LESBIAN HEALTH: Groundbreaking S.F. Clinic Struggles to Stay Afloat
Lyon-Martin Women's Health Services, a 20-year old lesbian health clinic in San Francisco that has stood as an icon "of feminist self-sufficiency and a haven for women either financially or culturally on the margins," now stands "deeply in debt, disorganized and on the brink of extinction," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. After losing possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars to billing errors and seeing donations fall off by 90%, the clinic finds itself $140,000 in debt -- 14% of its yearly budget. Key positions are vacant. Moreover, while the clinic initially served lesbian patients almost exclusively, they now comprise only one-third of its current patient load, leaving many to question if the clinic can survive without a focus. Half the women treated have HIV/AIDS -- often eligible for federal and state health programs -- "most of whom are not gay but who felt unwelcome elsewhere when the AIDS epidemic began." Others are bisexual or transgendered persons with unique health needs. Clinic namesake Phyllis Lyon said the clinic should regain its focus on lesbians. "That's where it started, but somewhere it lost that focus," she said. Some wondered whether such a clinic can flourish today, as more lesbian physicians now practice in the city. Temporary Director Marj Plumb said, "The heart and soul of the agency is its lesbian focus. I don't know if a nonprofit lesbian health center can exist in this market." A 1996 survey of Kaiser Permanente members found that lesbians and bisexual women were just as likely "as straight women to seek preventive care," but Kaiser researcher Elisabeth Gruskin said younger lesbians were more likely to smoke and drink. "This is clearly a population with unique health risks," she said. The Chronicle also notes that the clinic has more than 4,000 patient visits per year. "If Lyon-Martin were not to exist, the most vulnerable people would fall out of the health care system," said co-founder Sherron Mills (Herscher, 8/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.