men’s Health and Wellness/STD Clinic is open every Tuesday and Thursday night for free screening and treatment. We start seeing patients at 6:00 pm, but get here early, as it fills up fast each night!

HIV and Seniors
Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer

Recently, I diagnosed a man in his 70s as HIV-positive. He was infected through unprotected sex.

Surprised? Many people are. One of the many misconceptions about HIV is that it’s only a problem for younger people.  After all, older people aren’t sexually active so they don’t need to worry.

Wrong. How many commercials do you see now for Viagra or Cialis?

Seniors are remaining sexually active well into their 70s and 80s. Far too many of them are unaware of the risks of HIV or other STDs or feel that they’re too old to be at risk for HIV. Heterosexual seniors are past the point where they need to worry about unintended pregnancy, so they may be less likely to use condoms. As a result, our senior population is at risk for HIV.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that 15 percent of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses are in people over 50. We must remember that a large number of seniors have active sex lives.

Doctors must engage all their patients, including their older patients, on sexual activity and the risk of infection with HIV or other STDs. These sexually-active older patients should also be tested regularly for HIV and other STDs.

The community needs to include seniors in our HIV prevention messages, letting them know that, if they are sexually active, they are at risk for HIV and STDs regardless of their age.

Simply put, age is no barrier to HIV. You can get it just as easily in your 70s as you can in your 20s. Protecting yourself  from HIV is a lifelong endeavor.

AmeriCorps Journal
Monday, April 09, 2012

Nick Choksi, AmeriCorps Member

What is going on with this weather? 50 degrees, 70 degrees, 40 degrees, 80 degrees. Make up your mind, Mother Nature. Every morning it seems has a new surprise in store for us.

I was joking about this with a member of our Peer Support Program recently, and he said, “That’s life. We are lucky to be surprised every day. What fun would it be to wake up every morning with no surprises, knowing every little thing that would happen that day?”

I sat stunned for a moment and then had to admit, “You’re right. That sounds pretty dull.” He said “Consider yourself lucky. Keep me guessing, Mother Nature!”

Every day comes with surprises, some are great surprises, some barely effect you, and some can change the course of a day, month or longer. It is easy to fall into the rut and yearn for the days that sailed on one straight course. Remember those days when you knew what was coming around the corner. Maybe, if you are like me, you sometimes wish you had a to forecast your life.

Many people come to the Peer Support Program because their courses have changed, whether by their own choice or not. It can be difficult to adjust to a new path, and we may sometimes find ourselves reminiscing. It is important to remind ourselves, as this man reminded me, that that’s living: surprises. You can find yourself cursing surprises one day, then blessing them the next. Remember that you have been surprised before, and you will likely be surprised again. While it can be nerve wracking, it can also be very exciting. As the very wise member of the Peer Support Program said, that’s life.

What will the weather be like tomorrow? I have no idea…and I’m excited.

Everyone Needs PALS!
Thursday, April 05, 2012

Meghan Davies, Director of Community Health

Last year, Whitman-Walker Health and Mautner Project launched People Advocating for LGBT Seniors (PALS). PALS is a free program connecting compassionate, trained volunteer visitors with LGBT seniors, aged 55 and older, living at home or in assisted living and nursing facilities.

Far too many LGBT seniors are isolated from their community. Many of them need help to complete daily tasks and remain in their homes. And far too many are isolated from culturally competent health care and other services.

That’s where PALS comes in! We pair up volunteers trained and supervised by Whitman-Walker and Mautner Project with LGBT seniors. These volunteers provide companionship and help, when needed, accessing community, health and government services.

But it’s not just the clients who benefit. PALS involves volunteers in the community and gives them a way to help those in need. And it helps build a sense of true community for younger LGBT volunteers who may not be aware of their own history or the struggles that LGBT seniors went through to improve life for all LGBT people.

Plus, volunteers will meet new people and learn new skills as they work with other volunteers and provide services to LGBT seniors. Adults of all ages are welcome!

To become a volunteer, you will need to be a resident of the Washington, DC metropolitan area aged 18 or older who can make a commitment of at least six months to the program.

To become a client of PALS or to volunteer, call 202.332.5536 and ask for "PALS" or e-mail us.

WWH is for Women Too!
Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dr. Deborah Smith, Gynecologist

Walk through Whitman-Walker’s lobby at any time of day and you’ll see something you may not have seen before: more women.

While Whitman-Walker was always conceived as a place to care for men AND women, the onslaught of HIV/AIDS among gay and bisexual men in the early 1980s led to more men than women coming to Whitman-Walker for care. As more men came to Whitman-Walker for help, a perception grew that services for men were favored over services for women. And a belief was born that Whitman-Walker is only for men.

That simply isn’t true, now or at any time in our history. Yes, a majority of our patients continue to be men. But the number of women who come here for health care continues to grow. With the hiring of a full-time gynecologist, Whitman-Walker is able to offer additional services for women.

Our patient numbers for 2011 tell the story:

  • A 20 percent increase over 2010 in the number of women coming to WWH for care.
  • 1,956 women in medical care, including 948 receiving gynecological care and 637 living with HIV.
  • 451 women in dental care.
  • 235 women in mental health services.
  • 45 women in addictions treatment.
  • Our Breast Health Initiative referred 572 patients for mammograms and referred or performed 554 clinical breast exams. In addition, BHI educated 1,132 women on breast cancer.
  • 691 women were clients of our legal services program.

That’s thousands of women who received some form of care from Whitman-Walker in 2011. And those figures don’t include the women who came just for HIV or STD testing.

So, if you’re looking for high quality and affirming health care, don’t overlook Whitman-Walker Health because you think it’s just for men. The fact of the matter is women have always been a part of our work and always will be.

"+1" for Living with HIV
Monday, March 26, 2012

Michael Fox, Health Educator and AmeriCorps Member

"+1" (pronounced "plus one") is an HIV peer support program at Whitman-Walker Health dedicated to helping newly diagnosed, new to care, or re-entering into care individuals navigate the world of Whitman-Walker and surrounding organizations. 

Our “mentees” learn the ropes from some of our own shining stars here at Whitman-Walker. These mentors are individuals who have been living with HIV for at least two years, living their lives, and are in a place where they are ready to give back to the community.  Providing personal insight, answering those questions a patient may not want to ask a doctor, and willing to meet outside the walls of WWH allow for our mentors to truly provide a unique experience for our mentees.

While our current groups of mentors provide an amazing service, we can always use more dedicated individuals interested in helping our mentees navigate the world of HIV and the surrounding issues. "+1" would love to have new people join our mentors in efforts to establish a stronger community amongst each other and the mentees.

If you know an individual who is newly diagnosed, new to care, or re-entering into care, our "+1" mentors are here to answer any questions you may have regarding keeping medical appointments, taking medications, disclosure, healthy lifestyles, and anything else on your mind.

For more information on becoming a mentor or a mentee please contact Michael Fox, via e-mail or 202.939.7699.

Transgender Health Services at WWH
Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thomas Coughlin, Psychotherapist and WWH Transgender Health Advocate

Historically, the transgender community has been marginalized in society, including when it comes to accessing high quality and affirming health care.

For many years, Whitman-Walker Health has worked to change that. We provide health care services to transgender, gender variant and gender non-conforming individuals and we provide trans-sensitive medical services specific to each individual’s experience. 

In our Behavioral Health program, there are currently two psychotherapy groups to support our clients.  The first, TransSpectrum, is an ongoing psychotherapy group that involves psychosocial support and education for gender variant, transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals age 18-25 years old who may be experiencing some conflict/ambiguity around gender identity and sexual orientation.

TransLives is another ongoing psychotherapy group designed to provide a safe environment for transgender persons to explore bio/psycho/social issues.

We hope that, within these groups, we can also foster a sense of community, building collective resilience to facilitate individual goals.  For more information on either of these groups, please call 202.939.7698 or e-mail

Some transgender folks wish to explore medical options for gender transition.  Our medical providers provide hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, to those individuals where it is medically appropriate.  The process involves a one-time intake appointment with our Patient Advocate who will then set you up to see a medical provider to discuss the start of hormones.  During the intake session, we will learn a bit more about you, what you hope to achieve while working with Whitman-Walker and introduce you to all the services available to you as a patient/client.   

Whitman-Walker’s Legal Services department offers information to those individuals seeking to change identification documents.  Our legal staff may be able to help guide you in your efforts to change name and gender marker on legal documentation. 

In addition to those services available in house, we do our best to connect you to outside resources that may assist and aid in your journey, such as area Electrolysis providers, Metro area peer support groups and websites of interest. 

More than 500 transgender patients came to us for care in 2011. If you are transgender and are looking for high quality, competent and affirming care, this is the place for you.

If you’d like to become a WWH patient, call 202.745.7000, e-mail or start here.

Smoking and the LGBT Community
Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dr. Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer

Smoking continues to be an issue in the LGBT community and Whitman-Walker is here to help.

Nationwide activists, health care providers, and the government are all tackling tobacco. Cities and local establishments are going smoke-free, and ads against smoking are cropping up on billboards, on television, and in magazines.

Most people know that smoking greatly increases risks of cancers, heart disease, emphysema and strokes (to name only a few side effects). While smoking remains an issue for all groups, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities are especially committed to cigarettes: a 2004 study showed adults in these groups are twice as likely to smoke as heterosexuals. LGBT youth are also more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to smoke. Why? A study found that LGBT individuals smoke because:

• It helps cope with stress from stigma and discrimination;

• Individuals are seeking its perceived social acceptance to cope with social isolation and loneliness;

• Bars and clubs have historically been primary social outlets for LGBT individuals (and tobacco goes hand-in-hand with alcohol); and

• The tobacco industry has targeted the LGBT community in their advertising.

How is Whitman-Walker joining in the fight against tobacco? During medical visits, medical providers ask their patients about tobacco use. This opens the door for counseling opportunities with their medical providers and our nurses in Medical Adherence. The patient’s health care team will provide continued support and medication, if needed, for our patients to quit smoking. After all, our number one goal is to ensure that our patients live the healthiest lives possible!

AmeriCorps Journal
Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Naomi Harris, Health Educator and AmeriCorps Member

Happy AmeriCorps Week! Every year hundreds of AmeriCorps members across the country make such a profound impact in their local communities by becoming teachers, helping families who have experienced natural disasters, working with veterans who have served this county, and raising awareness on a number of different health topics.

Through this program, I have been able to combine my love for community service and my passion to fight the HIV epidemic in our nation’s capital. I am proud to be an AmeriCorps member because there is so much emphasis on making an impact on our communities whether it is on a one-on-one basis or working together to accomplish a big project. It’s all about listening to the needs and then working towards a common goal.

This week has nudged me to reflect on my time here in DC. I’ve had a blast with exciting memories such as being in the Capital Pride Parade last year. I have never felt so in tune with a community that day from the smiling faces and everyone celebrating what makes them special and beautiful.

I’ve also had emotional and challenging moments such as the first time I had to tell a client that they are HIV-positive. While I know the facts and HIV is no longer a death sentence, it is still a life long disease that changes someone’s life forever. Nothing really prepared me for that moment, but that person just needed someone to talk to and I was able to be there and link them to care immediately.

As the Volunteer Coordinator in Community Health, I get the honor to engage and get our volunteers excited to spend their time educating other people on HIV prevention, safer sex practices, and creating open and safe spaces where HIV can be discussed. Empowering others to become leaders in their own communities is such an amazing thing to watch blossom.

