Freeman testifies about Uvalde behavioral health response


Gonzales resident and GHS alum Chance Freeman testified last week before a Texas Senate committee investigating the aftermath of the Robb Elementary school shooting in Uvalde.

Freeman serves as director of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s Disaster Behavioral Health Services (DBHS) program, a position he has held the past five years.

He joined Sonja Gaines, deputy executive director of IDD and behavior health services for HHS, in giving testimony on Wednesday, June 22, to the Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans, which was formed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to study school safety, mental health, social media, police training and firearm safety issues in the wake of the May 24 Robb Elementary shooting.

Freeman said his testimony touched on what services he and his team provided after an 18-year-old gunman shot and killed 19 students and two teachers before being killed by law enforcement officials.

“My testimony during the Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans hearing focused on the Health and Human Services Commissions’ Disaster Behavioral Health Services (DBHS) program’s role in coordinating disaster behavioral health services to first responders and the Uvalde community,” Freeman told the Inquirer.

“Less than 24 hours after the tragedy, members of my team and I deployed to Uvalde to begin coordinating behavioral health support to Uvalde. As of June 20, we have served more than 2,817 persons through community networking, intakes, phone contacts/crisis calls, and/or individual or group counseling sessions.

“We continue to work with local leaders, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, and community-based behavioral health providers serving Uvalde to conduct community-based behavioral health needs assessments to identify needs and the resources available for the community’s long-term recovery,” Freeman added.

Freeman said the DBHS is “responsible for all hazards, disaster behavioral health planning, response, and recovery efforts,” which includes response to natural disasters, like Hurricane Harvey, as well as critical incidents, including the Santa Fe high school shooting in May 2018.

“During disasters and critical incidents, the program works with federal, state, and local leadership, emergency response units, and law enforcement on response and recovery efforts,” Freeman explained. “DBHS staff have responded to 15 disasters/criminal incidents since 2017, which included mass shootings, natural disasters, and public health emergencies.

“We coordinate services through a statewide network of 39 Local Mental and Behavioral Health Authorities (LMHAs/LBHAs), who provide immediate, on-the-ground behavioral health support, 24/7 call centers for survivors, first responders, and members of the community. They also provide counseling, debriefing, referral, consultation, and relief support.”

Freeman began working as director of the DBHS program in 2017 and serves as the state’s disaster behavioral health coordinator, providing direction and leadership in times of crises.

“I oversee the Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP) grants following federally declared disasters, and provide technical assistance and training to a variety of states and federal agencies,” Freeman said of his role. “I serve as a member of the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration Cadre of Consults, I chair the Texas Disaster Behavioral Health Consortium, and often serve as a field reviewer for state and federal technical assistance publications.

“In 2021, I was named as the State Behavioral Health Initiative Advisor to the Terrorism and Disaster Network Committee where I promote the behavioral health and well-being of children and families by strengthening our nation’s preparedness and response to terrorism, disaster, mass violence, and public health emergencies.”

Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Special Committee was not Freeman’s first time to testify before the legislature.

“I did so following the tragedy in Santa Fe and have served as a resource witness while the Texas Legislature is in session,” Freeman said.

Members appointed to the Special Committee include co-vice chair Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who serves Gonzales County in the Senate. Kolkhorst also serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.