The fight between the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Los Angeles County took another turn Thursday. The Foundation asked a federal court to delay a county audit of the agency, claiming it would jeopardize patient care. AHF also accused the county of pursuing the audit in retaliation for the Foundation's criticism of the county's handling of its AIDS programs. The county rejected AHF's claims about compromising patient care as "bogus," and said the audit is "routine."
"The devotion by AHF staff of additional time during July and August…is highly likely to have a deleterious impact on the health of some AHF patients," the foundation said in its request for a temporary restraining order.
The county wants to start its audit of how AHF uses county-administered federal AIDS money on Monday. AHF wants at least a five-week delay.
"There is no satisfactory reason – legal or otherwise – to force potential harm on AHF patients," AHF said in its court filing.
"It’s a routine audit," said Joel Klevens, an attorney representing LA County. "We’ve been trying to schedule it since the beginning of the year."
Kleven said the financial audit would not take medical personnel away from their duties. "Their claim is bogus that it will interfere with patient care," he said.
The back and forth is part of a larger battle. A previous audit found AHF overcharged the county by $1.7 million for AIDS services. AHF, which currently holds more than $10 million in county contracts, is challenging that finding in federal court.
AHF claims the county’s request for an audit is in retaliation for the foundation’s criticism of county-run AIDS programs. "This is not the first time that Defendants have used audits as a tool to pressure and retaliate against Plaintiffs." AHF previously filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the county, accusing it of violating its First Amendment rights.
"I think what’s really going on here is the best defense is a good offense," Klevens said of AHF's court filing.
The foundation and county are also at odds over a proposal by the foundation to dramatically alter how healthcare is delivered in LA County. AHF is sponsoring a ballot measure that would create a new, city public health agency in LA. It would replace nearly half of the county health department. That proposal is expected to appear on next year’s June ballot.