Updated: Dallas County Health Department's Use of Ryan White/AIDS Funds

Editors note:  On June 30, the following statement was issued by Martin Kramer, the Director of Communications with the Health Resources and Services Administration.

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.

NBC 5 management issued this statement in response.

NBC 5 regrets that in this one instance we were provided inaccurate information. 

NBC 5 Investigates has learned a federal probe into the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department discovered a lack of understanding into how millions of dollars is supposed to be used to help people with HIV, raising questions about trust inside the county’s health department.

Millions of dollars in federal money is sent to Dallas County to help fund the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which helps people who have the disease who have nowhere else to turn for treatment.

NBC 5 Investigates has learned federal investigators have questions about how Dallas County has been using that money, and so do some of the people who are supposed to decide how the money is spent.

The week started with Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zach Thompson dodging questions from NBC 5 Investigates about his HIV-STD testing program. NBC 5 Investigates confronted Thompson at a meeting of the Dallas County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, but he had nothing to say about a state investigation that found county health workers falsifying reports to improve performance numbers related to sexually transmitted diseases.

The Dallas County district attorney has launched a criminal investigation.

NBC 5 Investigates has also learned Thompson's department is under federal investigation. 

A spokesman for the Health Resources and Services Administration told NBC 5 Investigates: "Our division of financial integrity is involved with looking into Dallas County Department of Health use of Ryan White funds."

Ben Martinez, the vice-chair of Dallas County’s Ryan White Planning Committee, a citizen panel that's supposed to help decide how the money is spent under federal law, said he does not have a clear picture of how the Ryan White funds were spent — and his group is supposed to make decisions about allocating the funds.

Martinez said health department administrators, including Director Thompson, have largely shut his group out of the process while refusing to provide some financial records.  

"They would rather see the council as a rubber stamp instead of people who are actually deciding millions of dollars going from one service to another," Martinez said.

When federal investigators visited the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department in March they did not find any funds misspent, but they did report the following: "There is a lack of understanding of all the Ryan White requirements for all staff who are involved with the administration, compliance and oversight of the program."

It's unclear whether that March review is what prompted the new federal probe.

Wednesday night Thompson told NBC 5 Investigates, "Our office is unaware that the federal Health Resources and Services Administration is currently conducting an investigation regarding the use of Ryan White funds within DCHHS.”

Martinez said with the health department under criminal investigation, audits criticizing leadership and now a federal investigation, he said Thompson needs to take responsibility.

“I think it's way past time for him to step down. I really believe that we need somebody who knows what they are doing and Director Thompson does not,” Martinez said.

Thompson did not respond Wednesday night to questions about Martinez’s criticisms of his leadership or the allegations that the citizens group has been shut out of the process.

Meanwhile, County Judge Clay Jenkins told NBC 5 Investigates, "I have not been briefed by the federal government regarding any investigation. But Dallas County is committed to cooperating fully with any and all investigations."

The federal agency investigating told NBC 5 Investigates it won't have findings until later this summer.

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