June 4, 2013 at 8:00 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Mautner Project to become part of Whitman-Walker
Leslie Calman of the Mautner Project

‘We are very excited that we’ll be working with Whitman-Walker Health,’ said Leslie Calman, the Mautner Project’s executive director, who is stepping down from the organization. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Mautner Project, a national lesbian health organization based in Washington, D.C. since its founding in 1990, will become an arm of D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health in what leaders of both groups are calling an “historic collaboration.”

In a joint statement released on Tuesday, the two organizations said the arrangement will bring the Mautner Project’s programs and staff under the “umbrella” of Whitman-Walker, an LGBT community health care provider founded in 1978.

“We are very excited that we’ll be working with Whitman-Walker Health,” said Leslie Calman, the Mautner Project’s executive director. “It has a long, prestigious history of providing culturally sensitive health care services to Washington’s LGBT community.”

Calman said the joining of the two organizations would allow Mautner to “offer more critical services to a greater number of women who need those services throughout the region; it’s a natural fit.”

Don Blanchon, CEO of Whitman-Walker, said bringing Mautner’s programs into Whitman-Walker’s operations would enhance the longstanding mission of both organizations.

“Mautner Project has been dedicated to the health and wellness of Washington’s lesbian community for over 20 years,” Blanchon said. “We’ve been looking for a way to expand our health care services to women and Mautner Project’s programs and reach within their community will help us fulfill that mission.”

Although the joint statement released by the two organizations repeatedly uses the term “collaboration” to describe the new arrangement between the groups, details released by the groups give the appearance of a corporate merger.

Calman told the Blade that Mautner Project’s status as an independent non-profit corporation will cease to exist in the coming months as the organization closes its books and shuts down its office at 1300 19th St., N.W.

She said five of the Mautner Project’s six employees will continue to work on Mautner’s programs as Whitman-Walker employees working out of Whitman-Walker’s headquarters building at 1701 14th St., N.W.

Calman said she is leaving Mautner to become the CEO of a global health organization called Engineering World Health, which provides technical assistance on medical equipment in developing countries in Africa.

She said Mautner Project’s annual budget over the past several years has been about $950,000. Whitman-Walker spokesperson Chip Lewis said Whitman-Walker’s 2013 budget and projected revenue is $30.6 million.

Whitman-Walker emerged in the 1990s as the city’s largest private health care provider for people with HIV/AIDS. In recent years, Whitman-Walker has become a primary medical and dental care provider for all health care needs.

“Our mission is to be the highest quality, culturally competent community health center serving Washington’s diverse urban community, including individuals who face barriers to accessing care, and with a special expertise in LGBT and HIV care,” the statement announcing the new arrangement with Mautner Project says.

Unlike Whitman-Walker, Mautner Project has not offered direct medical services. Instead, the organization says on its website that it was founded to provide a wide range of support for lesbians with cancer and other serious illnesses through support groups, education and training of medical providers.

“Educating health care providers about the needs and concerns of their lesbian, bisexual and transgender clients” has been a key part of Mautner’s mission, its website says.

Calman said Mautner wasn’t facing an immediate financial crisis at the time its board decided to approach Whitman-Walker about a possible merger. But she said the board and staff became increasingly aware of the growing difficulty for smaller non-profit organizations like Mautner to raise money and serve the number of clients in need of services.

“The Mautner Project could have continued as an independent non-profit in the immediate future, meaning the next few years,” Calman told the Blade. “But the environment is getting harder and harder,” she said in referring to lining up donors willing to support a group of that size.

Corporate donors and foundations have been calling on small non-profits to “collaborate” or merge with other similar groups to eliminate what they consider a duplication of administrative costs such as office equipment, rent and executive directors’ salaries, Calman said.

“So it was a very deliberative, very thoughtful exploration of possibilities,” she said. “For us it’s really been about keeping the organizational programs and making it stronger and guaranteeing it into the future.”

Calman noted that in addition to continuing its services for lesbians with serious illnesses such as cancer, the Mautner programs at Whitman-Walker will also continue various illness prevention programs established by Mautner. Among them are cancer screening, smoking cessation and obesity reduction.

“Mautner Project will continue its operations at the Whitman-Walker Health’s 14th Street headquarters uninterrupted, led by Jacquetta Brooks, the current director of services at Mautner Project,” the joint statement says.

In its 2010 990 finance report filed with the IRS, the most recent such report available for public inspection, the Mautner Project reported it had sustained a deficit or debt of $107,107. The same report says Mautner had a deficit or debt of $264,390 in 2009.

Calman told the Blade that while Mautner often sustained a debt, the deficit figures reported in the group’s 2010 990 report gave an exaggerated perception of the actual debt, which she said was much smaller due to grants or other income that Mautner received shortly after the report was filed.

She said Mautner’s and Whitman-Walker’s respective boards agreed to keep confidential any debt that Mautner may have had at the time of the joining of the two groups.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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