Government & Politics

New AIDS agency propped up with federal allocations

The New Orleans Regional AIDS Planning Council this week approved 2010 funding amounts for various service categories under the federal Ryan White AIDS program, but the mayor’s Office of Health Policy had already determined who would and wouldn’t be providing certain services.

N’R Peace Inc., an HIV/AIDS agency located in Algiers, was picked to continue providing primary medical care to its clients, but it will not be funded this year for case management — the follow-up services from counselors who see to it that patients take all their medication and don’t fall out of care. And while N’R Peace has served predominantly African-American and Latino patients throughout its 10 years of existence, it also will not receive Ryan White Minority AIDS Initiative funding that it applied for.

Instead, all of the $527,835 available from the Minority AIDS Initiative this year will go to one organization, Priority Healthcare, an agency that registered with the state in August and just opened its doors earlier this month.

Priority Healthcare’s executive director is Tamara Hagan, who is a member of the New Orleans Regional AIDS PlanningCouncil, the body that prioritizes AIDS programming. That panel, however, doesn’t choose the service providers. That task is left up to the government agency that gets the awards, in this case the mayor’s office of the city of New Orleans.

Hagan resigned in October from Great Expectations, an HIV/AIDS service agency in the Desire area that also serves mostly minority patients. Like N’R Peace, Great Expectations also was shut out of case-management money by the city.

Hagan’s new outfit has been propped up not only with exclusive dibs on the minority AIDS money, but also an intake of clients who’ve been transferred from N’R Peace and Great Expectations under orders from the Health Policy Office.
Hagan did not return calls for comments. Her involvement as a service provider has raised questions and concerns, given a controversial discretionary call from office of health policy director Fran Lawless to allow the planning council, on which Hagan serves as a committee chairwoman, to read and review agency applications for funding. According to a letter from the Office of Health Policy, N’R Peace was not funded in categories such as case management because its application received a low score. Meanwhile, Hagan’s agency received funding without a track record.

About a dozen of N’R Peace’s clients chose Priority for their case management, said  Dimitre Blutcher, executive director of N’R Peace since 2002. Two of the four agencies that clients were allowed to choose, FACES on South Carrollton Avenue, and NO/AIDS Task Force, on Tulane Avenue in Mid-City, are sending counselors to N’R Peace so that the patients don’t have to travel far from their primary medical care home base. Priority, based in Marrero, has not offered to do the same, Blutcher said. Meanwhile, one of the service categories Priority is funded for is medical transportation.
Three case managers have been laid off at N’R Peace and two unfilled positions will remain empty. Blutcher’s concern is that some of her clients will choose to drop out of care. This is not an unlikely scenario given that the only care provider clients may choose on the West Bank is an agency that’s been open less than a month.

On the upside for N’R Peace,   it was selected to receive all of the outreach funding made available under Ryan White: $30,000. Work that falls under outreach includes reaching those who’ve just been released from prison for testing and follow-up treatment if needed, providing “prevention packages” for commercial sex workers to curb the spreading of diseases, and identifying and locating people who’ve been “lost to care,” which Blutcher said means those who’ve dropped out of treatment for a number of reasons.

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  • NOLA Citizen

    HIV/AIDS is a crisis in New Orleans. According to the CDC in the last few years, New Orleans has risen to #2 nationally in the AIDS Case Rate (# per 1000 individuals). According to the LA Department of Health and Hospitals, nearly 70% of all new HIV infection in Orleans Parish are among African Americans and nearly 35% of all new HIV infections are among women.

    The mayor’s Office of Health Policy administers over $7.5 million in federal funds. This is one of the city’s larger federal grants. These are “funds of last resort”. They pay for services when all other avenues have been exhausted. These funds are intended to provide services to the neediest individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the community. The federal government has clearly articulated how this program is to be administered. The current administration has flagrantly disregarded those federal directives in the awarding of contracts by involving conflicted parties, who stand to financially benefit from the outcome of a potentially biased review process.

    The Obama administration recently outlined three basic tenets of a National HIV Policy: Lower HIV Incidence, Increase Access and Reduce Disparity in the deliver of HIV health care. The questionable award and contracting decisions made by the Nagin administration and the mayor’s Office of Health Policy meet none of these tenets. In fact, the clients who are directly affected by this conflicted and questionable contacting decision may well fall out of HIV care.

    It is incumbent upon the in-coming Landrieu administration to investigate these questionable/conflicted decisions and to take the necessary steps to ensure that funds, intended to provide services to the HIV community, are awarded to provide service where they belong and not with “friends” or individuals just looking enrich themselves at the expense of the HIV community.

  • It is quite disturbing to read this story which if true, reveals once again how politics can trump justice and fairness when it comes to the distribution of vital resources to the most needy. Once again we also see how inept the federal government is at monitoring the use of hard earned tax payers dollars, consequently, evidence-based outcomes take a second place to politically-based income for certain pockets. We know that in too many cases government operates on a politically-driven “quid-pro-quo” basis at the expense of the persons that are viewed through the discriminatory lens of injustice. We can only pray that faith-based leadership will not allow the actions of the former mayor to be the rule of the day. Activism of the Dorothy Height variety, rooted in faith and grounded in justice, is needed if pressure will be exacted on the new administration. Is there a Dorothy Height in New Orleans

  • Rebecca Golden

    This award smacks of patrimonialism and criminal neglect of our ever growing AIDS population. Can’t this joke of a council at least feign some concern for the growing epidemic and award these funds to establishing organizations, more capable of efficient employment of such grants? It is truly an outrage! Tragically, those most affected have no voice to speak out!

    Rebecca Golden
    Tulane University