The leader of a pro-life group under fire in Texas for how it used state funds said headlines declaring the group incompetent and a failure are part of a “pro-choice, pro-abort smear.”
Carol Everett founded The Heidi Group, one of 39 organizations chosen to administer family planning dollars and services to low-income women after Texas defunded Planned Parenthood in 2015. Last month, state officials canceled the group’s contract and confirmed an investigation into $1 million in billings (out of a $5 million contract). The state already ordered The Heidi Group to pay back $29,000 in unallowable costs.
“We were shooting at a moving target the whole time,” Everett told me. “And I’m not going to tell you we were perfect, but I’m going to tell you we didn’t have any help and we thought we were doing it right.”
Reports circulated last year that the group provided medical services to roughly 3,500 women during the first year of operation rather than the 17,895 it had planned. The Heidi Group’s funding came from a state program called Healthy Texas Women, which started when former President Barack Obama slashed federal dollars to the state in retaliation for Texas’ defunding of Planned Parenthood. Healthy Texas Women provides healthcare and abortion-free family planning to more than 220,000 low-income women and works with 5,342 certified healthcare providers through clinics and organizations like The Heidi Group.
Everett said her team landed the contract in 2016 and worked hard to comply with state requirements but received little to no guidance.
In November 2017, the state told The Heidi Group it had to be a direct care facility to stay in the program. Everett discovered a medical office building in Round Rock, Texas, with eight exam rooms the same day. Then the state accepted only 12 of the 28 healthcare providers The Heidi Group wanted to work with, Everett said, which made it look less effective. And despite hiring certified public accountants to handle the group’s finances, the state told the group it had to include copies of cleared paychecks to verify those expenses. The accountants had submitted the time cards and copies of the checks, but not any copies of the cleared checks.
“We had three people [working for the state] who were supposed to help us,” Everett said. “The first one would not return emails or phone calls. The second told us to do what we’re doing. The third one wouldn’t help us, either.”
Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, told me that, overall, the Healthy Texas Women program is flourishing. He rejected the common criticism among pro-abortion people that no amount of effort can replace Planned Parenthood.
Pojman pointed out that federally qualified health centers and certified physicians offices greatly outnumber Planned Parenthood centers, especially in rural areas. Dublin, Texas, a rural town of 3,605 people outside Fort Worth, has no Planned Parenthood facilities but boasts 57 Healthy Texas Women–participating providers. Austin has more than 100 certified Healthy Texas Women clinics, compared to three Planned Parenthood locations.
“By all measures, [the state is] serving more low-income women,” Pojman said. “They have more low-income women enrolled, they have more providers enrolled than ever before, and the state is spending funding in general on women’s health services at a historically high level.” He added, “At Planned Parenthood, a woman will not see a physician unless she is there for an abortion. So these women are typically getting much better care.”
Losing The Heidi Group, he said, is not going to hamper Texas’ efforts to redirect funding from abortion providers to other health centers.
Everett said that losing the state contract does not spell doom for her, either. Her team is working out how to continue operating the clinic in Round Rock and guide their subcontractors even without state funding.
“We are just trusting God, because He’s not only given me, He’s given my management team a great peace about this, so we’re just moving forward,” she said.