Harris County seeks a new direction for HART

Hopefully a solid reset and restart. Possibly even with the same vendor, if they can make the best offer and no other questions come up.

Harris County officials on Tuesday began making new plans to extend a program that sends social workers instead of sheriff’s deputies to some non-violent 911 calls, an effort that was cast in doubt last week due to questions about the contractor running the program.

Commissioners voted narrowly last week to withhold about $270,000 in payments to DEMA Consulting & Management for its work on the program in February and March, citing an ongoing audit sparked by questions about the company’s billing practices.

Harris County health officials said last week that would effectively end the Holistic Assistance Response Team program because the company would not be able to pay its employees. However, HART has continued responding to calls, and staff members told the Chronicle they were still being paid as of Friday.

Since 2022, the team has diverted about 11,500 911 calls to mental health providers.

On Tuesday, commissioners voted 4 to 1 to approve those funds, which the Harris County Auditor’s Office said followed the terms of the contract, and began discussing how to move forward with the program. The four Democrats voted in favor of approving the funds, with Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, the lone Republican, voting against it.

The court also voted along party lines to approve a seven-part plan from Commissioners Lesley Briones and Rodney Ellis for the program’s future. That plan includes instructing the county attorney to bring an amendment to the county’s contract with DEMA that would require enhanced invoicing and documentation. The court will consider that amendment at its next meeting on June 25.

Commissioners Court also voted to instruct staff to begin crafting two separate proposals for how to continue the program beyond July: Bring the program “in house” to Harris County Public Health, which would cost at least $11 million; or put out a new request for proposals from contractors interested in taking it over.

The remaining motions included enhanced monthly reports from the health agency on HART metrics, a 911 call analysis and project management services.


The Harris County Auditor’s Office stopped short of finding wrongdoing in a preliminary memo to commissioners sent on May 24. It said there was “a lack of detailed documentation to support the billings to Harris and Sonoma counties.”

Harris County Auditor Mike Post told commissioners on Tuesday that Sonoma County officials felt they were being double billed for the same hours worked by the same seven employees, including Patino herself.

Post said his office’s investigation suggests that for some of the roles the company was billing based on availability: The medical director, for example, was available for calls from both counties, and both were billed.

For others, the company provided timesheets that aligned with the hours billed to both counties. Patino herself logged 412.5 hours from Aug. 1 to Sept. 3, or about 12 hours a day; she billed Harris for 200 of the hours, and Sonoma County for 212.5.

For three other positions, Post said the timesheets amounted to about half of the hours billed to the county. He is still waiting on answers from the company about whether there are outstanding timesheets somewhere, or if they were billing those positions based on availability as well.

See here for some background. The audit here doesn’t seem to have found anything terrible, but the questions about DEMA in California remain, and that’s sufficient to make some changes and have another go at this. The important factor is that the program has been a success and needs to continue in some form. The details will be worked out and that’s fine. The big thing was keeping something like this going, and that is what happened. Houston Landing has more.

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