For weeks now, NBC 5 Investigates has uncovered documents raising concerns about what is happening inside the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department. DCHHS Director Zach Thompson has repeatedly declined requests for comment, but called a news conference Monday to respond publicly for the first time.
In that news conference Thompson criticized NBC 5's reporting and even accused of us of being racist for our review of what's happening inside his department while adding that he cannot be held responsible for the actions of his individual employees.
"That is a lie by NBC 5 that said we are under federal investigation as well as anyone that they interviewed," Thompson said in the news conference.
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Thompson seized on a new federal letter from the Health Resources and Services Administration that said his department is not the subject of a federal investigation.
In part, that document sent to Thompson read as follows:
Through the Division of Metropolitan HIV/AIDS Program's (DMHAP) Project Officer, CDR Matthew Newland, you were informed that HRSA did not conduct any investigation on your program, however, HRSA's Division of Financial Integrity (DFI) is responding to a request that came through our Office of the Inspector General's hotline regarding a provider that was being funded by Ryan White Parts A-D; this request was not an investigation, rather, a routine request that required a HRSA/DFI response.
Just last month that same federal agency told NBC 5 Investigates, "Our Division of Financial Integrity is involved with looking into Dallas County Department of Health use of Ryan White funds." The agency added, “There is an investigation and it involves Ryan White funds.”
Now the agency's spokesman said he was misinformed and it's not an investigation of the health department, but a review of a provider that receives Ryan White funds. The spokesman has since apologized to NBC 5 saying, "What I told you about the initial investigation was incorrect. I apologize for that."
Martin Kramer, the Director of Communications with the Health Resources and Services Administration issued the following formal statement to NBC 5 following Thompson's press conference.
"Due to an internal miscommunication on the part of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), local Dallas media outlets were told, erroneously, that HRSA’s Division of Financial Integrity (DFI) was conducting “an initial investigation” of the Dallas Department of Health and Human Services related to Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program funding. While an initial - but unrelated inquiry into a sub-recipient organization was being conducted by the DFI – there is no HRSA/DFI investigation of Dallas Department of Health and Human Services. HRSA regrets that this error was made."
Still, Thompson used the agency's mistake to attack our reporting.
"This has turned either personal or these racist [comments] directed toward me by NBC 5, I have a concern … the racist [sic] about it is the fact that I am not under investigation, nor this department," Thompson said.
When asked what was racist about our reporting, Thompson said there has to be a motive behind it.
"I have not been implicated in any of these matters. As a director of Dallas County Health and Human Services I have over 400 employees. At any given time I can't be held responsible for each individual employee's action," Thompson said.
Meanwhile, Thompson declined to answer questions about a separate criminal investigation which started after the state found health department workers falsifying records. When asked Monday about that investigation, Thompson said they weren't discussing that investigation today.
He also declined to answer questions about a recent federal site review of the county's Ryan White Program which found that health department staff have a lack of understanding of the Ryan White Program requirements. The feds said Monday that they are still working with Dallas County to address the findings in that report.
With respect to the claim that our reporting has been racist, NBC 5 issued the following statement:
NBC 5 regrets that in this one instance we were provided inaccurate information.
With respect to Zach Thompson’s claim that our reporting has been racist, anyone who is familiar with our record knows that the charge is completely without any basis in fact whatsoever.
Zach Thompson has not granted NBC 5 Investigates an interview since 2012 when we broke the story about critical delays in the deadly West Nile Virus outbreak. His response at that time was that we had “incorrect information.” Over the past year and a half we have repeatedly asked for scheduled, formal interviews on a number of public health stories so that Mr. Thompson could give the residents of Dallas County the insight and clarity they need to understand crucial health information. We strongly believe the public has a right to hear from all public officials. It is our obligation to seek comment on behalf of the public. The series of reports on STD’s is a matter of significant public interest. NBC 5 continues to be proud of our overall reporting on the topic and will continue to cover it in detail.