My time as an AmeriCorps member has changed my perspective from focusing on “How can I fix this situation?” to “How can I serve these people to the best of my ability?”

As I further my career in public health, I will also look back to this time as a reminder of why I care about ending the HIV epidemic in my lifetime. Everyone deserves to live a healthy life. Whether they are HIV-negative and want to stay negative or they are HIV-positive and are working with a physician to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s all about serving that person where they are and I am grateful to AmeriCorps for showing me that every day.

Please visit the AmeriCorps website to check out what my fellow members are doing this week and all year long in your own neighborhood.

The Gay Men’s Health and Wellness Clinic - Nearly 40 Years of Care
Thursday, March 08, 2012

Justin Goforth, Director of the Gay Men's Health and Wellness Clinic

Richard Nixon was president. American involvement in the Vietnam War was ending. “The Exorcist” was the top movie of the year. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree” was the number one song of the year. It was 1973.

Four years after the Stonewall riots launched the LGBT rights movement and four years before Harvey Milk gave the movement a face, the Gay Men’s VD Clinic was launched by the Washington Free Clinic.

The idea was simple. At a time when gay or bisexual men were afraid to go to their regular doctors for treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, the Gay Men’s VD Clinic provided free, non-judgmental screening and care.

Today, nearly 40 years later, that Clinic, now re-named the Gay Men’s Health and Wellness Clinic, still provides free, non-judgmental screening and care for STDs every Tuesday and Thursday night.

Operated by volunteers and staffed by medical professionals, the Gay Men’s Health and Wellness Clinic is one of Whitman-Walker’s most-used services, often reaching its capacity as soon as it opens at 6:00 pm.

Walk through the lobby on any Tuesday or Thursday night, and you’ll see it full of a diverse group of people: young, old, black, white, Latino, Asian, men and a few women. While the majority of people who come on Tuesday and Thursday nights are gay or bisexual men, there are a number of women and straight men who come for the services.

In a way, that reflects the changes in society from the early ‘70s. Where there were once separate services for gay and straight, there are now open doors for all. Now, gay and straight people come to the Gay Men’s Health and Wellness Clinic because they know they will receive not just free, non-judgmental care but high quality care.

In the intervening 39 years, the Gay Men’s Health and Wellness Clinic has not missed a single night of operation apart from weather or emergency closings, an amazing record for a program driven by volunteers. It’s a testament to the dedication of those initial volunteers, who saw a vital need, provided it, and then passed on that commitment to subsequent generations.  And it remains a valuable community resource.

Success in 2011!
Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Don Blanchon, Executive Director

On Monday, we announced what a success 2011 was for Whitman-Walker Health.

There was a lot of data in our announcement, but here are the highlights:

  • More than 15,500 individuals came to us for services in 2011, a 20 percent increase over 2010.
  • Our patient base has nearly doubled in the last five years.
  • One in seven of our patients lived in Ward 7 and 8 - a 68 percent increase over 2010.
  • The number of self-identified lesbian, gay and bisexual patients increased by 77 percent since 2006, while the number of transgender patients increased by 185 percent.
  • We administered more than 10,600 HIV tests, nine percent of all the HIV tests administered in the District of Columbia.
  • High quality of care indicators that often exceeded our own goals and national standards.
  • A $2.6 million operating gain, capping a nearly $7 million turnaround since 2007.

This success would not have been possible without the hard work of the Whitman-Walker family, our Board of Directors and our employees, and the support of our community: our donors, our volunteers and, most importantly, our patients.

But we're not slowing down in 2012. We are planning investments that will improve our ability to care for our community. And we're setting long range plans to make sure that Whitman-Walker is at the forefront of providing high quality health care.

To do that, we'll continue to need your help. Donate, volunteer, become a patient, sign up for our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels and our e-newsletter. Refer your friends to do the same.

Together, we'll make 2012 another successful year for Whitman-Walker Health!

Come Out for Health!
Thursday, March 01, 2012

Dr. Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer

The month of March sees the annual National LGBT Health Awareness Week, organized by the National Coalition for LGBT Health. This year’s Week, March 26-30, has the theme of “Come out For Health.”

That may not seem like a big thing to do, but it’s very important for both you and your health care provider.

Like all patients, LGBT patients benefit from an open and honest patient-provider relationship and communication.

Being open about your sexual orientation or gender identity with your provider allows for a more fulfilling relationship and allows for more accurate diagnoses. This allows your medical provider to address LGBT health disparities to better focus tests, exams, and vaccinations.

Unfortunately, too many LGBT people remain “in the closet” in the medical exam room. They are afraid of discrimination or harassment if they come out to their provider, which, unfortunately, can sometimes be a reasonable concern.

But it’s important to be open and out with your health care team. If your provider does respond with a discriminatory attitude, you can find a provider who is LGBT-friendly. At Whitman-Walker, we have 14 providers experienced in providing high quality care for the unique health care concerns of the LGBT community. 

Your provider is relying on you to give them the information they need to help you protect your health. Be open with your health care provider so you can receive the high quality care you deserve.

The Impact of Peer Support Groups
Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nick Choksi, AmeriCorps Member, Coordinator of WWH Peer Support Program

This past week, I have had the opportunity to be one of the lucky winners of the DC jury duty lottery. I have spent the days performing my civil duty and the ensuing evenings at WWH making sure I do not let anybody in our Peer Support Program slip through the cracks. I have not often had the opportunity to see patients and clients come in for our late night “events,” such as our support groups and one-on-one sessions. It is not something I originally thought would be much different from daytime Whitman-Walker Health, but it has been an interesting new experience for me.

As the coordinator of the Peer Support Program, I regularly have intake meetings with anybody interested in joining the program. These face-to-face meetings are generally the last time I actually get to shake our clients’ hands and see their faces. Beyond the intake meeting, my contact is almost solely via telephone or e-mail. Being at Whitman-Walker Health later at night, I now get to see many of them again, and it is always a great occurrence.

Some of the people I see have been in one-on-one or support group sessions for months, some weeks, and some are coming for only their second session. However, almost without exception, there is a visible difference in them. Their faces are a little brighter, they flash an extra smile, and speak with more confidence. It seems that no matter how the conversation starts, after the initial pleasantries, clients are singing praises about their peer helpers.

It is amazing what honest conversations can do for a person’s demeanor and overall well-being. We often confide in our closest friends and, on the surface of things, it can seem that having a dedicated peer helper may not be so different. However, simply the knowledge that you can rely on somebody to dedicate an hour or more to speaking with you each week can lift a tremendous weight off of your shoulders. It is surprising how great an impact an impartial, caring human-being can have on you in only one meeting. You may surprise yourself with the number of thoughts and emotions you naturally hold back from somebody close to your life.

The Peer Support Program continues to offer one-on-one counseling and a number of support groups for any person with any issue. If you are interested learning more about how a dedicated peer helper or support group can help you, please call 202.797.3580 or e-mail. Our peer helpers are ready to sit down with you.

Therapy Groups & Support Groups: What's the Difference?
Thursday, February 16, 2012

Steve Geishecker, Director of Behavioral Health

If you’ve looked at the mental health services that Whitman-Walker Health offers, you’ve seen that we offer both therapy groups and support groups. And, like many people, you may ask “what’s the difference?”

Therapy groups are a tool of psychotherapy. They are designed to help participants deal with a mental health disorder or bring about a social adjustment. For example, many of the therapy groups offered at Whitman-Walker are geared toward people with mental health issues like depression or mood disorders. These groups are led by professional counselors, social workers and psychologists. Typically, the clinicians have educational background and advanced training in specialty areas. These professional services are billed to insurance.

Support groups are designed to build a base of support for patients with issues in their lives who don’t necessarily require psychotherapy. For example, the support groups at Whitman-Walker focus on helping people deal with transitions in their lives, such as coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, dealing with an HIV diagnosis or navigating the end of a relationship. While these are serious issues, they usually don’t rise to the level of needing psychotherapy. Our support groups are facilitated by a talented pool of non-professional volunteer peer counselors who are given basic training in counseling skills and group facilitation. Supports groups are free of charge yet donations are welcomed.

If therapy group is something that you feel would be helpful to you, please contact us at 202.939.7623. You will need to complete a mental health phone screen, after which you will be scheduled to speak to one of our clinicians regarding your behavioral health needs. If a peer-led support group is more appropriate for you, you can schedule an intake by calling 202.797.3580

Leaving mental health issues untreated can be debilitating and can lead to actions that could endanger your health and your life. If you or someone you know needs help, please contact us. We can help.

Happy Valentine’s Day!
Monday, February 13, 2012

Meghan Davies, Director of Community Health

While most of the world thinks of things like flowers, candy and romantic dinners to show your love, we here at Whitman-Walker Health have a slightly different idea!

What could show your love more than making sure you and your partner are free of HIV and STDs and protecting yourselves from infection? Or if you or your partner is HIV-positive, what is sexier than protecting yourselves from infection or reinfection?

Okay, to you it may not sound as romantic as the flowers, candy and dinners. But to me, nothing could be more romantic.

HIV and STD rates in DC are so high that everyone who is sexually active is at risk. And, just because you’re in a monogamous relationship now doesn’t dismiss your or your partner’s sexual past. HIV and many STDs can show no symptoms, so the only way to know if you have them is to get tested.

So what do you need to do? First of all, get tested for HIV and STDs regularly and before you become sexually involved with someone. That way, both of you will know exactly where you stand and can make an informed decision about how you want to proceed.

Many couples come to Whitman-Walker to get tested together. Our HIV and much of our STD testing are free of charge. And, if you do have HIV or another STD, we can get you into treatment right way.

Second, always use condoms and other safer sex methods to protect you and your loved ones from STD and HIV infection. Whitman-Walker can provide condoms and other resources free of charge.

With such high HIV and STD rates, it’s important to not leave the health of you and your partner to chance. Come into Whitman-Walker for testing and learn how you can protect yourself and your partner in the future.

Need to Talk?
Thursday, February 09, 2012

Steve Geishecker, Director of Behavioral Health

Need to talk? Feel like you’re all alone in what you’re going through? WWH’s Behavioral Health department is here to help.

Mental health services have been a part of Whitman-Walker since our founding in 1978. Our services promote the mental health of our patients and their loved ones through a wide variety of both professional (individual therapy, group psychotherapy, psychiatric assessment and medication management) and peer based services (peer one-on-one counseling and peer support groups).

Individual counseling is available through staff psychiatrists, psychotherapists and social workers. One-on one peer counseling is also available from specially-trained volunteers for specific LGBT and HIV/AIDS-related concerns, including coming out, coming out of marriage, HIV status, relationships, gender identity and friends/family members.

Therapy and support groups are also available. Therapy groups are led by professional mental health staff and address many concerns for which people who are LGBT and people living with HIV/AIDS who may seek support. Support groups are led by volunteer facilitators and also touch on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.

Whitman-Walker Addiction Services (WWAS) provides outpatient addictions treatment. The program is staffed by addiction treatment professionals and specially- trained volunteers. Group and individual counseling are available to help address the consequences of substance abuse while transitioning to a clean and sober lifestyle.  

We also operate Day Treatment centers that provide a supportive community where clients with HIV/AIDS can receive medical/nursing care, counseling, help in adhering to their treatment regimen, socialization and other services.

Good mental health is a vital part of living a truly healthy life. For more than 30 years, Whitman-Walker has worked to improve the mental health of our patients through a variety of treatment options.

If you would like to access mental health services at Whitman-Walker, please call 202.939.7623.

