Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

[UPDATED]: San Francisco health director to meet with staff of troubled Tenderloin Health

San Francisco Public Health Director Barbara Garcia said today that she plans to meet with officials from  the financially troubled Tenderloin Health next week. However, she and others refuse to say exactly what’s happening as the agency appears to crumble. One agency staffer has reported that their board has voted to shut it down.

The nonprofit provides housing, medical, and other services to some of San Francisco’s poorest residents, including people with HIV and AIDS.

For years, the agency has had fiscal problems, and Executive Director David Fernandez recently said in an email to the Bay Area Reporter that the agency is set to make some “decisions” after “severe funding cuts” this fall. He wouldn’t be more specific.

Garcia said in an email Wednesday, December 28 that she wouldn’t be able to discuss Tenderloin Health’s situation until she meets with the agency next week.

“I can give you a more accurate update then,” Garcia said. The health department provides hundreds of thousands of dollars to the agency.

In a message posted on her Facebook page last week, Pamela Fitzgerald, Tenderloin Health’s development director, said that the board voted December 20 to shut down the organization.

“Unless there is a big miracle from someplace, it is looking very grim,” she said. Fitzgerald has declined to comment to the B.A.R. on what’s going on at her agency.

Fernandez didn’t provide comments for this story, despite numerous requests. Board Chair Andy Chen hasn’t responded to the B.A.R.’s most recent interview request.

Referring to the supposed vote to close the nonprofit, board member Troy Brunet told the B.A.R., “I don’t know what we’re doing as of yet. I can’t discuss that situation at this time.”

He said that the last board meeting was in November, but there have been several phone conversations between members since then.

Asked what they’ve talked about, Brunet said, “Just about stuff.”

He said “of course there’s a danger” of Tenderloin Health having to close, but the agency’s fate won’t be known until next week.

Tenderloin Health’s page on an online fundraising site says, “We have suffered some serious budget shortfalls due to government contracts not coming through and are in great danger of having to discontinue services to over 8,000 unduplicated clients.”

Tenderloin Health’s budget is about $7.1 million, according to the most recently available data.

As of July, the agency had used up $600,000 out of $700,000 of credit they had available to them from Wells Fargo and Bank of the West. They also had about $1.2 million in short-term debt.

Last Friday, December 23, there were no obvious signs of trouble at the agency’s main office building, or at their clinic at 187 Golden Gate. Signs told visitors that the nonprofit was closed Friday and Monday, December 26, the day after Christmas. Holiday decorations adorned the lobbies of both sites, and fliers spoke of upcoming support groups.

Despite the apparent crisis, nobody’s discussed Tenderloin Health’s situation with at least one client.

Theo, who wouldn’t share his last name, walked up to the agency’s offices Friday, not realizing they were closed. He said he hadn’t been told anything about problems at the agency, and said if they shut down for good,  “I wouldn’t like it at all.”

The 59-year-old, who has HIV and relies on Social Security income, goes to Tenderloin Health for medical checkups and other services. Sometimes, he even eats breakfast there.

He spoke highly of the staff who work with him, and questioned what he would do without them.

“It would be a tragic loss if they were to close,” Theo said.

[UPDATED]: Finally reached by phone today (Wednesday, December 28), Fernandez said the B.A.R. seems “more bent on doing damage than finding out what’s going on.”

However, he repeatedly refused to provide specific information about what is happening. He wouldn’t confirm whether the board voted last week to close his agency. He also wouldn’t say which contracts have been cut or how much money the agency needs to stay open.

“We’re trying to figure things out,” Fernandez told the B.A.R. He also said, “I guess you’re just looking for dirt, so I don’t have anything to tell you.”

The agency’s board isn’t having its regular meeting tonight, he said. He wouldn’t say why.

Fernandez confirmed that Tenderloin Health’s thousands of clients haven’t been told anything about what’s happening. He said he’d provide more information to the B.A.R. as soon as the agency shares its plans with clients, staff, and other “stakeholders.”

“There’s a lot of options we’re considering,” Fernandez said, while declining to say what the alternatives are. He said, “The most important thing” is ensuring the agency’s clients continue to get services despite “all the financial issues.”

“Write about that,” he said. “Write about how our clients are not missing anything throughout all this.”

Shortly thereafter, Fernandez hung up the phone.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, December 28, 2011 @ 3:20 pm PST
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