BATON ROUGE – A small protest outside an AIDS Healthcare Foundation's office in Baton Rouge last week had no bearing on the announced settlement of the foundation's lawsuit against the city, spokesmen for both sides said in separate interviews.
"The city-parish was not aware of a protest," Assistant Parish Attorney Bob Abbott said in an email to the Louisiana Record.
Michael Kahane, the foundation's southern bureau chief, agreed the protest had little bearing on the settlement.
"AHF and the city/parish were engaged in discussions for a number of days prior to Tuesday, and reached an agreement in principle prior to any action," Kahane told the Louisiana Record.
Approximately 20 people with signs protesting the lawsuit gathered peaceably in front of the foundation's offices on April 19. Later in the day, the foundation announced the settlement.
The lawsuit, filed late last month in state's 19th Judicial District Court, was over how city-parish officials distributed federal money to area groups that care for Baton Rouge’s large HIV community. AIDS Healthcare Foundation alleged it should have received approximately $1 million in federal funds to treat low-income HIV patients instead of the $66,376 the city-parish did provide.
Also named in the lawsuit were other Baton Rouge HIV health care providers who had received federal Ryan White funds that the city-parish is designated to distribute. Those other HIV health care providers named in the lawsuit included Our Lady of the Lake Hospital Inc.; HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two Inc.; No/AIDS Task Force; Family Service of Greater Baton Rouge; and Capitol City Family Health Center.
The case had been scheduled to be heard May 2.
After the lawsuit was filed on March 23, the city-parish suspended distribution of all federal Ryan White funds to Baton Rouge area HIV health care providers, "an action that caused outrage in the HIV/AIDS community," a foundation press release said.
The foundation cares for more than 1,500 HIV/AIDS patients at two Baton Rouge health care centers, according to the press release.
Though the terms of the settlement kept funding amounts going to the Baton Rouge area HIV nonprofits unchanged, the settlement's recognition that the foundation is a qualified medical provider that can and should receive Ryan White funding satisfied the foundation, Kahane said.
"The settlement gives AHF what it sought in the lawsuit," Kahane said. "AHF's interests were in securing an open and fair contracting process so the people of Baton Rouge can have access to the most effective and most cost effective HIV/AIDS services. Through this process, AHF, which provides medical care to over 1,500 with HIV/AIDS in Baton Rouge, had established that it was a provider of quality outpatient medical services and should be funded for them, and this settlement confirms this. Baton Rouge has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the county, so the more organizations providing services, the better."
Kahane added that there are no hard feelings between the foundation and the city-parish, now that the settlement is reached.
"AHF disagrees that there is or was antagonism," he said. "There was a disagreement over the best way to provide services to the people of Baton Rouge, which has been amicably resolved. AHF looks forward to continuing working with the city/parish to expand quality HIV/AIDS services in Baton Rouge."
Abbot agreed that it's time to move on.
"The city-parish is interested in administering the grant funds in the manner best suited to serve the HIV/AIDS community and will continue to administer the program to serve that population," he said.