Austin Center Celebrates 20 Years
Tuesday, February 07, 2012

David Facenda, Clinical Program Manager, Austin Center

For those of you unfamiliar with us, I should first explain that the Austin Center is a day treatment program of Whitman-Walker Health that serves adult DC residents living with HIV/AIDS. And we just turned 20!

Some of  you may recall your 20th birthday but, as I get older, I am forgetting the details. What I do remember is where HIV/AIDS care was in this city 20 years ago when the Austin Center first opened its doors.

Back in 1992, wheelchairs, IV poles, and memorial services were the norm at the Austin Center. In 2012, that may still occur but to a much lesser degree thanks to advances in HIV care and treatment. Today, we focus more on a client’s HIV education and knowledge, treatment adherence, improving lab numbers, sobriety anniversaries, and returning to work or school.

One fact that has remained constant over these past 20 years has been our dedication to improving the quality of life through health education and emotional/psychological support. This was evident during the recent 20th Anniversary Open House held at the Austin Center on January 25 for current and former clients and staff. We had more than 100 people in attendance. The celebration was full of music, games (Austin Center’s version of Jeopardy), and clients sharing how the Austin Center “rescued” them and helped them turn their life around. The mood was very upbeat as guests mingled and shared memories of “the old days” and caught up by celebrating successes in the present.

As we look to the future, the Austin Center will continue as a safe place to share, a family to those that never felt like they belonged somewhere, a space to laugh and cry, and an opportunity to make positive changes. It can be summed up by a statement made at our recent anniversary, “It’s a place where I can be myself.”

Five Years Later: the Reunion of Whitman-Walker and the Washington Free Clinic
Friday, February 03, 2012

Don Blanchon, Executive Director

This past Monday--Jan. 29, 2012--was not just any other day in the life of Whitman-Walker Health.  It was an anniversary date of sorts that warrants both reflection and celebration.  The day marked the fifth  anniversary of the reunion of the Washington Free Clinic with Whitman-Walker Health.

So, first, let’s take a look back at our public announcement in 2007…

“Whitman-Walker Clinic is proud to join forces with such an important community institution as the Washington Free Clinic. This important development allows us to realize our strategic objective to become the highest quality community health center in the metropolitan Washington area serving the medically underserved; the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; and people living with HIV/AIDS.”

Five years ago, this public statement signaled a big change in the delivery of community—based primary health care services in DC.  After more than three decades of compassionate care and dedicated service, the Washington Free Clinic (WFC) was closing its doors. To prevent any disruption for their patients and to help Whitman-Walker expand its primary health care services, WFC employees, volunteers and nearly all of their patients joined Whitman-Walker’s health center family. 

Then consider the magnitude of bringing two community organizations together... 

This reunion—this change—was welcomed by many in the community.  Individual patients, private and public funders, and local elected officials all supported it as a way to honor the numerous contributions that WFC made to our community over the years and as a way to strengthen Whitman-Walker Health’s future in an increasingly complex health care system. 

And yet like most changes in our lives, there was a healthy skepticism in some parts of our community about this reunion. WFC supporters were unsure that this transition would be a smooth one for its patients, employees and volunteers.  The most vexing question would be whether patients would continue to seek care at a new location with such a strong community brand for its work in HIV/AIDS and LGBT health. And for some of WWH supporters, they viewed this as another example of Whitman-Walker moving away from the LGBT community. 

Now celebrate the realities of such a reunion five years later…

Most former WFC patients continue to receive high quality care here at Whitman-Walker Health. They do so in an affirming and culturally competent setting and have access to an expanded array of health and health-related services. And by expanding our primary care services, Whitman-Walker Health can now better care for DC’s diverse LGBT community. In fact, more LGBT community members are now seeking basic primary health care from Whitman-Walker Health.      

And lastly, take a few minutes to reflect on this perspective…

Think back to your family either the one you are born into or the one you have made. It is often true that the adult child ultimately cares for the aging parent. Then reflect on the WFC-WWH reunion. Whitman-Walker Health was the adult child of the Washington Free Clinic. WWH was borne out of WFC’s Gay Men’s VD Clinic which opened in 1973, and five years later, became Whitman-Walker Clinic. As the aging parent, the Washington Free Clinic’s life journey ended just a few years ago. Yet WFC lives on in our memories, our daily actions, and our unwavering commitment to compassionate, culturally competent, high quality care for our patients. And, like most families, WWH will forever hold onto our parent—the Washington Free Clinic-- in our hearts and minds. 

How will WWH honor and respect our parent now and in the future? By living our mission of caring for our community each and every day.

What is Your Relationship to Drugs and Alcohol?
Monday, January 30, 2012

Josh Riley, Behavioral Health Manager, Addiction Treatment Services

Last week, we held the first of several community conversations; this one on substance use in the LGBT community. We heard a variety of perspectives from the panel and audience. It was a fascinating and interactive discussion. 

Naturally, much of the discussion turned to how we relate to one another: how we meet, flirt, hook up, etc., and the intersection of socializing with substance use. There was some discussion about how the presence and use of some substances (methamphetamine and other cub drugs) has shifted from the clubs and bars to the internet. This is a shift that’s been recognized for a while I think but we took it a step further and talked about how this shift affects the context of socializing--if we are online a lot, whether to use or hook up, what does this do to the quality of our relationships and how does substance abuse fit in? As a community how are we responsible for one another and for helping one another see if we have a problem in our relationship to alcohol and drugs? It was a great conversation, and one that I hope we will continue.  

I’ve often used a relationship analogy to describe how alcohol and drugs function in our lives: that is, like all relationships, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t and we need to make a change. I believe it is possible to understand and re-negotiate our relationship to drugs and alcohol through therapy, counseling, and other forms of treatment. For many, abstinence is the best way to interrupt and eliminate the negative consequences of using. Many clients choose abstinence, even for a limited period of time, as a means to better understanding the role drugs and alcohol play in their lives and to help regain control over their using. For some clients, this journey results in the recognition that abstinence must be a lifelong goal and that drugs and alcohol are too ruinous to be in their life at all.  

Other clients are able to regain control and re-negotiate their relationship to drugs and alcohol and find ways to use that minimize harm to themselves and others. They may quit one thing but keep using another periodically. Each person’s journey is different. The most important questions to ask ourselves in negotiating our relationship to substance use (indeed, our relationship to all things, really) are: does my use of this substance estrange me from the things that matter most to me? Does it distort my relationships? My self-esteem? My connection to what’s important, or to my sense of purpose and meaning? There are many other questions to ask, but getting the community together to ask them again was a great opportunity and a great start.

If you’ve been asking yourself any of these questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of the addiction therapists. WWH offer one-on-one therapy, evening outpatient and intensive outpatient treatment, a harm reduction program, a DUI offenders course, Suboxone replacement therapy, and support for family and friends.

Substance Use: An Honest Conversation
Thursday, January 19, 2012

Josh Riley, Behavioral Health Manager, Addiction Treatment Services

“He was sitting across from me, red-faced and shouting saying that until I quit smoking pot I shouldn’t bother to come back to see him and that there was nothing he could do for me. Needless to say, I didn’t go back.” 

This is how a client I saw recently explained his first experience with a therapist to whom he had revealed his drug use. Instead of being offered information and support, this client was yelled at and shamed for being honest about his behavior.  

This client had come to Whitman-Walker to enroll in our DUI/DWI program for first-time offenders. This program uses a nationally recognized curriculum aimed at helping people who have been charged with a DUI/DWI to better understand their using, set goals, make changes, and avoid driving under the influence in the future.

What’s so ironic and terrible in this scenario is that by the time he was arrested and subsequently came to see me, this client had already tried to seek help and had been shamed and turned away by a helper. This shouldn’t happen. I believe that while “hitting bottom” as a result of substance abuse can be a motivator to get help, it is not necessary. This client didn’t have to end up arrested for driving under the influence; he had attempted to seek help before his using took a greater toll on his life and he was unable to get help.  

As human beings, we choose to do potentially risky behaviors all the time, even when the risks are clear (driving a car, playing sports, having sex, building a fire, falling in love, you name it!). What matters is to be as honest and accountable to yourself and to others as you can so that you understand and own the risks and potential consequences of your behavior and the possible benefits. This client was attempting to do this. He wasn’t a drug addict, he was a college student experimenting with drugs, and he reached out to better understand what was going on for him and the role drugs were playing in his life.

The trouble is, having this honest, accountable conversation with yourself gets harder and harder as using becomes more chronic. Alcohol and drug use can and does cloud our judgment and our thinking, and addiction has a logic all its own. This client was trying to avoid getting to this point and he didn’t get the support he needed.

No one sets out to become an alcoholic and a drug addict or to reap negative consequences from using. The progression from experimenting with drugs and alcohol, to recreational use, to regular use, to abuse, and to dependence and addiction doesn’t happen overnight and, usually, there are moments of clarity and worry, moments where we might seek help before things get too bad. 

Usually, we start using drugs or alcohol for seemingly good reasons, fun and adaptive reasons--and the truth is, a significant majority of people experiment with and use drugs and alcohol in ways that are not too harmful to themselves and others, sometimes for a very long time. But for some, substance use turns to abuse and dependence, and the harmful consequences of using begin to outweigh what they once got out of using. The balance shifts. When this begins to happen, we need to be able to talk about our using and to understand the risks and consequences of continuing. It is at this critical moment that non-judgmental, non-shaming, fact-based information and support is so critical.

Wherever you are in your using, if you are concerned about consequences, worried that you’re using too much, worried that sex is getting out of hand, or have any other concerns, start having the conversation with someone you trust. Don’t wait and, if you encounter ignorance or judgment, move on. 

Next week, we starti just such a conversation, exploring the state of alcohol and drug use in the LGBT community. Please join us in the conversation.

What's WWAS?
Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Josh Riley, Behavioral Health Manager, Addiction Treatment Services

WWAS is the acronym for Whitman-Walker Addiction Services, the second oldest program of the health center. The department offers a continuum of services to those struggling in their relationship to drugs and alcohol. 

Started in the late '70s as an alcoholism hot line, the program continues to this day and is recognized as a leader in providing substance abuse treatment to the lgbt community and others struggling with addiction. In recent years, WWAS has developed particular expertise in working with methamphetamine users. All staff are licensed mental health clinicians with a masters degree or higher.  See the behavioral health staff directory to get to know us better.

When people in the community say “WWAS” they are often referring, not to the department as a whole, but specifically to the evening outpatient treatment program, which has existed in some form since 1983.

Outpatient treatment is abstinence-based and consists of a combination of group and individual therapy, educational sessions, family sessions, an alumni group, and psychiatry (if needed). The program lasts between five months to up to a year depending on treatment needs. The program integrates elements of both the Matrix model and the 12-step/recovery model.  

In addition to outpatient treatment, we also offer one-on-one substance abuse-focused therapy at both the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center and the Max Robinson Center. For those who are considering making changes to their substance use but are not pursuing abstinence, we offer a harm reduction program in both a one-on-one and group setting. Whitman-Walker also maintains a sober living house which is an option for those enrolled in outpatient or intensive outpatient treatment.  

WWAS continues to grow and change to best meet the needs of clients and the community. Look for more growth and change in the department in the year ahead including enhanced services for transgender clients, the introduction of medication-assisted treatment, and enhanced support for families and friends of users. We look forward to hearing from the community about what more we can do at the upcoming Community Conversation on Jan. 26.

If you or someone you know is struggling in relation to drugs and alcohol, consider including WWAS as part of your care team. Look for more this month about WWAS and about substance abuse in general.

