AIDS protest (copy)

Advocate file photo by ANDREA GALLO  — A group of around 20 protesters held up signs in front of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation office on Bluebonnet Boulevard in this April 2016 file photo. They were protesting the foundation's recent lawsuit against the city-parish and six, local HIV service providers. 

 The city-parish may have to take back some of the $4.5 million in federal grant money it gave groups that provide services to residents with HIV/AIDS and give it to another health care organization that has an ongoing lawsuit against the local government.

The Parish Attorney's Office found that the city-parish's Division of Human Development and Services erred in rejecting a request for funding by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, according to a memo The Advocate received through a records request. AHF was seeking part of the money available this year through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and Minority AIDS Initiative. 

The development means that the six other agencies already notified of their funding allotments for the grant year that began March 1 could see their amounts reduced so some of the money can go to AHF as well.

"At this time, we don't know how much it will be," Shamell Lavigne, program administrator for the city-parish's Ryan White Program, said of the possible reductions. "But they've already received notice we may have to."

AHF's fight to receive Ryan White funding from DHDS is at the heart of the nonprofit's ongoing legal dispute with the city-parish.

The foundation, which opened its first clinic in Baton Rouge in 2013, filed suit in federal court in April 2017 against the city-parish, alleging it was unfair and illegal for Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's administration to drop the nonprofit's contract for federal grant money. Broome's administration countered the foundation was not complying with grant reporting requirements and therefore was no longer eligible to receive the money.

However, that didn't stop AHF from requesting more than $400,000 in Ryan White Program funding when the city-parish issued its Request for Proposals last year.

Verdnadine Mabry, director of the city-parish’s Division of Human Development and Services, said in a memo dated Feb. 21 that AHF was denied funding, in part, because of its pending litigation against the city-parish. Also, she wrote, the organization failed to show it was providing HIV/AIDS medical care to 300 Ryan White eligible patients and had only spent $42,221 of the $181,876 it had been allocated in fiscal year 2016.

AHF appealed the decision to deny it funding.

"The reasons they gave didn't make sense," said Tom Myers, AHF's general counsel.

In response to that appeal, the city-parish formed a committee made up of representatives from the Parish Attorney's Office and Broome's administration.

A memo issued by the Parish Attorney's Office dated March 29 stated the city-parish had disregarded the evaluation and grading scales established in the RFP and instead considered "factors outside of the RFP in not awarding AHF."

As a a result, Mabry's agency was told that it needed to rescind the original award notices for the 2018-19 grant period and re-balance the $4.5 million in available funding to include AHF, as long as the foundation provided proof it served at least 300 Ryan White eligible patients.

"At this time, the city-parish is proceeding as it needs to ensure we comply with all legal standards," said Interim Parish Attorney Andy Dotson.

Dotson declined to comment further on the matter, citing pending litigation with AHF.

Lavigne said her office is waiting for AHF to submit proof that its two Baton Rouge-area clinics provide health care to at least 300 patients who qualify for Ryan White funding — which means they have to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, live in the Baton Rouge Metro Area and be living at or below 300% of the federal poverty level.

"They just have to provide evidence they meet the criteria; they can't just submit names," Lavigne said.

Lavigne said AHF only claimed in its original proposal to service fewer than 200 Ryan White eligible patients.

Imara Canady, a regional spokesman for AHF, said the organization has "close to 1,300 clients" in total that it is serving in the Baton Rouge area.

Myers said AHF is working to get the city-parish the information it needs to secure the funding they want.

"I don’t know whether people don’t want us there; I don’t have slightest idea," Myers said. "We've made it clear we're trying to help people with HIV/AIDS."

As for the lawsuit, Myers said it's scheduled to go to trial in about a month.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.