Merger proposed between historic LGBT clinic Lyon-Martin, HealthRIGHT 360 

click to enlarge Lyon-Martin Clinic
  • JUAN PARDO/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • A patient speaks to an employee at Lyon-Martin Clinic.
A San Francisco health clinic that has served the LGBT community for over three decades and has struggled with debt in recent years has announced a tentative merger with another local health care organization.

Lyon-Martin Health Services, located on Market Street near Octavia Street, provides care to LGBT patients and specializes in transgender needs.

But lately, the clinic has struggled to pay down roughly $1.1 million in debt. A 2011 fundraising campaign that garnered $600,000 had allowed the clinic to stabilize its operations, but the debt remained.

"Each year, we have just about broken even," said Dawn Harbatkin, Lyon-Martin's executive director. "There's never been enough money to address our debt."

Lyon-Martin also faces challenges adapting to the federal Affordable Care Act. New reporting, enrollment and re-enrollment procedures have increased exponentially, according to the clinic, and it needs more staff to keep up.

But the proposed merger with HealthRIGHT 360, a group of health centers and behavioral health programs, may ensure Lyon-Martin's future.

"This long-term solution allows our mission to flourish -- reaching far more patients within our community," said Dr. Marj Plumb, Martin-Lyon board chair, in a statement. We've found an ideal partner in HealthRIGHT 360, an organization that believes in who we are and in our future."

The clinic, named after lesbian civil rights activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, began as a volunteer effort in 1979 and supported the gay community throughout the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and '90s. Today, according to Harbatkin, the clinic focuses on providing supportive health care to transgender patients. "The transgender community is where the lesbian, gay and bisexual community was 20 years ago," she said. "I would love to see a point where these specialized services were only for complex situations, but we still see people -- especially among transgender patients -- traveling hundreds of miles to get care here that they feel they can't get at home."

Lyon-Martin's new partner, HealthRIGHT 360, also has experience serving the transgender community -- it runs the only residential transgender substance abuse program in California. HealthRIGHT 360 was born after a merger between Haight Ashbury Free Clinics and Walden House, two organizations that have provided care to low-income, homeless and marginalized communities since the late 1960s.

If the new merger proceeds, Lyon-Martin will keep its name and remain in its current location.

“We are very excited about the merger of Lyon-Martin Health Services and HealthRIGHT 360,” said Barbara Garcia, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, in a statement. “Leveraging our community assets like this is exactly what we need to do in the midst of health care reform to ensure that health services for our important communities continue.”

The merger has yet to be finalized. Lyon-Martin is seeking community feedback during a town hall meeting May 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center at 1800 Market Street. Attendees are asked to RSVP by emailing townhall@lyon-martin.org.

"I think this is an incredibly exciting opportunity," Harbatkin said. "For the first time in a long time, it will ensure that our services will be sustainable for the long haul."

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Monday, Aug 29, 2016

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