Happy...and Healthy...2012!
Thursday, January 05, 2012

Dr. Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer

It’s a new year. How many resolutions did you make to be healthier in 2012? Did you resolve to lose weight, get more exercise or eat healthier? Those are all great resolutions and will definitely improve your health. But there are some others that fewer people think about but are important to good health. And Whitman-Walker Health can help you with all of them!

Get an annual physical and all of the recommended regular exams. An annual physical will give you and your provider a chance to monitor your health and see if any changes have occurred that might indicate any problems. And, based on your age and gender, there are regular exams you should have, including gynecological exams for women and cancer screenings for men.

Make sure your vaccinations are up to date. When was your last tetanus shot? Vaccines may seem like more of a concern for children, but there are a number of vaccinations that adults should have as well. 

Get regular dental checkups. Visits to the dentist are no one’s favorite thing, but they are important. Many serious health conditions can start from poor oral hygiene. It’s important to see a dentist every six months.

Get tested for HIV and other STDs. HIV and STD rates are high in the LGBT community. Getting regular testing will ensure that you get proper treatment if you’ve been infected with an STD.

Deal with pressing issues. Ever feel depressed or isolated? Do you have concerns about your use of alcohol or drugs? Good mental health is just as important as physical health. You’d be amazed how much your life can improve once you deal with such issues.

Tie up legal loose ends. While it may be unpleasant to think about, none of us know when death or disability may strike. It’s important to have your legal matters resolved before then with wills, living wills, power of attorney agreements, estate planning and provisions for care of your loved ones all prepared and ready for use.

There’s more to good health than most people think of in their usual new year’s resolutions. Whitman-Walker stands ready to help you with any or all of these services. Call 202.745.7000 or e-mail to make an appointment.

The Road Behind...and Ahead (Part Two)
Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Don Blanchon, Executive Director

Last week, I recapped our great successes in 2011.

So what’s next for WWH in the new year? 

Our new financial reality gives us the opportunity to do something unheard of just a few years ago: invest in WWH in the very people and systems that help us provide high quality services. 

We will make further improvements to our electronic health record and other critical IT systems, and work to address our short-term space needs.

We will begin to invest in a Patient-Centered Medical Homes initiative that will greatly impact how our patients receive care.

We will hold a series of Community Conversations throughout the year to talk with the public about health care issues that face the LGBT community. And we’ll launch an advertising and online campaign that tells our community’s stories about their experiences with Whitman-Walker.

And we’ll do all of this while caring for thousands of patients, administering thousands of free HIV tests, producing “Be the Care,” our Spring fund raiser on April 19, and AIDS Walk in October, and helping Washington  prepare to host the International AIDS Conference in July.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Well, it is. And it’s going to take the entire Whitman-Walker family –including YOU--to make it all happen. We cannot fulfill our mission without you and the continued support of our community.

And I’m not just talking about donations. I’m talking about volunteering in some capacity, of providing feedback to us about our work, of letting us know what you think we should do.

Throughout our nearly 40 years of service, Whitman-Walker has responded to the needs of our community. We have continually adapted and evolved as the community around has changed.

2012 will be no exception. We want all of you to be a part of who we are and what we do. And we look forward to having you join us for another great year!

I wish you and your loved ones a happy, healthy and safe new year.

AmeriCorps Journal
Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nick Choksi, AmeriCorps Member, Behavioral Health

In the midst of the holiday season (which apparently started at midnight on Nov. 23), I reach my three-month landmark at Whitman-Walker Health. This will soon surpass any internship I have had and become my longest working engagement. In my short time so far at Whitman-Walker Health, this institution has already made it very apparent to me why it stands out among the rest. The pride and passion that surround and drive Whitman-Walker is truly awe-inspiring.

Last weekend, I organized a volunteer training event led by Josh Riley, Behavioral Health Manager in Addiction Treatment Services. The community’s respect for Whitman-Walker and its passion for helping have never been more apparent to me. As I sat in a conference room with almost 20 new volunteers, I thought about the commitment they were making and why they were choosing to make it. Some of our volunteers are previous consumers of Whitman-Walker services and some have never been affiliated with Whitman-Walker before. However, all of them have that special ability to step outside of their own body and understand life from another point of view. When I leave Whitman-Walker and go home at the end of the day, microwaving a plate of dinner and grabbing the remote control is about what I consider the limits of my mental and physical capacity. However, our volunteers are all willing to give up that sacred relaxation to sit down with a total stranger and donate an hour of their time to make that person feel less alone.

As we reach the peak of the holiday season, donating and philanthropy rocket to the top of priority lists. The volunteers of Whitman-Walker, however, never let those ideals slip from their high rungs and donate their time year-round. Although it has taken me three months (and a weekend of curiously sitting in a room with a fresh batch of volunteers) to realize the power of community caring, as coordinator of a program that operates solely on time donated by volunteers, it is not something I will soon forget.

The holiday season is a great time to think about what we have and what we can give. For me, this year’s holiday season has forced me to reconsider my definition of giving, and has provided me with a deep appreciation for the Whitman-Walker volunteers.

The Road Behind...and Ahead (Part One)
Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Don Blanchon, Executive Director

Where did 2011 go? It’s amazing to think that another year has gone by.

It’s safe to say that 2011 was one of the most successful years in Whitman-Walker’s history.

We started the year by announcing that we had finished 2010 with an operating gain, the first time we’ve done that in a decade.

Soon after that announcement, we formally launched our new logo and name, Whitman-Walker Health, and embarked on an extensive campaign to educate the community about the breadth of our services.

In September, we completed a much-needed renovation of patient service areas in Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center, improving patient flow, expanding the size of our pharmacy, and bringing a welcoming new look to the lobby. Now, we are finishing up similar renovations to the patient space at Max Robinson Center.

We staged a very successful AIDS Walk that has so far raised nearly $1 million, despite Mother Nature’s lack of cooperation.

This past year has also brought many distinctions of merit to Whitman-Walker, including the “Clinic of the Year” award from the Capital City Area Health Education Center and the Medical Society of the District of Columbia’s John Benjamin Nichols Award for Outstanding Contributions to Community Health. We were also named one of 27 “Leaders in LGBT Healthcare Equality” in the nation by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

We did all of this while serving more patients this year and maintaining and improving our already high standards of quality care.

All of this success would not have been possible without YOU!  You support our mission through your time, your talents and your financial means.  You hold us accountable for living our mission of caring and honoring our commitment to metro DC’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and persons living with HIV/AIDS. Simply put, you ARE Whitman-Walker Health.  And we all thank you for your great part in what we have done in 2011.

Looking back at our accomplishments for this year, we can all take great pride in what we have done.

But we can’t rest on our laurels. And we can’t get complacent. There are still ways to improve our high quality care, more efficient ways to do our work, and health care needs in the community that we need to address.

That’s why we are taking on a whole new set of challenges for 2012. What are those challenges? Come back next week for part two!

AmeriCorps Journal
Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Naomi Harris, AmeriCorps Member, Community Health

It’s my favorite time of year! Lights are everywhere, everyone is bundled up to fight the cold weather, and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” is blasting every 15 minutes on the radio. My favorite holiday memory involves my uncle dressing up as Santa Claus on Christmas Day and leading everyone in a marathon of holiday songs in his thick Jamaican accent. You haven’t experienced the holiday spirit until you hear his special reggae remix of “Jingle Bells”…trust me.

My time as an AmeriCorps member has given me the unique opportunity of doing community service every Wednesday in different organizations through the DC metro area. I get to serve meals, play with kids, clean rooms, and simply interact with people that may not have too many visitors otherwise. It’s a very rewarding experience that I hope to continue long past the end of my AmeriCorps year of service.

With all of the great moments I have had volunteering thus far, this time of year reminds me of how not everyone is able to be with the ones they love. How just being able to put food on the table is a present in itself. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement and overlook the needs in our community.

This time of year is all about giving to those that you love. I’m going to focus more on giving to others in need. Whether it’s donating money to a local organization (Whitman-Walker is a great choice, though I’m clearly biased), donating to a toy drive, or delivering a meal to a shelter in need, I urge you all to become honorary AmeriCorps members and do some service in your own community.  No matter if you celebrate this holiday season or you don’t, giving to other people who need a hand is something that we all can do more of this December and all year long.

Holiday Blues
Thursday, December 08, 2011

Josh Riley, Behavioral Health Manager, Addiction Treatment Services

The holidays can be a joyful time of fellowship, gratitude, and renewal. However, for many, the holidays are stressful and at times depressing; some describe this feeling as “the holiday blues.” Social commitments can put more demand on us, obligations to family and others increase, and juggling finances and gift-giving can add extra strain. 

For gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, the holidays can be a particularly challenging and sometimes depressing time. For those who remain connected to family, coming out or being out to family members can be stressful, including bringing home a partner or boy/girlfriend, figuring out sleeping arrangements, and navigating a host of other seemingly insignificant but often challenging social decisions. It can be exhausting.

Some LGBTindividuals may have lost touch with or be estranged from family. If this is the case, the holidays can be a confusing, depressing, and upsetting reminder of loss. Even when holiday stress is minimal, the changing season, lack of light, and shorter day can contribute to depression.

For those who experience the holiday blues, there are steps to take to help mitigate stress and reduce depression. First of all, it’s important to set realistic expectations for yourself and for others. Advertising and other media often present an ideal of what the holidays are “supposed” to be. People’s lived reality is often more messy, more human, so try not to set yourself up for disappointment. 

It’s also important to understand and predict the people, times or situations that may be particularly difficult and to not isolate. Make intentional plans to engage with others, to schedule time away from home socializing, or doing activities that are enjoyable and distracting. There are numerous free or low-cost activities around the holidays and getting out and doing something new can be very helpful. Find others with whom you can share the holidays, whether family, friends or other chosen family. If you are ill, financially strapped, or unable to travel to see significant people in your life, reach out by phone or e-mail to others for support.  

Perhaps the best reminder for managing holiday depression is to remember that some sadness, regret or other “negative” or uncomfortable feelings are normal, no matter the time of year. People sometimes feel guilty for experiencing these feelings during a time that is “supposed” to be joyful. Excessive guilt generally doesn’t serve us. However, if the feelings you are experiencing are significant, you may be clinically depressed. If you are concerned about this, don’t hesitate to see a therapist to help understand and get support. 

Most of all, remember that this time will pass. The new year will come and the stress of the holidays will be behind us.

AmeriCorps Journal
Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Michael Fox, AmeriCorps Member, Community Health

Last winter, reality hit. I was about to finish my final semester of college and I still had not decided where I was going with my background in psychology. I began looking into alternatives other than entering directly into grad school. A good friend of mine had previously served as an AIDS United AmeriCorps member, and thought that the program would be a good fit. As I began to research this AmeriCorps program, I could not have agreed more. Opening up the AIDS United website and seeing “Every Person. Every Community.” sold me instantly. I have only been here since mid-August, but the wealth of knowledge I have gained has already surpassed my expectations I had for the year. 

Each branch of AIDS United AmeriCorps has a team centrally located around a city affected by HIV/AIDS. DC’s team includes 11 other members in placements throughout the city. As a team, we are accessing different affected populations and addressing different needs. One of the most moving aspects of this experience so far has been the wealth of knowledge each of us has gained. We are able to discuss the same issues with entirely different perspectives, which pushes us to continually grow. Another valuable component of having such a large team has been using the unique resources our placements provide their clients. 

