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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Competition and Financial Concerns Force Clinics to Merge

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2011 at 7:30 AM

Haight Ashbury Free Clinics (HAFC) and Walden House merged early this month, prompted by financial concerns and an overabundance of nonprofit healthcare services serving the same population.

Besides saving money for both clinics, Jeff Schindler, director of community and government relations, says that now, "You walk through one door and you get everything you need."

Schindler tells SF Weekly that HAFC has been looking for a collaborative partner since 2006, since there are 160 community-based organizations with similar benefits within the city, creating unnecessary competition and financial strain.

HAFC serves 7,500 patients, maintains a 24/7 women's safety center, and provides mental health services to San Francisco's jails. Walden House, which operates statewide, serves 11,000 people annually, providing short and long-term substance abuse treatment. Both primarily serve vulnerable and underprivileged populations as well as inmates.

The union seems to be an ideal match, since HAFC provides primary medical care but has no resident treatment program, whereas Walden House specializes in long-term recovery services.

According to Schindler, the merger makes things easier for their clients. "There's no runaround," he says. "It can be a problem when you have a vulnerable client who has come to you for some assistance, then receives a referral that's [across] town, especially for mentally ill patients who have a hard time navigating through town with the myriad of buses."

Since there was little overlap, Schindler says that very few program staff positions were eliminated as a result of the merger. However, cuts did take place in administrative staff, and the merging administrations saved the combined clinics $1 million, money that will go directly to treat clients.

"Quite honestly, we were constantly in a cashflow crisis," Shindler says, "but already we're in the black, and that happened almost immediately. We're both mission-driven and client-focused nonprofits, but we really can't operate in the red."

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Caroline Chen


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