Standing up for Lyon-Martin

March 9, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO--More than 50 people attended a special mid-afternoon San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee hearing on the future of Lyon-Martin Health Services, a one-of-a-kind community clinic that serves primarily lesbian and bisexual women and transgender people. The clinic is under threat of closure due to financial issues.

A wide range of people made statements at the hearing, including Lyon-Martin patients and staff, people involved in public health at other sites in the city, and concerned community members.

People described their experiences receiving quality--and at times, life-saving--care at the clinic when they were unable to find competent care anywhere else. They expressed fear that if Lyon-Martin were to close, other city services would not be able to deal with the projected 3,500 patients that Lyon-Martin--which itself absorbed patients from other services and clinics that have closed in the past two years--is projecting it will serve in 2011.

The supervisors on the committee expressed both sympathy for the needs of the community that Lyon-Martin serves and also astonishment at the overwhelming community response to the call to raise money for the clinic--at the time of the hearing, some $315,000 had been raised by clinic supporters. The supervisors made a commitment to doing what they can to keep the clinic open.

The money raised by the community--largely the result of publicity and fundraising efforts by a grassroots coalition called "Save Lyon-Martin"--has been used to keep the clinic running through January and February, saving many from losing access to health care completely.

An audit of Lyon-Martin's financial situation at the end of February concluded that an additional $500,000 would need to be raised by March 31 in order to stabilize the clinic's finances and keep its doors open for the long term. While additional money is expected to come from a combination of public and private funding sources, Save Lyon-Martin and other community organizations have committed to reaching the goal of $500,000 that they set for themselves in January, when the clinic's crisis was announced.

Looking ahead, the clinic has brought in a new interim executive director who is committed to involving the community in efforts to get the clinic's finances sorted out. The positive response of the supervisors on the budget committee has given many a reason to feel hopeful, despite the ongoing economic and budget crisis.

Looming in the background, however, is HR 1, a measure that the Republican-run U.S. House of Representatives passed on February 19, which would eliminate Title X, the federal program that has provided family planning services to the poor since 1970. Losing Title X funds would be a significant--possibly catastrophic--blow to Lyon-Martin's budget, as it would be to the budgets of community health clinics across the country.

The support that Lyon-Martin has mobilized in San Francisco and the recent demonstrations held coast to coast against proposed federal anti-woman and anti-poor laws shows that activists feel the urgency of reaching out and making common cause to save essential services like Lyon-Martin and oppose Republican attempts to strip away both funding and fundamental rights.

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