Besides the AmeriCorps component, I could not possibly begin to cover everything I have gained from my placement at Whitman-Walker Health. Coordinating the +1 Program, a peer-based mentoring group for HIV-positive individuals, has been life changing. Being able to link new positives to an entirely different, but essential, form of care outside the doctor visits and medical adherence appointments, has been a testament to the strength found in the DC community.  Getting to know the mentors on a more personal level has all pushed me to set my bar a little higher. Their dedication, optimism, genuine care and selflessness have truly been inspirational. Most days I am leaving work thinking to myself “who is really helping whom?” 

Another aspect of my placement at WWH is co-coordinating the Gay Men’s Health and Wellness Clinic (GMHWC) on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. As a firm believer in knowing your status, access to health care, and all components of public health, I feel that the service GMHWC provides is invaluable to the DC community. Organization and flexibility are two skills that continue to be engrained deeper and deeper through working at clinic. GMHWC is run entirely by volunteers and their dedication is what keeps us running. Again, I find myself questioning at the end of the day “who is really helping whom?” Without these volunteers there would be no clinic to help coordinate and it is this impact WWH has had on the community that perpetuates the wheel that is WWH.

I have experienced this unique familial bond at WWH between those who are providing services and those receiving, and I could not be more grateful for this.  This symbiotic relationship is something every health care facility should strive towards.  WWH is meeting people where they are and addressing the person, not the HIV/AIDS.  I do not know where I will be eight months from now, but I know each hour spent at WWH is preparing me for my next journey.

National Transgender Day of Remembrance
Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thomas Coughlin, Psychotherapist and Transgender Health Advocate

Thomas CSunday, Nov. 20, marks the 13th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR).  On this day, we memorialize our transgender sisters and brothers who were victims of violent crimes.  Memorial services around the globe bring people together to publicly mourn and honor those we’ve lost to violent, hateful acts; help raise public awareness; and remind non-transgender people that we are, above all else, human.  We are your sons, daughters, parents, partners and friends.  This day also gives our allies a chance to stand with us in remembrance, in support and in solidarity.  It brings us together, as one, in community.  

This year, the Transgender Day of Remembrance follows an especially violent summer and fall here in Washington, DC; in addition to several crimes, we mourned the loss of several members of our community. At Whitman-Walker Health, we honor all those lost due to anti-transgender crimes. We strongly support Washington, DC’s memorial service on this day, held this year at the Metropolitan Community Church.  

At Whitman-Walker we also recognize the impact crime or the potentiality of crime has on health. We see its impact in the lives of our patients and clients. The stress can and does lead to distress whose physical and mental implications are vast. We take notice when someone speaks about difficulty getting to their appointment, or misses their appointment entirely, because of the very real threat of violence on the street or on public transportation or perhaps because they’ve already been victimized personally. We hear of lost friends, loved ones in the community and witness how secondary trauma takes its toll on the community.  

We hope to provide a safe haven at Whitman-Walker Health, a place of support, understanding, affirmation and care of all transgender, transsexual and gender-nonconforming people. We affirm a transgender person’s place in this world. With this recognition, affirmation and solidarity, we hope to empower people to love themselves, to be courageous and righteous in who they are.  Part of this includes taking care of one’s health. When the threat of violence or even death comes between a person and their health, we need to take notice and take action by providing compassionate and quality care.  

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, and every day, we stand with, support and affirm our brothers and sister for those who came before, for those here now and for those who will come after. In memory of those we’ve lost.  We are here for our community. We are our community.  

TDoR Service will be held at the MCC in Washington, DC on Nov. 20 at 5:00 pm.  Address:  474 Ridge St. NW.

AmeriCorps Journal
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nick Choksi, AmeriCorps Members, Behavioral Health

We have new AmeriCorps members at Whitman-Walker, so it's time to introduce them! First up is Nick Choksi, who works in our Behavioral Health department.

My name is Nick Choksi. I am a native Washingtonian and have lived in northwest DC all my life. I have had the opportunity to travel to many developing countries in my lifetime, and have always noted the disparity in available resources and health care. It wasn’t until I went away to college that I realized I did not have to travel very far outside my northwest bubble to find such inequalities. This realization spurred me to move from my pre-medical pathway to discover a passion for working with underserved communities and populations. Over the course of my summers, I worked in a cardiology research lab at the National Institutes of Health, as an HIV Screener in the Emergency Department of George Washington University Hospital, and interned for the Mental Health Program at The Carter Center in Atlanta.

I decided to apply for the AmeriCorps program “DC Community HealthCorps” and come to Whitman-Walker Health so I could continue my newfound passion and work with an underserved community so close to where I grew up. Serving as the Peer Support Program Coordinator, I get to work directly with people in the community and on the programs that affect them. I hope to eventually return to school for an MPH/MBA dual degree so I may continue to provide resources and create solutions for those in need.

AmeriCorps Journal
Thursday, November 10, 2011

Naomi Harris, AmeriCorps Member, Community Health

When I reflect on where I was a year ago, I am still in disbelief of how much I have grown. Fresh out of college, I still was unsure of what I wanted to do. I loved doing community service and working directly with other people. I loved educating people on making healthy choices, but I also wanted to be challenged. That is why I decided to join AmeriCorps. I was able to see what is being done at Whitman-Walker and do service projects with my team members. I got to experience what it means to “meet people where they are.” Whether it was doing outreach at a club on a Saturday night or discussing harm reduction tools with clients, I felt that I was doing something positive every single day. This experience met and surpassed all of my expectations.

As my first year as an AmeriCorps member was winding down, I felt that I wasn't finished. I was exposed to how HIV impacts so many different communities from youth, homeless, LGBT, etc. Being able to connect to so many different people and hear how HIV impacts them inspired me to continue the conversation through another year of service. Now I know that I want to pursue a career in Public Health and empower my community to fight HIV and the stigma that surrounds it. I have learned so much about the epidemic and myself in such a short period time. It’s truly amazing how much I have grown in 12 short months! I look forward to what more I will learn and the people I will meet in my next year of service.

HPV and Cancer in Gay and Bisexual Men
Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer

The popular “Movember” campaign, where men grow mustaches and beards to raise funds for cancer, brings a lot of awareness around cancers that affect men.  Much of the attention around the campaign is focused on prostate and testicular cancer.

While it is important for all men to be aware of these cancers and take preventive steps, gay and bisexual men also need to be aware of anal cancer and cancers of the head and neck that can be caused by exposure to Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

Half of all men have HPV. While most people’s immune systems are able to clear HPV on their own, some people will develop cancer from exposure. With such high numbers of carriers, it is important for gay and bisexual men to be aware of the risks and take proper precautions. And, since HPV is passed by skin-to-skin contact, condoms are not always effective at preventing the spread of this virus.

Whitman-Walker offers screening for anal cancer in gay and bisexual men, one of the few providers in Washington that has this service. We can also teach men how to do regular testicular self-exams and about the warning signs of prostate and head and neck cancers.

And, for those for whom it is medically appropriate, we offer the Gardasil HPV vaccine.

Make an appointment with your regular provider or with Whitman-Walker and ask for appropriate screenings for HPV-related cancers. Your health and your life could depend on it.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Malkia Hutchinson, Health Educator

October marks the 26th annual National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The main purpose behind this month is to promote the importance of early breast cancer detection through breast self-examinations, clinical breast exams and mammograms.

The American Cancer Society predicts that there will be 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer among women in 2011 with about 39,520 of these women dying from the disease. Washington, DC, maintains the highest death rate from breast cancer in the United States with a rate of 31 deaths per 100,000 breast cancer patients. Early detection is critical to reducing these numbers in our community.

It is important that all women, regardless of breast cancer risk factors, seek routine care from a health provider. Yearly mammograms and annual clinical breast exams are recommended after the age of 40 for the majority of women. For those who have a family history of breast cancer or possess other risk factors, the suggested mammography age may be lowered. For women in their 20s and 30s, clinical breast exams should be performed every three years. Women should learn how to do breast self-exams starting in their early 20s to gain familiarity with how their breasts feel.

Fear of cancer detection is understandable. However, the earlier any abnormalities are detected, the better the long term health outcomes of a patient. Whitman-Walker Health provides services for women and Transgender individuals that aid in the early detection of breast cancer. Referral services are also offered for mammograms along with mammography events at both health center locations throughout the year.

Linking women into care is the first step towards beating this disease. Let’s celebrate National Breast Cancer Awareness Month by encouraging women in our community to access the many breast health resources at their disposal.

National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Community Day
Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dr. Yavar Moghimi, Psychiatrist

On October 13, Whitman-Walker Health will celebrate the first National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Community Day during the 13th annual National Primary Care Week. 

The NHSC is a federal program that improves access to health care for persons living in communities with a shortage of primary care providers. About one in five people in the U.S. (21 percent) lives in a primary care shortage area, which means they go without essential health services, or they have to travel long distances to see a primary health care provider.

The NHSC offers financial, professional and educational resources to qualified providers who want to bring their skills where they are needed most. Currently, there are more than 9,000 NHSC doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, mental and behavioral health specialists and other health providers treating more than nine million people, regardless of their ability to pay, at more than 10,000 NHSC-approved sites throughout the U.S. and its territories. This is an important government program that attracts the best and brightest health professionals to the communities that need them the most.  

Whitman-Walker Health has many providers that have committed their service to working here through a service commitment to the NHSC. For Corps Community Day, we have invited interested health students from around the DC area to come to learn more about Whitman-Walker and how choosing to join the NHSC can help them defray the costs of their student loans. We hope this will inspire students to choose fulfilling career paths working with the most medically underserved communities in this country.


Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!
Monday, October 10, 2011

Dr. Yavar Moghimi, Psychiatrist

Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day, which promotes a safe world for LGBT individuals to live truthfully and openly to oneself and others.

Coming out and living openly as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or supportive straight person is a complicated process that is unique to each individual.  There is no one right or wrong way of coming out.  Throughout the coming out process it’s normal to feel scared, confused, vulnerable, empowered, exhilarated, ashamed, relieved, proud, uncertain, brave, and affirmed. Coming out is an important process for LGBT individuals to find a more authentic self and have more meaningful relationships with others. But remember, you don’t have to do this alone.

At Whitman-Walker we have multiple resources for those who are in need of support during their coming out process. The Behavioral Health Care Program offers coming out support groups for men, women, and family/friends. We also have experienced therapists who work individually with people through this process.   

If you or someone you know is in need of support around coming out, don’t hesitate to call 202.939.7623 to find out more.

Why Gay and Bisexual Men Still Have to Take HIV Seriously
Monday, September 26, 2011

Justin Goforth, Director of Community Health, Medical Adherence and the Gay Men's Health and Wellness/STD Clinic

Tuesday, Sept. 27, is National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The purpose of having a National Gay Men’s Awareness Day is to remember those in our community who have lost their lives to this battle, support the members of our community that are living with HIV, and raise awareness for those who remain HIV negative, especially the youth who were born into a world with HIV unfortunately already well-established in what would become their community.  

In DC, we know that at least one in every seven gay or bisexual men has HIV; among black gay or bisexual men, that figure is one in three. We know that a third to a half of men who have sex with men are not aware of their status. 

That means that if you choose to be sexually active with a gay or bisexual man in DC, you have about a one in seven chance of him being HIV-positive…and, if he is positive, a 50/50 chance that he knows it. Don’t leave it up to him to tell you his status. He may not know, and even if he does, he may have a hard time sharing it. Take responsibility for yourself by deciding ahead of time what level of risk you are comfortable with and what actions you need to take to protect yourself. 

