The bright, art-deco style walls of Whitman-Walker’s Max Robinson Center, 2301 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, are difficult to miss. For decades, the clinic has served Ward 8 as medical facility specializing in HIV and gender affirming care for decades. Now the clinic is moving to 1201 Sycamore Dr. SE on the St. Elizabeth’s East Campus and expanding its services dramatically.
Expanded Medical Care for Ward 8
Housed in a new and much larger building, the 118,000 sq. ft. clinic features more than 60 exam rooms, eight dental chairs and 12 behavioral health suites. It also houses a pharmacy on the Alabama Ave SE side of the building, open to both the center’s patients and the general public.
Now, residents can obtain mammograms and x-rays without traveling across the Anacostia River. The new facility hosts a full array of diagnostic services.
Whether individuals seek specialized medical care or a routine dental cleaning, the clinic’s extensive services in primary, dental and behavioral health care cover all the bases, according to Chief External Affairs Officer of Whitman-Walker and the Executive Director of the Whitman-Walker Foundation Abby Fenton.
The large array of services at the new clinic will improve access to healthcare in Ward 8, traditionally underserved.
“I think because of the economics of that area it’s difficult for a lot of people to access healthcare,” Whitman-Walker Board Member and patient, André Eleazer said. “There hasn’t really been a hospital or a lot of health care centers in that area, up until recently and I think this is going to present a lot more health opportunities to the people in that area.”
“You won’t have to go out to other facilities to get specialized treatment, it will be in house,” Eleazer said. “Overall, it’s going to be more convenient and it’s a fresh, new, beautiful environment for people to come to.”
Patient care is slated to begin on Aug. 14 and will feature expanded spaces for research, something Fenton notes is at the forefront of Whitman-Walker’s mission.
A Little History
Whitman-Walker began in 1973 as a small venereal disease clinic for gay men in the basement of a Georgetown church. It became a fully chartered medical clinic in 1978, first moving to 17th Street NW and later to Adams-Morgan.
In 1983, it received the first District government contract for AIDS services. Subsequently, it expanded to provide HIV testing, dental, nursing, food security, legal and hospice services. In 1987, it moved to an even larger facility on 14th Street NW. The organization became the central player in the District’s campaign against the HIV epidemic.
HIV work drew Whitman-Walker across the Anacostia River, where AIDS was ravaging the Black community. The organization opened its Max Robinson Center in 2005.
“Most medical treatment facilities are concentrated in Northwest DC,” the Center’s research clinician Megan Dieterich said. “Max Robinson has served Wards 7 and 8 east of the river historically, but it’s a small clinic.”
André Eleazer first visited the clinic in the 1990s. Clinicians accepted him, immediately putting his at ease, he recalled. “There was still some stigma about HIV and about people being gay.”
“You kind of got treated differently when you went to other health clinics in the city, not all, but some. Whitman-Walker had a more welcoming environment, it was not judgmental,” Eleazer added.
Fenton emphasized that the clinics are for everyone.
“While we see a lot of folks who identify as LGBTQ, we also see straight folk. We see a lot of people who are HIV positive, but we see a lot of people who are HIV negative,” Fenton said.
New Facility, Same Community
The Max Robinson Center may be moving, but the “cozy, family feeling” and close-knit community are coming, too. The center’s commitment to the community spans beyond traditional medical and dental services.
“A lot of our patients think of Max Robinson as a safe space,” Dieterich said. “If they get into a situation where they need help or they need to reconnect to healthcare or they don’t have food, they can come to Max Robinson and we can help get them reengaged and connected.”
Eleazer acknowledged that the move has brought some qualms about the continuity and standard of care for patients but emphasized that the features and ease of access to the new center will make the transition smooth.
“Even though change can be hard sometimes we always give change a chance,” Eleazer said. “ I think in this instance there’s going to be a lot more things that are offered to make visits to the clinic more fulfilling.”
For current patients, Fenton assures that the “same great care and same great faces” for which Whitman-Walker is known will be present in the new location.
Visit whitman-walker.org for more information about the new facilities, research initiatives and pharmacy access.
Sarah Payne is a reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.