The national AIDS Healthcare Foundation is suing the East Baton Rouge city-parish after it was awarded just a fraction of the nearly $1 million it sought to help treat patients at the group’s two clinics in Baton Rouge.
The foundation alleges the city-parish arbitrarily discriminated against it when distributing $4.5 million in federal funds from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program.
The lawsuit also names as defendants local nonprofits that work with HIV patients and were awarded money.
The others named in the suit included Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, the HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two, Family Service of Greater Baton Rouge, No/AIDS Task Force and Capitol City Family Health Center.
If the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is successful with the suit, it could force the city-parish to divide the federal dollars for HIV and AIDS services in the region differently. Doing so could strip services at some of the other local HIV service providers that depend on the money.
The city-parish has voluntarily put allocations on hold to all of the recipients for now because of the lawsuit.
Just last week, HAART Chief Executive Officer Timothy Young applauded the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council for awarding money to the agencies that are trying to change Baton Rouge’s status as having the most HIV and AIDS cases per capita in the nation. HAART was awarded more than $500,000.
“It will have a dramatic effect if these funds are stopped,” said Debbie Reynaud, who is a board member for Family Service of Greater Baton Rouge, which was awarded close to $288,000.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation contends in the lawsuit that it, too, is trying to help impoverished and stigmatized HIV/AIDS patients in Baton Rouge and that it deserves the resources to do so.
The foundation originally sought more than $957,500 for a slew of different services, including medical case management, medical transportation, early intervention services, outpatient ambulatory medical care, local pharmaceutical assistance program and non-medical case management.
The city-parish awarded the AIDS Healthcare Foundation $66,376 for medical case management, early intervention services and medical transportation.
The lawsuit says the city-parish’s failure to give the AIDS Healthcare Foundation more money for other services was “arbitrary, capricious, unfair, without just cause and contrary to the rules, policy, procedures, ordinances and laws of East Baton Rouge and the state, in violation of the request for proposals and in violation of the Public Bid Law.”
Baton Rouge-based attorney Brent Hicks, who is representing the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, declined to elaborate further on the lawsuit.
“The petition speaks for itself,” he said.
Assistant Parish Attorney Bob Abbott disputed the foundation’s claim that the city-parish violated bid laws. He said the city-parish went through the more subjective request for proposals process.
“This is not a public bid where the city-parish is procuring it,” Abbott said. “It’s more that we’re passing through a federal grant to agencies that will serve the public in a nine-parish area and render services to HIV and AIDS patients that meet certain income criteria.”
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation lodged complaints throughout the competitive process that started in the fall. The lawsuit claims the city-parish tried to exclude non-local bidders from the process, which the AIDS Healthcare Foundation challenged.
Upon learning they only were receiving $66,000, foundation officials submitted a protest to the city-parish that was denied, according to the lawsuit.
Abbott said the AIDS Healthcare Foundation “was given a small portion of the pie for certain reasons.” He also noted the foundation had not received this type of funding from the city-parish in the past.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has filed similar lawsuits against other cities in the past.
A year ago, The Dallas Morning News reported that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation was suing Dallas County. The foundation contended then that it was unfairly denied nearly $1 million in Ryan White funding for the foundation’s north Dallas clinic.
A hearing for the lawsuit had been set for April 11 in Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District Court, but Abbott said it may be pushed back to May.