Support your community by talking about HIV with your friends, family and neighbors. Support your friends and partners by going with them to get tested for HIV or other STIs. Support anyone you know living with HIV by letting them know you are there for them. We now know that HIV treatment not only supports and maintains the health of the individual, but also helps protect our community by reducing the chance for transmission.  But treatment is not always easy and it’s OK to ask people you care about living with HIV if there is anything you can do to support them. 

The youth of our community are especially in need of our support. Young black men who have sex with men have experienced an incredible 48 percent increase in HIV infections between 2006 and 2009. We as a community need to recognize this as a new crisis that requires new attention and interventions. These youth are the future of our community and they need our help. They need to know they can remain HIV-negative, and that if they are or become infected with HIV, that there is great hope for a healthy life and that they can have a productive and active life without infecting anyone else. 

Condoms are still the best way to protect yourself and others if you choose to be sexually active. Sex with condoms can be fun and even sexy if you know how to use them correctly. Insertive (also known as “Female Condoms”) allow for the top to not even wear a condom! If you need more information on how to make safer sex sexy and fun, stop by Whitman-Walker Health and ask to talk to one of our Health Educators. 

With the high rates of HIV infection in the gay and bisexual community, the Department of Health recommends that gay or bisexual men should get tested for HIV at least twice a year. If you have multiple partners and/or find it difficult to always use safer sex strategies, you might want to be tested even more frequently.  

Keep talking about HIV with everyone in your social circle. Talk to your friends about the facts of HIV and how important it is for everyone to get tested and protect themselves.

Gay and bisexual men bore the brunt of the first wave of the epidemic in the ‘80s and ‘90s. While it may no longer be an automatic death sentence as it was then, HIV is still a serious illness that requires lifelong commitment to treatment. Let’s use the 2011 National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to educate and inform ourselves and let’s reach out and support each other, especially the youth in our community!

HIV/AIDS and Seniors
Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer

This Sunday, Sept. 18, is National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. When I tell people that HIV rates among seniors are rising, they are often surprised. But they shouldn’t be.

We tend to think of seniors as not being sexually active. The truth is, many of them are. And with the advent of medications like Viagra and Cialis, people are remaining sexually active much later in life.

Here are the facts: in 2009, Americans 50 years of age or older accounted for almost 17 percent of new HIV infections in the United States. Rates of infection among African-American and Latino/a seniors is also much higher than among white seniors.

What are some additional HIV risk factors? Older Americans may be less knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS or don’t consider themselves at risk. As a result, they do not use condoms or get tested for HIV. In addition, sexually active seniors who are no longer concerned about pregnancy may not use condoms, unaware of the risks of HIV or other STDs.

Stigma also plays a part, as seniors may be reluctant to admit they may be HIV-positive out of fear of reaction among their loved ones.

As health care professionals, we need to do all we can to ensure that older patients are aware of the risks of HIV. We should not assume that someone’s status as a senior citizen means they aren’t still sexually active.

We should provide HIV testing and education to all of our patients, regardless of age. Making HIV testing and care a normal part of everyone’s health care is the best way to ensure good health.

Overdose Prevention and the Definition of Addiction
Thursday, September 01, 2011
Josh Riley, Behavioral Health Manager, Addiction Treatment Services

This week saw National Overdose Awareness Day. As of 2006, overdose was the second leading cause of death in the United State and between 1999 and 2006 the rate of opioid overdose more than tripled (a trend that continues). Yes, you read that correctly: overdose is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., second only to death involving automobiles. More people die each year from overdose than from accidents involving firearms--the third leading cause of death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, abuse of prescription medication was implicated in over 40 percent of overdose deaths in 2006 (vs. overdose of illicit, non prescription narcotics like heroin), and this trend continues as well. Overdose by methodone was also common.

The CDC uses the language of “fatal poisoning” instead of “overdose,” but regardless of what you call it, the meaning is the same: a death occurred that was preventable. The statistics about overdose should shock everyone, and yet we do a very poor job having realistic conversations about substance abuse and addiction, and the very real threat of overdose. When a famous person dies of a suspected overdose, we talk about it, but we often talk about it in a way that blames the victim, stigmatizes the user, and obscures facts about substance dependence. When a non-famous person dies, well, it’s probably their fault, or worse, they deserved it. If you happen to be economically disadvantaged, disenfranchised, or a person of color, and you die of an overdose, we probably don’t talk about it at all. It happens all the time.

In spite of research and progress in our understanding of addiction as a disease of the brain, we still commonly frame substance use and abuse as a moral weakness or a problem of self-control. This unfortunate oversimplification cheats us all out of productive dialogue that could do much to advance our understanding and our compassion. Coincidentally, the American Society of Addiction Medicine just released its new definition of addiction as a complex and chronic neurological condition involving the reward pathways in the brain. Although the framework for understanding addictive behaviors as originating in the brain has existed for a long time, this is perhaps the strongest and most authoritative statement ever put out by the medical profession. It is sure to keep the dialogue going. My hope is that it will also further the effort to de-stigmatize substance users and will help us to better understand and prevent future overdose.

In addition to continuing this vital conversation, increasing the availability of naloxone to reverse opiate overdose, improving syringe access (through programs like pharmacy syringe sales), increasing the availability of buprenorphine therapy for those who are opiate dependent, and advocating for passage of 911 Good Samaritan laws would all contribute to reversing this preventable cause of death.

Whitman-Walker’s Addiction Services program is committed to providing culturally competent, evidence-driven care to those struggling with substance abuse.

Dr. King's Legacy of Equality in Health Care
Monday, August 29, 2011

Don Blanchon, Executive Director

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

That quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., exemplifies why Whitman-Walker Health exists and why we do what we do every day. As the nation dedicates the new memorial to Dr. King, it’s important to remember that the fight for equal access to health care is not a new thing; it’s been going on for decades.

When Dr. King delivered that remark in March of 1966, there was no HIV/AIDS epidemic, no broad civil rights movement for gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans, no conception of the word “transgender.” But Dr. King’s words were meant for all Americans who were disconnected from health care by poverty, by discrimination or by isolation from what was considered “mainstream” society. And the LGBT community and those living with HIV/AIDS certainly fit into those criteria.

Many people don’t know that Whitman-Walker was born out of the movements for equality that were inspired by Dr. King and his work. The “free clinic” efforts of the late 1960s and early 1970s led to our creation. Throughout our history, we have cared for those who, in Dr. King’s day, would not have had anywhere to go for the high quality care they needed and deserved. And our work has not only helped those patients who came to us, it has helped bring greater acceptance and inclusion for the LGBT community and those living with HIV/AIDS.

As health care reform is implemented over the years, as people living with HIV/AIDS continue to receive access to care, as the health care needs of LGBT Americans receive more attention in the wider medical community, the injustice that Dr. King spoke of seems closer than ever to finally being addressed.

There is still much work to be done. But, ultimately, we will end this injustice. As Dr. King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Syphilis among Young Minority MSM
Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dr. Raymond C. Martins, Chief Medical Officer

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control showed a disproportionate rise in syphilis rates among young, minority men who have sex with men (MSM). The study showed that rates among these men were rising eight times faster than their white counterparts.

This study is particularly troubling. It shows that young, minority MSM are engaging in risky sexual behavior which increases their chance of acquiring HIV.  Patients with active syphilis are also more likely to be infected with HIV due to inflammation that increases the risk of transmission .

We need to understand more about why these young men are taking more risks. There are a lot of potential issues including stigma about their sexuality, fear of being alone, self-esteem issues, depression and possible substance abuse. They may also not receive appropriate education about how to be safe when it comes to sex between men.

Certainly, Whitman-Walker provides services to deal with these issues, including primary health care, mental health care, and STD screening and treatment. But it’s not something we or any organization can turn around on our own. It’s going to take a true collaborative effort from many communities to empower these men to value their health and their lives.

Adolescent Study Highlights Continued Association among Methamphetamine Use, Risk Behavior, and HIV
Friday, August 12, 2011

Josh Riley, Manager of Addiction Treatment Services

A recent Reuters article summed up the results of this new study nicely: “Researchers say the findings underscore the fact that meth, and its associated HIV risk, is not just a problem of middle-aged white men.” 

The use of the term “underscore” here may be an understatement. For those of us who work with substance users, particularly with gay and non gay-identified men who use methamphetamine (a.k.a. crystal, tina, etc.), it is sometimes surprising that research in this area continues given how well-documented the link is between meth use and HIV risk. In fact, since the findings of this study were released this month, this is the reaction that I have heard from numerous people: “isn’t this old news?!”

I would say “yes” and “no.” On the one hand, the scientific community has conducted and published research on the links between methamphetamine and HIV risk since the early 1990s, and almost two decades later, it can seem like old news; however, this new research sheds light on meth use among adolescents/transitional aged youth (ages 12-24) in a way that previous studies have not—at least not with this scope. Using the Adolescent Trials Network, researchers were able to recruit a broader sample of this age group in eight metropolitan areas throughout the United States.

In the study, about a quarter of those surveyed reported having used any hard drugs in the previous 90 days. Of this group, 42 percent reported methamphetamine use. Findings confirm the link between methamphetamine use and potentially risky behaviors including poly-substance use, sex with multiple partners, and sex with an HIV-positive partner and the association between meth use and certain risk factors.  Adolescents who reported meth use were more likely to have had multiple sexually transmitted infections, were more likely to have been homeless, and were less likely to be attending school.

The findings confirm that, despite comprising a relatively small number in the study (64 out of 595 reported meth use in the previous 90 days) methamphetamine-using adolescents experience many of the same risk factors and engage in many of the same risk behaviors as meth-using adults. 

Initiating substance use and engaging in multiple potentially risky behaviors at a young age could lead to major complications, costs, pain and loss. The study has implications for how to find, communicate with, and support younger substance users to change their use and their risk. This is critical as these are users who may feel that their use isn’t a problem or that they are at little risk.  If only this were so.

Whitman-Walker’s Addiction Services (WWAS) target substance users across the spectrum of use—from experimentation, to regular use, to abuse, to dependence—with programs ranging from a Harm Reduction Group to Intensive Outpatient Treatment. If the consequences (costs) of your substance use are of concern to you, don’t wait to seek help, even if you are feeling young and invincible. Contact WWAS.


National Health Center Week
Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Naseema Shafi, Chief Operating Officer

Happy National Health Center Week! As the National Association of Community Health Centers says, “The second week of August each year is dedicated to recognizing the service and contributions of Community, Migrant, Homeless and Public Housing Health Centers in providing access to affordable, high quality, cost-effective health care to medically vulnerable and underserved people in the U.S.”

Community health centers provide a vital role in providing health care to more than 20 million people nationally, including many who are uninsured or otherwise isolated from traditional medical care because of where they live, who they are, the language they speak, or their complex care needs.  Community health centers also offer the opportunity for patients to be served in a more cross-disciplinary environment, with doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers all coordinating care.

Whitman-Walker Health certainly fits that model. We have a historic commitment to ensuring that people with barriers in accessing care, gain that access. Many of our patients are “otherwise isolated” when it comes to health care, whether because of sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status, poverty or a whole host of other reasons.

It’s now been almost six years since Whitman-Walker began its transformation into a full-service community health center. While we have faced a number of challenges in that process, the outcome has undoubtedly been worth the hard work and sacrifice.

The change to a community health center has brought renewed focus to our employees and volunteers and the work we do. Everything we do revolves around one core principle: providing high quality health care to our patients. Our quality indicators tell the story of our success. Excellent health outcomes in a number of primary and HIV related health care indicators show that our hard work is paying off for our patients each day. We believe in our one-stop-shop model and believe that it helps our patients get excellent care.

