FORT WORTH — The largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the United States is questioning Tarrant County’s methods of distributing federal grant money meant to provide medical care to those coping with the disease.The nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation is suing Tarrant County, saying the county did not follow its own policies for grading requests for proposals when granting funds from the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. In the lawsuit, the foundation alleges that though its application for the grants passed a technical review and the pharmacy section of the application received a score and is eligible for funding, the outpatient section of the application was not scored and is now ineligible for funding. The lawsuit contends that all applications that pass the technical review should receive a score. The clinic has 300 patients at its Fort Worth location, which was opened in September 2012. In addition, the clinic serves 350 pharmacy patients, said Jonathan Petrus, chief financial officer for the foundation. Petrus said not receiving the grant would substantially affect the foundation’s services and its ability to reach more people in need. “With our obtaining a relatively small amount in grant funding, we would be able to leverage that with other sources,” he said. Not receiving a grant could affect the price of prescription medication, since Ryan White recipients can get discounts on pharmaceuticals, Petrus said.Ashley D. Fourt, assistant district attorney for Tarrant County’s civil division, said in an email that Tarrant County has no comment on the lawsuit, as it has not been formally served. The suit was filed Dec. 23.Petrus said his organization, which operates in 28 countries and serves more than 270,000 patients worldwide, has teams of people dedicated to filling out grant applications and said he could not recall a time they were denied a score on an application. “Having substantial experience with these grants in numerous locations throughout the U.S., we thought the funding agency made some kind of mistake,” Petrus said. “The communications that we received left us scratching our heads. We received a score of N/A, which means not applicable.”Grading systemThe AIDS Healthcare Foundation is eligible for 3.23 percent of the funds dedicated to the pharmacy aspect of its operations, according to the lawsuit, but is seeking a score on the outpatient section of the application in the suit before the funds are handed out. Though the total amount of grant funds for 2014 is not yet known, Fourt said in an email, the AIDS Outreach Center, Cook Children’s Health Care System, the Tarrant County HIV/AIDS Preventive Medicine Clinic, the Tarrant County Hospital District, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Samaritan House have been selected to receive funds. The amounts going to each are not known.The amount of money these organizations and others had received in the past was unavailable “at this time,” Fourt said. The Star-Telegram submitted a public information request for the information. The county grades the applicants on their experience, statement of work, their service narrative, performance and budget, according to the request for proposals issued by Tarrant County. The request was issued on Aug. 26. The request also states, “Applications that pass technical review are forwarded to the External Review Committee (ERC) for reviewing and scoring.”Ryan White grantsFrom fiscal 2009 through 2013, the county has received about $5 million of the federal money each year to provide HIV-related services to people who lack enough healthcare coverage, according to data from the Health and Human Services Department. So far in fiscal 2014, the county has received $425,952, but many of the Ryan White grants are not issued until later in the fiscal year, said David Bowman, a spokesman for the Health Resources and Services Administration. The 2014 figure only represents only a partial award, because the government is currently operating under a continuing resolution, Bowman said. The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act was passed in 1990 and was named for a teen diagnosed with AIDS at age 13. White died at the age of 18, months before the act was passed. It has been reauthorized four times, most recently in 2009 by President Barack Obama, and has been renamed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. The fund started with $220 million in 1991 and climbed to $2.29 billion in 2010.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst