HART trouble

Not great.

Harris County paused its Holistic Assistance Response Teams on Wednesday after Commissioners Court failed to reach an agreement on whether to pay the vendor operating the program.

At issue is a $270,000 payment to Disaster Emergency Medical Assistance Consulting and Management, which initially was founded in California before expanding to Texas, for administering the program for the last two months. Without that payment, county officials said, DEMA would be unable to make payroll related to the program.

The county launched HART in March 2022 to help direct some non-emergency 911 phone calls to personnel trained in behavioral health. The idea is to reduce unnecessary law enforcement or hospital interventions and help residents who may be experiencing behavioral health issues, social welfare concerns or homelessness. Harris County has two teams that are based out of the Cypress Station area, seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Wednesday’s discussion about whether to pay the bill arose from a Commissioners Court directive to the county auditor’s office at the end of April to open an investigation into DEMA.

The call for an investigation followed an audit by Sonoma County, Calif., that found officials could not account for 40 percent of DEMA’s billing. The auditors also said they struggled to properly assess DEMA because the company had not tracked the work of its salaried employees.

That audit was sparked by a July 2023 investigation by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that revealed DEMA was awarded $26 million in no-bid emergency contracts in a little over two years and raised questions about billing for the company’s position of director of nursing.

A review of invoices for that position, the news organization wrote, showed $800,000 in billing that did not align with what current and former health care workers said they witnessed.

An online search for DEMA Management and Consulting lists an address in Pasadena, but the listed phone number connects to a rural hospital district in North Texas and its website is no longer is active.


Leslie Wilks Garcia, first assistant county auditor with Harris County, said DEMA is cooperating with the audit. So far, she said, the audit has produced nothing to show the $270,000 was improperly billed.

However, the audit is not complete and Wilks Garcia said it will take several more weeks before it is finished.

If the payment had been approved and the audit revealed DEMA had improperly charged Harris County, the county attorney’s office said the cost could legally be recouped.

“There are serious open questions about the practices of this company,” Briones said. “I love HART…it would break my heart but in good faith as fiduciaries to the taxpayers, (but). without these questions answered, I cannot vote.”


Garcia on Wednesday suggested the Harris Center for Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, which presently runs the Houston Police Department’s version of the program, would be able to take over the program in place of DEMA. However, government meeting rules precluded the commissioners from discussing the option further.

Because the item on the agenda related strictly to payments, any conversations beyond that would need to be a separate agenda item at a future court, First Assistant County Attorney Jay Aiyer told the court.

Garcia said he planned to add an item for discussion at the next court meeting on June 4.

“From a managerial standpoint, I’m just concerned that it is a vendor keeping this program alive,” Garcia said. “It should have been employees.”

See here and here for some background. My read of this is that while it sounds like there are questions about how DEMA has handled its business in California, there’s no evidence of any wrongdoing here. It’s fine to double-check, and it’s fine to look for a replacement if there are any doubts about them, but it’s important to keep this program running; all of the Court voiced their support for that. The original rollout of this program has already been expanded, and that’s the direction to go. Figure out who should be running it and go from there. The Chron has more.

Related Posts:

This entry was posted in Local politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.