New Coverage for Women’s Health
Thursday, August 04, 2011

Dr. Deborah Smith, Gynecologist

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the Affordable Care Act will require insurance companies to cover preventive health services for women at no additional cost.  Services covered include well-woman visits, breastfeeding support, domestic violence screening, and contraception without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible.

This is a tremendous advance for women’s health. Too many women have not received preventive health care they needed to stay healthy, avoid getting sick, and reduce health care costs. Often, the cost of such health care kept women from seeking it out.

Women will now be able to get well-woman visits and screening and testing that is especially important to the women we see at WWH; human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing for women 30 years and older; sexually-transmitted infection counseling; HIV screening and counseling; and domestic violence screening and counseling. The new guidelines also will increase access to FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling by eliminating out of pocket expenses.  Other important women’s health coverage will include breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling and screening for diabetes during pregnancy.

For far too long, both women’s care and preventive health care have been given short shrift. Now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, that will change. And American women will be healthier for that change.

HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis – What Does it Mean for You?
Monday, July 25, 2011

Dr. Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer

There’s been a lot of media attention on recent studies about HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP). What is PrEP and what does it mean for the average patient?

PrEP is putting HIV-negative people who are at high risk for HIV exposure on daily HIV medications BEFORE they are exposed to the virus to prevent HIV infection. This is different from HIV post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), where someone who may have been exposed to HIV through risky behavior or workplace exposure takes HIV medications AFTER exposure for a month to prevent infection.

PEP has a success rate of at least 80 percent. PrEP has a success rate from around 40 to 70 percent, mainly dependent upon how well the patient takes the daily medication.

While PrEP is not a magic bullet in the fight against AIDS, it potentially gives us another tool to use to prevent HIV-negative people from acquiring HIV. I look forward to additional studies confirming benefit in using PrEP.

In Memoriam
Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Don Blanchon, Executive Director

Our extended Whitman-Walker Health family lost a longtime friend and volunteer when Paul Florentino, MD passed away on June 19.

Dr. Florentino was dedicated to clinical excellence. A US Air Force Flight Surgeon following his residency, he later joined the faculty at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences as a civilian pulmonary/internal medicine specialist. He was Deputy Commander of Medical Services at National Naval Medical Center when he passed away, the only civilian to have ever held this position. He also served as Governor, Virginia Chapter of the American College of Physicians.

Dr. Florentino was also a longtime volunteer at Whitman-Walker, dedicating many hours to helping our patients living with HIV/AIDS. His compassion and dedication to excellence saved many lives, prolonged others, and gave those who could not be saved dignity in their final days.

All of us at Whitman-Walker are saddened by Paul’s death.  His work at Whitman-Walker was important to so many of us. And we have been touched by the outpouring of support to us by his family and friends following his death. Even after his passing, Paul is continuing to help the patients here.

On a personal note, I am a better person for knowing Paul. He taught me much about putting patients first in all that we do and, for that and so many other reasons,  I will truly miss him.

AmeriCorps Journal
Thursday, July 14, 2011

Jessica Moss, AmeriCorps Members

Now in my 10th month at Whitman-Walker Health with my AmeriCorps term wrapping up, I find myself reflecting back on the work I have done and the great people that I have met and worked with during my time here. I was drawn to AmeriCorps because the idea of doing community service for a living was a dream come true for me. I grew up spending my weekday afternoons making friendly visits at a local nursing home, eventually working my way up to the official role of BINGO caller. My time spent serving my community and the relationships I formed were extremely valuable to me. I think I have always thought that once I began working full-time, any of the time that I used to be able to dedicate to community service would vanish. The beauty of AmeriCorps is that you are encouraged to serve beyond your regular placement. In addition to our day to day work, my team is constantly participating in service projects throughout DC, everyday getting a better sense of what the community’s needs are and how better to serve them.

Now working in the Peer Support Program, a program which is almost entirely run by a group of highly dedicated volunteers, I see that service can always remain a part of my life as I move forward. Many of the volunteers who I work with today have other jobs and commitments to fill their days, but still devote whatever time they have left to service. Listening can often be a job that goes unrecognized, but the effect of the work that these volunteers do day in and day out truly makes a difference in the community. I hope to continue to embrace the spirit of service that I see in Peer Support in all my future endeavors.

What Being a Leader in LGBT Health Care Equality Means
Thursday, July 07, 2011

Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Ray MartinsLast week, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation released their annual survey of health care facilities and networks around the nation for nondiscrimination policies for LGBT employees and patients. Whitman-Walker Health was proud to have been one of only 27 facilities nationwide to receive a perfect score on the survey.

Whitman-Walker was founded as a haven for the gay and lesbian community to receive high quality and affirming care at a time when that was rare. For more than 30 years, we have maintained that commitment and expanded it to include the bisexual and transgender communities.

Today, we have more than a dozen medical providers who are experienced in providing the health care that the LGBT community needs and deserves.  Medical care, along with dental care, mental health care and legal help, allow for comprehensive health care.

We also have a commitment to ensure that our providers are leaders in cultural competency and LGBT health-related issues. A number of our medical providers educate future health care providers at local universities on LGBT health disparities and health care.

But it’s not enough to be a leader in providing equal care for our patients. We need to provide it for our employees as well.

Whitman-Walker has always led the way with its nondiscrimination policies for employees. Often, we were far ahead of what the law required, particularly when it came to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Since our founding in 1978, we have been dedicated to the principle that the LGBT community has a right to health care that is not only high quality, but affirming of the patient and who they are. We have also believed that discrimination in the workplace is intolerable and have set progressive policies to combat it.

That dedication and commitment is as strong today as it has ever been.

Program Spotlight: Medical Adherence
Thursday, June 30, 2011

Justin Goforth, Director of Medical Adherence

One of the biggest challenges health care providers face is keeping their patients on the medical regimen they prescribe. That means making sure they take their medications correctly, keeping appointments, and having lab work done when needed. If the patient can’t or doesn’t follow the regimen, the treatment won’t be effective. That’s especially true for chronic conditions.

Three years ago, Whitman-Walker opened a Medical Adherence unit to meet this challenge. Our team, made up of Nurse Case Managers, Care Coordinators, a Dietitian and Referral Coordinators work with our patients to learn about their diagnosis and treatment. They also work with patients to make sure that they get the best results from their care by:

  • Showing them how to take medications correctly.
  • Helping them keep their doctor's appointments.
  • Helping them get other services they may need, such as housing or food assistance.
  • Improving their diet for better health and to help their medications work more effectively.

The results of that work have been astounding. Currently, 90 percent of our HIV-positive patients are on antiretroviral medications. Seventy-eight percent of those patients on medications have a suppressed viral load. That means that, not only is their health improved, they are much less likely to spread the virus to other people.

The Medical Adherence unit shows that, in order to have successful outcomes for our patients, we have to do more than just prescribe medication and set up appointments. We really have to be engaged in our patients’ lives, understand the challenges they face, and help them find ways to overcome those challenges.

Support in Coming Out Helps Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Well-Being
Monday, June 27, 2011

Steve Geishecker, Director of Behavioral Health

Did you feel less anxious or depressed about coming out about your sexual orientation to people you knew were likely to support you? Did the fear of judgment and rejection feel greater when you weren’t quite sure how your family, friends or co-workers would react to you coming out?

While most people experience varying degrees of emotional and physical distress during their coming out process, a recent report in the June 20th issue of “Social Psychological and Personality Science” indicates that the level of support one perceives when he or she comes out as lesbian, gay or bisexual impacts the person’s emotional well-being. Some individuals who are fortunate to have supportive and affirming people in their lives may experience less distress than those who don’t.    

The results of this small study may not be entirely surprising but it does highlight the significance of support on your coming out process. The less supportive an environment, the more anxiety, anger and depression one may experience. Revealing the secret of being LGB can be freeing in and of itself, but the extent of relief can vary depending on how supportive the persons are that you are telling.

Generally speaking, people will feel better about themselves when they come out in supportive environment receive an affirming response. Those positive experiences reinforce one’s self-esteem and self-worth strengthening one’s confidence.This affirming experience can empower the individual and help him face those environments which are greater unknowns.  Anxiety an fear increase as the time grows nearer to coming out.  This is when people are feeling the most vulnerable and need the most support.  

Many find Whitman-Walker’s Coming Out support group an important early step in getting support and guidance. Connecting to others who understand the challenges of coming out and can help you navigate the difficult process is incredibly valuable. Our mental health department also provides individual psychotherapy for folks who are experiencing depression and anxiety related to their coming out process.  

Don’t underestimate the value of support. Personal and professional allies can help you achieve a greater sense of well-being.

AmeriCorps Journal 6/24/11
Friday, June 24, 2011

Naomi Harris, AmeriCorps Member

I’ve never written in a blog before, so I have struggled with what I should talk about. I tend to live in the moment so taking a step back to write down my thoughts on paper (and not being school related) is a new experience for me!

Something I have realized that I take for granted in my time here in Community Health is the conversations about HIV I have on a daily basis. When I am on the mobile testing van, I get to meet people of all different backgrounds. Some still believe sharing a cup with an HIV-positive person can be deadly, while others have been around for years and have lost several friends to the disease. The volunteers that I supervise also have such a range in experience with HIV in their own lives. Being able to come to work every day or driving the van out in DC and setting up a place for open conversation about sex, drugs, LGBT issues, reaching youth and dozens of other topics makes me feel so empowered. I definitely don’t have the answer to every problem, but I do feel hearing the opinions of different people will help find solutions.

Since this year marks the 30th year of this epidemic, it makes me realize how words like “stigma” or “fear” can still prevent people from standing up and getting tested. Even though people aren’t dying in the numbers as they were in the 1980s, it still has a strong hold on the DC community. We have come so far since those early days, but there is still a lot of work to be done. So for now, I will do what I can to keep talking to people about it. So many people have died across the world and I feel that I should keep the conversation and the fight against HIV going strong.

What do the New Medicaid Guidelines Mean?
Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Erin Loubier, Director of Public Benefits

On June 10, the Department of Health and Human Services issued new policy guidance to state Medicaid programs to allow states to offer same-sex couples many of the same financial and asset protections available to opposite-sex couples when a partner is entering a nursing home or long-term care facility. This is a big gain for same-sex couples, but what does it really mean?

As the Washington Blade reported, “Under the new guidance, dated June 10, states have the option to allow healthy partners in a same-sex relationship to keep their homes while their partners are receiving support for long-term care under Medicaid, such as care in a nursing home.”

States have a choice of extending these protections.  The new guidance makes it clear that a state is within its legal right to offer these protections when a same sex spouse or domestic partner of a Medicaid enrollee continues to reside in their home. It also discusses transfer of assets and estate recovery as additional protections that can be extended to the same sex spouse or domestic partner.  

This policy guidance marks an important step to protect families.

DC’s 2010 HIV Report: Promising Steps, More Work to Be Done
Monday, June 20, 2011

Dr. Ray Martins, Chief Medical Officer

The DC Department of Health HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Administration’s (HAHSTA) released its Annual Report 2010 on June 15. While there is some promising data, HIV still remains a major health issue for the District of Columbia.

The good news is that the data confirms that we are making strides towards achieving some of the goals of our intervention programs.  More people are being tested for HIV earlier in their disease, as average CD4 counts at diagnosis once again increased, and the number of new AIDS cases has declined for the second year in a row. Also, newly-diagnosed HIV-positive individuals are being linked into care soon after their diagnosis.

