A watchdog organization is calling for a federal investigation into the Heidi Group, a controversial Texas anti-abortion group that is now accused of lying on its new application for family planning funds. This comes just months after the state health agency canceled the Heidi Group’s multimillion-dollar contracts after the group served a fraction of the patients it pledged to treat. The state’s Office of the Inspector General is also conducting an investigation into more than $1 million in questionable spending.
The Campaign for Accountability, a left-leaning Washington, D.C., nonprofit that has tracked the Heidi Group since it was awarded $7 million worth of Texas women’s health contracts in 2016, sent a letter on Thursday to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requesting an investigation into alleged errors on the group’s application for funding under the federal Title X family planning program. The letter is a response to a Wednesday report from the Houston Chronicle that the Heidi Group is included in a Title X grant application by the Catholic, California-based Obria Group. The application also includes two other Texas crisis pregnancy centers: Midland Community Healthcare Services, and the Community Wellness Clinic of Conroe.
The application, submitted in January, “appears to inflate the number of patients seen by the Heidi Group clinic on a regular basis, identifies a former employee as Heidi Group’s top quality assurance officer even though she had left the organization eight to nine months before the organizations submitted the application, and fails to disclose pertinent information regarding the Heidi Group’s terminated state contracts,” wrote Alice Huling, counsel at Campaign for Accountability, in the Thursday letter.
Carol Everett, an anti-abortion activist and founder and CEO of the Heidi Group, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The organization told the Chronicle that it is looking into the alleged application error.
After state lawmakers slashed the family planning budget in 2011 and kicked Planned Parenthood out of the women’s health program in 2013, the Heidi Group was awarded millions in taxpayer funds to help rebuild a network of women’s health providers for poor Texans. Everett pledged that her organization would serve more clients in 2017 than Planned Parenthood — which had previously seen more than 40 percent of all patients in Texas’ women’s health program — despite having no prior experience in family planning services.
After dramatically missing its target, the Heidi Group was the only contractor in the state programs to have funds pulled back in 2017, but the state renewed its contracts for a third year anyway. After the Observer reported in September that the Heidi Group had served just over 3,300 clients in 2017, less than 5 percent of the nearly 70,000 Everett had pledged to cover, the state health agency announced it would end the group’s contracts.
Now, former Heidi Group employees say the newest grab for family planning funding inflates the organization’s track record and number of patients served. According to the Chronicle, the Heidi Group claims in its Title X application that it serves 100 patients each week and will continue to do so. Two former Heidi Group employees told the Observer that the actual number is at most eight per week. They also said that the group’s application includes employees who haven’t worked there for months.
“While Carol Everett poses as a health care professional, her organization has failed repeatedly to support the women she has promised to serve,” Huling, the attorney with the Campaign for Accountability, told the Observer. “The federal government should not repeat Texas’ mistake by entrusting the Heidi Group to provide Title X care.”
Title X funds in Texas are administered by a nonprofit coalition called the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas. That’s been the case since 2013, when the federal government shifted the funds from state control after actions from state lawmakers led to tens of thousands of patients losing access to family planning services. The state health agency is now vying for the grant again, hoping for a more favorable outcome under the Trump administration. The state’s proposal reportedly calls for $16 million annually to serve just over 50,000 patients — about one-quarter of the number served by the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas in 2018, but costing several million dollars more. In its application, Obria says it will serve just over 15,000 patients.
Title X grant announcements are expected in the next week or so. The Trump administration in February issued final draft rules that would dramatically reshape the Title X program by prohibiting funds from going to providers (like Planned Parenthood) that offer or refer for abortions. The new rules, if they go into effect, could favor groups like Heidi Group over more experienced family planning providers. In Texas, we already know what that looks like.