Harris County’s public health care system spends millions of dollars in contracts for goods and services. But a new disparity study shows Black businesses aren’t getting a piece of that pie.

Colette Holt & Associates, a San Antonio-based law firm, conducted the study for Harris Health, and found that while the system spent $76 million, Black businesses received ZERO contracts. In fact, minority- and women-owned businesses only received only about 8 percent of total contract dollars awarded by the system, even though they accounted for about 20 percent of the firms qualified to perform the work.

Of contracts $50,000 and over in the sample size, none went to Black firms, 2% went to Hispanic-owned businesses, and less than 1% went to Asian-owned businesses. About 5% went to white women. The remaining 92% went to businesses that are not minority owned.

Harris Health has two hospitals in its system — Ben Taub Hospital and Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital and a network of more than 40 clinics, health centers and specialty locations.

“As one of the most diverse regions in the country, minority and women owned businesses help drive the local economy for Greater Houston as small businesses and entrepreuners. But they encounter roadblock after roadblock. And when these businesses lose out, their communities lose out as well,” said Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis.

The study was the first time that Harris Health has examined disparities in contracting. It reviewed a sample of contracts for construction projects, wholesale goods, such as hospital equipment and supplies, and other services. It specifically looked at contracts valued at $50,000 and above for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 that were awarded to firms in Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Galveston counties.

The report suggested that Harris Health do more outreach and improve access to information about opportunities to contract with Harris Health, and create a senior leadership position to oversee diversity.

Harris Health said it will develop a minority and women-owned business enterprise contracting policy by June, and will appoint someone to a senior leadership position which will be responsible for implementing the policy.

“What we’re seeing in disparity study after disparity study is that MWBE’s don’t have a fair shot,” Ellis said. “The findings from the Harris Health study aren’t a surprise, but now it’s documented and we can do something about it.”