Commentary: How did Heidi Group use millions? Texas women need answers

Last year, Texas awarded $7 million in state contracts to the Heidi Group. Under the terms, the anti-abortion organization with no experience providing health care services was supposed to work with subcontractors to provide family planning and reproductive health care to 68,000 low-income Texans.

Over a year later, having so far received nearly $1 million in state funds, the Heidi Group has failed to deliver on its contracts. How exactly the group spent the state’s money remains a mystery. My organization, Campaign for Accountability, filed a complaint on Sept. 26 asking the Travis County district attorney to investigate whether taxpayer funds were misappropriated in violation of criminal law.

HOW WE GOT HERE: Travis County DA asked to investigate anti-abortion group.

In response to the complaint, CEO and founder Carol Everett, sole director of the Heidi Group, argues she’s being unfairly targeted for her anti-abortion stance. Being anti-abortion is no excuse for frittering away state funds intended to provide health care to low-income women. Everett also claims it’s unusual for a “startup” like the Heidi Group — founded in 1995 — to take off in its first year and insists the group has met its obligations, such as setting up a toll-free number to help women find health care providers.

Though Everett says the toll-free number went live in July – a full year after the Heidi Group entered into its first contract with the state – the contract also required that the number be publicized so women would know to use it. Until last week, however, the Heidi Group had mentioned the number in just one Facebook post. Only after we filed the complaint did the Heidi Group’s website finally display the number.

The Heidi Group also was supposed to revamp its own website — as well as those of clinics that serve low-income Texans — to include information regarding how and where to find health care services. Only after the complaint did the Heidi Group update its website to list clinics ostensibly providing health care services. Even now, there is still no directory of clinics searchable by ZIP code, as mandated by the contract, nor is there any indication that clinics have received assistance updating their own websites and social media accounts.

POLITIFACT: Did Carol Everett say HIV can be spread through sewer pipes?

This is the definition of too little, too late.

In its zeal to defund Planned Parenthood, state legislators insisted there were family planning and health care alternatives — and low-income women would suffer no consequences. In 2011, Planned Parenthood was serving 60 percent of the health needs of low-income women. After slashing the family planning budget and banning Planned Parenthood from participating in the state’s women’s health program, more than 80 women’s health clinics closed.

Teen abortions and births have been on the increase — and Texas has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world. The Heidi Group had 14 months and up to $7 million in state grants to provide family planning and reproductive health care services to 68,000 Texans. But at this point, it seems unlikely even a single Texan has benefited from the state’s expenditure.

Given that Everett was known as an anti-abortion crusader rather than a health care provider, it’s hard to fathom why the Texas Health and Human Services Commission entrusted the Heidi Group with state money in the first place.

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Since the money the organization received was not spent delivering the promised services, where, exactly, has it gone? Texans have a right to know where their hard-earned money has gone — and the Heidi Group isn’t saying.

O’Connor is legal counsel at Campaign for Accountability.

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