The iconic Lyon-Martin Health Services clinic, which serves a clientele of primarily lesbians and transwomen, announced this week that it's exploring the possibility of a merger with HealthRIGHT 360, a move that could help the cash-strapped clinic open.
Plagued in recent years by serious financial problems, the merger would guarantee that Lyon-Martin continues offering its much-needed health programs to Bay Area women, according to Lyon Martin which describes HealthRIGHT 360 as "a family of health centers and behavioral health programs serving communities throughout California."
For decades, Lyon-Martin Health Services has been the go-to place for local women in need of health care. The clinic is known as a safe, non-judgmental place for its often marginalized clientele.
That's "what makes so many people choose our services," said Dawn Harbatkin, Lyon-Martin Executive Director. "Women, lesbians and transgender individuals rely on Lyon-Martin Health Services as a place they can receive high-quality health care, where they can bring their whole selves and be treated with respect and dignity."
The potential merger is good news for the clinic, which was on the brink of closure three years ago. Lyon-Martin's Board Chair Marj Plumb recalled a tense period in 2011 when it was reported that the clinic was 24 hours away from closure after being unable to pay amassing debt.
"We learned that day of a dire situation," recalled Plumb. "Over $1 million dollars in debt and significant organizational failures, including unpaid payroll taxes and inadequate billing practices. Despite these shocking revelations, we knew that saving the clinic was possible and important."
On January 28, 2011, an emergency fund drive brought Lyon-Martin $100,000 in pledges and donations. A January 30 fundraiser at El Rio helped keep the clinic's doors open after they raised another $28,000.
"Since then we have rebuilt the fundraising program," Plumb said. "We've hired and kept the most amazing staff, and built one of the most functional and powerful boards I've ever witnessed." She added that they've continued to get so much support, including a grant from the San Francisco Department of Public Health that helped to keep them afloat for over two years.
Plumb says that while Lyon-Martin's financial health has improved considerably, the clinic isn't out of the woods just yet. She says that the merger with HealthRIGHT 360 will ensure the clinic's future. This is good news for many Lyon-Martin clients, particularly the trans community, who often have no where else to go for their health needs.
The clinic tells SF Weekly that in 2013, a total of 1,918 patients were seen. Approximately 90 percent are uninsured and 84 percent have an income 200 percent below the federal poverty level. More than 28 percent are people of color and 14 percent are homeless.
"In March 2005, we strengthened our transgender health services to meet the needs of the community," Harbatkin said. "In addition to our primary care and mental health services, we do broad community outreach to help connect community members to trans-sensitive health care and to also offer trans-specific clinical rotations for providers in training."
Lyon-Martin and HealthRIGHT 360 invite community members to a Town Hall, where details of the possible merger will be discussed, and where they will address concerns and answer questions. The Town Hall takes place Thursday, May 22 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m in the Ceremonial Room of the San Francisco LGBT Center, 1800 Market Street.
Lyon-Martin Health Services is named after Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, a lesbian couple who were together for over 50 years. They were among the first trailblazers of the LGBT equality movement, co-founding Daughters of Bilitis, an early lesbian organization, during the 1950s. In 2004 they jump-started the marriage equality movement when they, in defiance of then-state law, were married by former Mayor Gavin Newsom at San Francisco City Hall.
"The merger means that Lyon-Martin has a bright new future," Plumb said. "Putting our past history of debt and financial struggle behind us is exciting news for our entire community."