New AIDS agency propped up with federal allocations

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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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