Getting people into care not only helps to protect their health; it also protects the public health. HIV-positive people on treatment are less likely to infect other people.

However, HIV rates still remain high for DC. At 3.2 percent, the rate of confirmed HIV cases is still three times higher than the World Health Organization’s definition of an epidemic. We still see high rates in the African-American community and among men having sex with men. And we are seeing increasing rates in the Latino/Latina community.

We are also seeing an increase of HIV/AIDS among seniors. That is a reminder to all of us in the medical community that that all patients in DC, regardless of their age, should be tested regularly for HIV.

We have made progress in DC’s fight against HIV/AIDS. However, there is still a great amount of work to be done.

Celebrating Capital Pride
Friday, June 10, 2011

Don Blanchon, Executive Director

I so look forward to this weekend in which we celebrate our metro DC’s LGBT community. This weekend brings the annual Pride parade on Saturday evening and the street festival on Sunday afternoon. Both events highlight more than a week’s worth of new events and parties, community conversations and programming, and special recognition for Capital Pride Heroes and other leaders in our community.  But beyond the rush of events, I enjoy this time to reflect on the progress in the march towards equality. 

So just where are we on this journey with respect to health equality?

Our metro DC LGBT community experiences specific health care concerns that warrant the very same passion and political action that we pursue in securing other fundamental human rights. Our community is at increased risk for certain cancers. Our community—especially black MSMs and transgender men and women—have much higher rates of HIV and STDs than any other group in our metro area. Our community has high rates of depression as well as tobacco/alcohol/substance use.   

And so this year Whitman-Walker Health will march in the Pride parade for health equality. We are a full-service primary health center that offers the highest quality, affirming care for all of our patients. Our team of dedicated and competent health professionals knows firsthand the major health issues confronting our metro DC’s LGBT community. We can best serve our community by addressing health inequities such as cancer, HIV and substance use through the direct provision of high quality care.          

I invite you to think more about health equality for our community and what you can contribute to our collective march. It will take much advocacy, compassion, determination, intellect and political will to achieve such equality. And, like most things in life, it will truly be about the journey.

AmeriCorps Journal 6/8/11
Wednesday, June 08, 2011


Ruben Mylvaganam, AmeriCorps Member, Community Health

My year with AmeriCorps is quickly coming to an end and there are far too many lessons that I have learned that can fit in to one short blog.

Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I have learned this year is the impact one person can have on another: An impact that can encourage a person to begin their antiretroviral treatment early, obtain good numbers, live an emotionally stable life, and most of all, become an advocate of good health and HIV prevention. However, I am not speaking of myself.

Part of my responsibility at WWH is to help coordinate the +1 Peer Mentor Program, a program for newly diagnosed HIV-positive individuals. This program pairs newly diagnosed HIV-positive clients with previously diagnosed individuals so that they may talk and relate to each other, gain insight, and model good adherence behavior.

In my short 11 months with this program, I am fortunate enough to witness many examples of mentors encouraging and empowering newly diagnosed patients. I will forever be impressed and grounded by the quick turnaround of some of these mentees, and the ability of just one person, a mentor, to make such a profound difference in one person’s life. For both the new mentees and myself, these mentors are not only the greatest source of knowledge and experience but the most humbling and inspiring example of change at the individual personal level.

30 Years of HIV/AIDS
Monday, June 06, 2011


Don Blanchon, Executive Director

This weekend marks 30 years since the first CDC report on what would be known as HIV/AIDS.  That morbidity and mortality weekly report outlined cases of PCP—a rare pneumonia—in fiv gay men in Los Angeles. It would serve as the nation’s opening chapter in what was an unfolding story of much fear, uncertainty, suffering and loss. Today, it is difficult to fully grasp how many lives we have lost to HIV/AIDS or to ponder what might have been for so many of our friends, family members and colleagues.        

And yet from all of this loss and suffering there is hope. 

Today, with early diagnosis and ongoing medical care, a person living with HIV can be expected to live for 30 or more years. We now have a rapid oral HIV test that can be administered in 20 minutes without the need for needles or blood draws. We now offer a spectrum of medications to treat a person living with HIV so that this person can stay healthy for many years to come.  We now have experienced physicians and other health care professionals who are well-versed in caring for persons living with HIV. And we have health insurance options—public and private—that offer HIV care coverage and financial assistance for paying for such care.   

Our community must never forget the lives we lost and the lessons we have learned over the past 30 years. It is in this remembrance that we best honor, respect and love those we have lost to HIV/AIDS. So if you do not know your status, then please get tested now at one of our health centers or at one of our mobile van stops. If you need ongoing HIV care, please register to become a new patient at either one of our two health centers. If you are living with HIV, please talk with your partner about your status and use a condom everytime.     

In DC’s modern HIV epidemic, your actions truly speak louder than words.

AmeriCorps Journal 6/1/11
Wednesday, June 01, 2011


Jessica Moss, AmeriCorps Member, Behavioral Health

Two weeks ago, I was one of four AmeriCorps members recognized by the Mayor of Washington, DC in honor of National Service Week. While the spotlight is not necessarily a place where I feel comfortable, it was an honor to be recognized. It symbolizes the tremendous work that AmeriCorps members are doing in DC, and brings recognition to great programs like Whitman-Walker Health.

AmeriCorps has provided me with a valuable opportunity to work in an environment where I am able to directly interact with patients while also learning the ins and outs of life in a community health center. I am grateful to Whitman-Walker, the volunteers that I work with everyday, and of course my fellow AmeriCorps members, who have made this award possible and especially meaningful for me. This recognition reflects just as much on the work that they are doing as my own.

AmeriCorps Journal 5/26/11
Thursday, May 26, 2011

From time to time our AmeriCorps members will post about their experiences here. First, thought, we want to introduce each of them to you. Next up is Naomi Harris!

My name is Naomi Harris and I am from the south suburbs of Chicago, IL. Growing up, words like “sex” or “condoms” were never discussed. Once I entered high school, I saw just how things like pregnancy and STDs were obviously present among my classmates, but just didn’t get the attention I thought they deserved. I decided to devote a lot of my time towards sexual health and psychology in college. In my junior year, I found out that a friend of mine was HIV-positive. Just talking to them about their experiences completely shocked and inspired me to focus on HIV prevention work. HIV is impacting my community, specifically the Black community, and I wanted to do something about it. Deciding to become a AmeriCorps member and working at Whitman-Walker Health has allowed me to not just see the prevention side, but the big picture of how HIV affects a community. I hope to go to graduate school for a master’s in public health and continue to work in the field of HIV prevention in the Black community.

25 Years of Legal Services
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dan Bruner, Director of Legal Services

Thursday night is “Going the Extra Mile,” our annual reception to benefit our Legal Services Program. 

This year’s event is very special, as we mark 25 years of the program’s existence. What began as a service to help people dying with AIDS put their legal affairs in order has grown to help people living with HIV/AIDS lead healthier and more productive lives and to help protect the legal rights of the entire LGBT community.

That’s why it’s especially fitting that we will honor Ted Olson, David Boies and Paul Smith for their historic litigation for LGBT equality. Mr. Olson and Mr. Boies are the leaders of the legal challenge to Proposition 8 in California that banned marriage equality. Mr. Smith argued the ground-breaking Supreme Court case that overturned sodomy laws and is now currently fighting the Defense of Marriage Act in Massachusetts.

Like the rest of Whitman-Walker Health, our Legal Services Program has evolved to meet the changing needs of the community.  Now, we help people with HIV/AIDS protect their rights and get access to the care they need. We help members of the LGBT community stand up to discrimination. We help our community lead healthier and happier lives.

Congratulations to Whitman-Walker’s Legal Services Program for 25 years of outstanding work for our patients!

AmeriCorps Journal 5/16/11
Monday, May 16, 2011

From time to time our AmeriCorps members will post about their experiences here. First, thought, we want to introduce each of them to you. Next up is Ruben Mylvaganam!

I spent the first half of my life in the South (Miami, Fl) and later half in the Northeast (Boston,MA) eventually going to Boston College for my undergrad. While in high school and in college, I got involved in a lot of volunteer opportunities. Most of them were associated with the blind population, as I had a family connection to that issue. My interest in both medical sciences and public health and my experience in community service drew me to the AIDS United AmeriCorps position service year at the Whitman-Walker Health Center.

This position has allowed me to continue a dedication to direct service work and be engaged in one of the most pressing health concerns of our time, that of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. While at Whitman-Walker Health, I spend half of my time coordinating a Peer Mentor group by and for HIV-positive individuals called “+1.” I spend the other half of my time coordinating and helping at the twice-weekly Gay Men’s Health and Wellness/STD Clinic.

Women's Health Awareness Week
Friday, May 13, 2011
Deborah Smith, Gynecologist

As this year’s Women’s Health Awareness Week draws to a close, it’s important to remember that women in DC face a range of health care issues. HIV, breast cancer, and obesity and its co-morbidities, like heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, are all at high levels in the District.

I hope that women all across DC will take the time to focus on their health. Get regular medical checkups and exams, stop smoking, start exercising, and protect yourself from HIV and other STDs.

It's also important to pay attention to mental health. The stress of jobs, families, relationships and everyday life can take its toll. And past trauma can contribute to problems of depression and low self esteem.

Women should empower themselves to take control of their lives and their health. And our community and society will be much better for their example.
AmeriCorps Journal 5/10/11
Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From time to time our AmeriCorps members will post about their experiences here. First, thought, we want to introduce each of them to you. First up is Jessica Moss!

Originally from Boston, Massachusetts (go Red Sox!), I moved to DC about a year ago to work on my presidential campaign. Well, maybe that’s not exactly what happened. Having always been a very service-oriented individual, I joined AmeriCorps to have the opportunity to get more involved with community health, a passion of mine. This decision brought me to Whitman-Walker Health last September. My role here is to coordinate the Health Center’s Peer Support Program. In this position I work side by side with a phenomenal group of dedicated volunteers who provide peer based mental health services, all of which are free of charge to the community. These services include both individual peer counseling and a range of support groups focused on LGBT and HIV/AIDS related concerns. When not at the Health Center, I enjoy riding my bike around the city, painting, and spending time with friends.

Voting With Their Feet
Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Don Blanchon, Executive Director

Judging by our first quarter 2011 figures, we are most definitively living our mission as a health center. 

  • Our Dupont/Logan Circle health center--Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center—cared for 484 more patients than this same period last year.
  • Our Anacostia health center--Max Robinson Center- cared for 182 more patients.
  • Our Tuesday and Thursday night Gay Men’s Health and Wellness/STD Clinic saw 360 more patients.

Your neighbors are voting with their feet and coming to Whitman-Walker Health for their care. Come see what we have to offer you!

Why a Health Center?
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Don Blanchon, Executive Director

Some of you may be asking the question what actually is a health center.  

Well, simply put, a health center is a place for community members to seek ongoing primary and preventive care.  A health center offers a wide array of services beyond what is typically offered in a physician’s office or hospital-based clinic.  A health center is also an important part of the community that it serves.  

But the single most important characteristic of a health center is the quality of its care.   

We are making a strong public statement  about our role in the community.  

Namely, Whitman-Walker is as concerned about HOW we serve our patients as we are about WHO we serve.   Or put another way, the breadth and quality of our services transcends any individual population.  As a health center, we can then honor our commitment to DC’s LGBT community and persons living with HIV by serving as their ongoing source for care.